For a long time, here’s how it goes: Riz is in love with Fabian. Nobody knows. Not even Riz, for a long time.
He doesn’t realize what it is until halfway through sophomore year, when they’re all at the Thistlesprings‘ annual Solstice party. They have these lights strung up over the yard that give Fabian’s eyes this extra sparkle while he talks to Gorgug about some Owlbears thing. Riz is watching them from across the grass, mug of cider in his hand, when Fabian suddenly laughs and Riz’s chest tightens and it all just kind of - clicks into place. The warm feeling he's got now isn’t from his drink, or his sweater, or the space heaters Digby and Wilma set up around the yard.
I must be drunk, is his initial thought, but he knows he isn’t. I can’t be right, he thinks next, but he knows he is. Because as soon as he hears the voice in his head say, “I love him,” he feels a jolt behind his eyes that spreads down through his chest and into his hands, which start shaking so bad he has to set down his drink. He knows he’s right because it’s the same feeling he gets when he’s finally cracked a case. When he can finally tie the last piece of red string between two thumbtacks.
But this information doesn’t feel surprising to him. For Riz, solving a case is never really a surprise. The information he needs is almost always right in front of him; he just needs to put it in the right order or think about it in the right way. And he realizes that this mystery has been in the back of his mind for a long time. He has countless ongoing cases and loose threads that he unconsciously considers: whether he really wants to major in criminal justice one day, an unsolved robbery he heard about on the radio last week, what Fig wants for her birthday next month. This particular mystery must have been one of those casual investigations. And now it’s solved. But the solution feels so much heavier in his mind than most of his other cases. He can almost feel the weight of it on his tongue, solid and metallic.
“You okay?” Riz jumps in his seat. He turns to find Adaine to his left, looking at him inquisitively through her large glasses. “You were zoned out.”
Riz feels blood rush to his face, his cheeks likely turning an embarrassing shade of emerald green. “Uh, yeah, I just - I just figured something out.”
“I thought so,” she says, smiling and leaning back into the couch cushion. “You had your detective look. Do you want to talk about it?”
Riz really thinks about it. He doesn’t like lying to Adaine; she’s one of his best friends. But he says, “It was nothing exciting. Maybe I’ll tell you about it later.” He worries he isn’t convincing, but Adaine shrugs with a simple, “Alright.” Then, Kristen comes by with some cookies and a story about something funny that Tracker just said. Riz steals a cookie off her plate, shoves it into his mouth, and forgets about his discovery. For a little while.
When he gets home that night, his mom is still at the office. He changes into his pajamas and goes into the bathroom to brush his teeth. When he spits out the minty foam, he looks up and sees himself in the spotted mirror. He squints at himself, really looking. He sees a teenage goblin in an oversized shirt with freckled skin and messy hair. He wipes the toothpaste foam around his mouth on the back of his hand and carefully looks into his own eyes. “I love Fabian Seacaster,” he says, quietly. The fluorescent light in the ceiling hums. The pipes in the wall rattle. In the apartment above him, someone slams a door. Riz looks at himself for another moment before finally turning off the light.
Eventually, he tells Adaine. A week after the Solstice party, they’re hanging out in Adaine’s room. Adaine is writing an essay - some extra credit thing - at her desk. Riz sits on her bed, fiddling with the radio and trying to work up the nerve to tell Adaine about his recent realization. Riz knows that Adaine will always love him unconditionally, but they had always been united in their confusion at the rest of the party’s fervent obsession with love and romance. This confession would irrevocably change their dynamic.
“Riz. You can just leave it on any station,” Adaine says, not looking up from the paper in front of her.
“Okay,” Riz says, and he sets the radio down on the bedside table. Changes the station one last time. Then leaves it alone. He drums his fingers anxiously on his leg, though.
“I have very high perception,” Adaine says flatly, “but I wouldn’t need it to know that you want to talk about something.” She crosses out a word at the bottom of the page, then sets down her pen and looks at him with her full attention. “Is everything alright?”
Riz feels frozen for a moment. He almost considers making something up but decides against it. His friendship with Adaine is worth more than that. “I want to tell you something,” he says carefully, “because you’re one of my best friends and I think it’s important that you know.”
“Okay,” Adaine responds, her eyes furrowed slightly in a way that means she’s concerned.
“It’s nothing bad,” Riz says. “Well, maybe it is, a little, but. Do you remember when I said I realized something at the Solstice party?”
Riz tries to say it, but finds he can’t look at Adaine while he does. He stares at the wall behind her head. He takes a deep breath, then: “I’m in love with Fabian.”
Adaine’s eyebrows shoot up. “Really?”
“Yeah,” Riz says. He lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “Yeah, I am.”
“That’s,” Adaine says. “I’m kind of surprised, but also not really.”
Riz feels a sudden flash of panic. “Is it obvious?”
“No,” Adaine says, “It’s just.” She thinks for a moment before finishing her statement. “You two are so close. You could probably see it either way, from the outside in.” She pauses for a moment. “Why did you say it might be a bad thing?”
Riz shrugs. “Just seems like a bad idea to like somebody in your adventuring party. Especially if he’s your best friend. And straight.”
Adaine winces sympathetically. “He might not be?”
“Maybe,” Riz says, “But you know how obsessed he was with Aelwyn.”
“Thank god that was never a thing,” she says as she leans back in her chair, and they both let out a sigh of relief. She turns her attention back to him and looks at him sincerely. “This is a shitty situation for you, and I’m sorry,” she says.
He waves her off. “It’s alright. Not your fault. I’ll get through it.” He drums his fingers on his leg. “So. This doesn’t change anything?”
“Of course not,” Adaine says easily. “I just don’t know how helpful I’ll be in the romantic advice department.”
“I don’t need that from you,” Riz says. “I just need you to be my friend.”
“Well, I’ll always be that,” Adaine says brightly and gives him a rare, big smile. Riz returns it right back, pointy teeth and all. Then, Adaine turns in her chair and goes back to proofreading her essay. Riz lies back on Adaine’s pillow and listens to the radio, finally letting the songs play all the way through.
So then it goes like this: Riz is in love with his best friend. And nobody knows. Except for Adaine.
And it’s always something in the back of his brain, but the case has been closed. So it doesn’t poke him like the point of a knife. Instead, it burns him. It burns like touching an iron that’s still cooling off, like coffee sloshing out of a mug and onto his hand, like smoke from a fire blowing in his face and stinging his eyes. When Fabian gives him rides home on The Hangman. When Fabian throws wads of paper at Riz’s head instead of helping him study. When Fabian lends him his varsity jacket one night after a bloodrush game when Riz is shivering. When Fabian laughs so hard he spews vanilla milkshake all over the table at Basrar’s.
The aching is, Riz tells himself, something better kept locked away. Emotions can be illogical, unpredictable. Even worse are the emotions of others in response to the initial emotions. Riz likes the concrete, the familiar, likes knowing where he stands on a map even if he doesn't like where he is. So every time he feels the burning in the back of his throat, he swallows it down.
Fabian comes out to the group as bisexual in the last half of their junior year. That summer, all six of them go to Bastion City Pride, along with their various friends and partners. Fig does makeup for anyone who asks and Kristen slaps glitter on everyone’s faces. Together, they all march in the parade. Fig, Ayda, Gorgug, Zelda, Ragh, Tracker, Kristen, Adaine, Aelwyn, Fabian, and Riz all walk in a big clump, talking and laughing and singing. They’ve got glitter smeared on their cheeks and pride colors on their shirts and confetti caught on their shoes.
Riz looks over at Fabian and sees him smiling wide with a bi flag wrapped around his shoulders. He looks back at Riz and keeps smiling. The eyeliner Fig did for him is starting to smear from the sweat and the heat. His artfully styled hair is deflating slightly. And he looks so damn happy. Riz feels his heart lurch painfully as he thinks about how proud he is of Fabian, of all of his friends, and how far they’ve come already.
And then it’s the end of senior year, and before he knows it, Riz has run out of time. Not just with Fabian, but with a lot of things. He’s going to school in Bastion City with Gorgug in the fall. Gorgug is going for his teaching license and Riz is going for - well, he’s not totally sure; he thinks he wants to stay near Elmville, but he might be burnt out on detective work, if he’s being honest with himself. Kristen is taking a gap year and doing missionary work all over Solace with Tracker and Ragh. Adaine, with all her smarts and credentials, has already found a job working for the Solesian government. Fig is going on yet another tour and is bringing Ayda with her. They plan to visit harder-to-reach locales in order to “show all of Spyre what real music sounds like,” as Fig puts it. And Fabian already has a contract for his first adventuring gig - a year on the high seas, traveling around and doing heroic deeds. It’s what he’s always wanted. And Riz is beyond happy for him, happy for all of his friends.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt to know that things are going to change. Every time the party eats at Basrar’s, or goes thrift shopping, or has a board game night that almost ends in bloodshed, or falls asleep in a pile on the floor, Riz can’t help thinking that it might be the last time. And he can’t keep himself from thinking about how badly it’ll hurt when it’s all over.
They throw a massive middle-of-summer party at Fabian’s house. Hallariel is in Fallinel visiting her father for a week, Cathilda’s on vacation, and the new, ridiculously large swimming pool was just finished, so it’s all perfect timing. They’re only expecting about twenty people, but word gets out that Fig and the Cig Figs are playing an unofficial show and that the party will be at Fabian’s insanely fancy house and before they know it, nearly a hundred people have flooded into the first floor and backyard of Seacaster Manor.
And it’s fun. Fig and Gorgug play an amazing set to an adoring audience. Kristen successfully does a full backflip into the pool and gets a standing ovation. Somebody accidentally casts Burning Hands on a curtain. Adaine, having taken three hits from Tracker’s joint, panics and puts it out with her solo cup of soda water. Fig laughs so hard at this that she fully falls over, followed quickly by a very concerned Ayda.
It is a fun party - really, one of the better ones of their high school career - but all the noise and action makes Riz ansty, like he’s missing something. He’s learned that the best thing for him is to just step away for a little while. He glances around and notices Fabian in the kitchen, leaning against the counter and not talking to anybody. Riz gets the sense that the party might be getting to him, too. After a few seconds, Fabian looks up and locks eyes with Riz. Riz jerks his head toward the stairs, a silent question, and Fabian nods.
Riz gets to the stairs first and immediately starts going up. He gets to the top of the stairs and leans over the railing to watch Fabian as he walks up the stairs to meet him, one unopened drink in each hand. As Fabian climbs the spiral of the stairs, he notices Riz looking at him and gives him a dumb grin. Riz feels an ache in his chest, so fast it’s like it almost didn’t happen. He tries to swallow it down as he reaches out for one of the bottles in Fabian’s hand. “Thanks, man. Roof?”
“Hell yeah,” Fabian says, and the two of them start walking down the hallway toward Fabian’s room.
It seems like nobody’s gone upstairs yet, which isn’t really surprising; Seacaster Manor is so big that you could spend the whole night on the first floor alone without getting bored. It’s a good thing, too, because the blaring music is somewhat muffled up here and they don’t have to worry about fighting their way through people. It’s something that Riz has always been good at, but sometimes he gets tired of it.
They get to Fabian’s door, which has been magically warded so that random drunk teenagers can’t get in and puke all over Fabian’s bed - a lesson learned the hard way at a Halloween party sophomore year. The room is mostly clean, like always, except there’s a trunk on the floor with the lid propped open and clothes hanging out the side. Riz looks away quickly when he sees that; the last thing he needs while drinking is something to make him sad.
They don’t stop as they move through the room. Fabian opens the door to his balcony and the two of them enter the humid night air. In a practiced maneuver, the two of them stand on the wide railing of the balcony and scramble up onto the roof of the house. Compared to other acrobatic feats they’ve had to perform during their adventures, the quick hop onto the roof feels like almost nothing.
They climb up to their normal perch - a flat section of the roof where they can look out at the expansive backyard. Teens are all over the yard, lying out on chairs or dunking each other in the pool. Fabian pops the tab on his drink and holds it out to Riz. Riz opens his own drink and clinks it against Fabian’s in a silent toast.
They don’t say anything for a while. When they do start talking after several minutes of shared silence, it’s not about much - how the show was good, how they’re probably going to have to clean the pool out after everyone leaves, how Ragh will be happy that they had a rager before he leaves at the end of the summer. And just like that, the dreaded subject rears its head: leaving, the end of summer, the end of high school, the end of everything. Riz knows that it’s not really the end of everything, but it doesn’t stop him from feeling that way a lot of the time.
He’s just about to give in to the sadness when Fabian says something. “The Ball?” Then he clears his throat, and says, “Riz,” and Riz looks up at him in surprise. Fabian’s face is still and his mouth is even in that way it is when he’s scared. He looks worried. Or intimidated. Maybe a little of both.
“Yeah?” Riz says, and he doesn’t know what to expect.
Fabian says, “I have something important to tell you,” He takes a deep breath in, then lets it out slowly. “It’s something that I’ve been meaning to tell you for a long time. And I know it’s cowardly, to wait until I’m almost leaving to say it.”
Riz remembers the chest he saw in Fabian’s room and his stomach immediately sinks. He looks out at the happy teenagers shrieking in the pool below. Somebody near the edge of the yard - probably Torek - starts setting off fireworks that explode in bright colors above their heads.
“I’m trying to be more honest about how I feel,” Fabian continues, “even when it’s a feeling I don’t like admitting to.” Fabian takes another breath. “I waited to tell you because - because I was scared. Still am. That I might mess everything up.” He pauses again.
Riz can feel Fabian’s eyes on him. “You’re my best friend,” Fabian says, quietly, and Riz’s head turns so fast to look at Fabian because even after four years of that being true he doesn’t remember a time where Fabian has ever said it out loud.
Riz can’t help but feel this little flutter of hope in the pit of his stomach, and it gets stronger while Fabian is still just looking at him, probably trying to get his words in the right order.
Riz isn’t stupid. For years, he’s picked up on tiny moments - help actions and bardic inspirations, shared smiles across crowded rooms, secrets whispered in the dark just a few inches away, countless looks and touches and anything that Riz could maybe count as evidence. That’s part of his job: look at everything, figure out what matters. The problem with Fabian, though, is that Riz thinks everything about him is important. He doesn’t even like the thought of getting rid of something. So he keeps all the evidence tucked away in a folder filled to bursting in the back of his brain and he tries to leave it alone as often as he can. Now, though, it’s all threatening to come spilling out.
“What are you saying,” Riz asks, and his face is so hot and he feels so stupid.
Fabian doesn’t hesitate, now. “I love you,” he says. “As a party member. As my friend. But also as more than that.” When Riz doesn’t say anything, he gives him a sad little smile like he can't even help it. “Riz, I love you.”
Riz’s brain is short-circuiting. Never before in his career as an investigator has he been so surprised at being right.
“I love you, too,” he says, so quietly he almost doesn’t hear himself.
Fabian looks confused. He definitely didn’t hear him. “What?”
“I love you, too,” he says again, and before Fabian can say anything else, Riz leans up and kisses him.
It’s a pretty short kiss. Riz pulls away after a couple seconds, worried because Fabian isn’t doing anything. Then he realizes that Fabian was just stunned, and the grin across his face is so wide as he brings his hand up to Riz’s face and pulls him back in.
The second kiss is really good. And the third, and the fourth. The fireworks are still going off above them, but Riz barely even notices.
He pulls away for a second to get some air. He opens his eyes and sees Fabian looking right at him, and Riz is so happy but he can also feel his own heart breaking just a little bit. Looking at Fabian, he thinks he might be feeling the same way.
“I think we waited too long,” Riz says, and he feels the tears threatening to close his throat all the way up.
“Maybe,” Fabian says, and smiles again. A tear starts to run down his face. Riz reaches out a hand and wipes it away before leaning back in.
They stay on the roof for a long time. Until the fireworks are long gone and the smoke has all been blown away by the summer evening breeze.
So now it goes like this: Riz is in love with his best friend. And his best friend is in love with him, too. And all of their friends know and constantly tease them about it.
And it’s perfect. At the end of July, The Bad Kids all pile into Gorgug’s van and head into the woods to go camping for a few days. It’s just the six of them - the first time it’s been just them for a while. Riz forgoes his standard uniform of a three-piece suit for the trip; he knows it’ll be too hot for all that. He packs his duffel bag with t-shirts and knee-length shorts. He borrows a baseball cap from his mom that says “Elmville P.D.” on the front and slips a ratty pair of old sneakers on just as Adaine texts him to tell them they’ve arrived.
As he approaches the waiting van in the Strongtower Luxury Apartments parking lot, Fig sticks her head out of the passenger window and gasps loudly at his ensemble. Kristen leans up from the back to give him a wolf-whistle. “Shut up,” he says, and he feels his cheeks flushing emerald, but he only minds a little bit. When he climbs into the van, Fabian looks at him with a giant grin and pats the empty spot on the seat next to him. “I like the hat,” he says as Riz clambers over to him and sits down beside him. Riz doesn’t say anything, but he gives up on trying to hide his smile.
The drive to the campsite lasts about two hours; most of it is filled with Fig getting very aggressive in her role of Road Trip DJ and consequently forgetting about her other, arguably more important role of Road Trip Navigator. After a few wrong turns, they arrive in one piece at the campsite. It’s almost dusk, so they quickly get to work setting up their tents and gear.
As the sun fully sets, the group settles around the campfire. Fig whips an acoustic guitar out of nowhere and starts playing. A few of her in-progress songs find their way into the mix, but it’s mostly songs they already know and love. Kristen sings along happily and very off-key while assembling s’mores; as a former camp counselor, she’s established herself as the s’more-making champion of the group. Gorgug sings along too, but he’s stretched out in the grass and he looks like he’ll fall asleep at any moment. Adaine sits next to Fig on a log, humming quietly and reading by the firelight.
Riz is on the ground with his legs straight out in front of him, right near where Kristen is standing and roasting marshmallows. Fabian, eyes closed with a content smile on his face, is resting his head in Riz’s lap.
When Kristen turns around to hand Riz a s’more, she notices Fabian. She looks at Riz with a quirk of a smile and waggles her eyebrows at him suggestively. Riz laughs, shakes his head, and holds out a hand to take the s’more from her.
He gently puts a hand on Fabian’s shoulder and Fabian opens his eyes. When he sees the s’more, he grins and opens his mouth wide.
“Are you serious?” Riz says.
“I’m too tired to hold it,” Fabian whines.
“You are so stupid,” Riz says, but he feeds the s’more to him anyway. As Fabian eats it, melted marshmallow smears on the corner of his lips and graham cracker crumbs explode out of his mouth and all over Riz’s clothes. Fabian gives Riz a wink and his most charming smirk. Riz rolls his eyes and takes another s'more from Kristen for himself. He starts running his fingers through Fabian’s hair with his other hand.
The stars are a lot brighter here than they are in the city. And he can’t hear the sound of rushing cars or humming AC, but the insects in the trees and rustling grass create an audible backdrop of noise. Riz looks around at all of his friends, trying to take everything in. He feels a bittersweet ache pulsing in his chest as he thinks about how much he loves them. And how much he’s going to miss them when they’re gone.
And Riz knows it isn’t the last time he’ll see his friends, not by a long shot. They’ll all meet up regularly over the next few years. And they still have almost a week before Fig, Kristen, and Fabian leave. So it’s not quite goodbye, yet. But Riz feels like it is. It's a night he desperately wants to hang on to. He wants to remember it for the rest of his life.
All he can do is hope that he does.