“Go ahead,” she says to Vex as they’re wrapping themselves in their scarves and coats. Vex gives her a look, a capital-L look, and Keyleth knows she’s nodding too much as she waves her off but that can’t be helped. She’s given up on the notion she’ll ever be anything more than a terrible lightweight, and the fuzzy edges are nice at the end of a long night, at the end of a long week. “Go on, I’ll be right behind you.”
“Are you sure, darling? We can take you home.”
“Yeah, of course I’m sure. Don’t worry. Enjoy your night!”
Out on the porch, Percy’s giving her a capital-L Look too, because they’re a perfect pair like that, one of those couples that match up at every edge like puzzle pieces. Keyleth’s happy for them, really, she is. It’s a little gross, though.
She fixes up her smile even brighter. It’s too much, same as the nodding and the waving, and she’s starting to feel a little awkward about it, the kind of awkward that would be a lot more awkward if it weren’t for the wine. But Vex is in a good mood tonight, or a distracted mood anyway, and she lets it go with a vague hum of doubt, slipping out to tuck her arm into Percy’s. The door closes slowly; Keyleth gets a look at their besotted faces turned to each other before it clicks shut. Keyleth huffs to herself and takes her time with her shoes, not entirely for show—the knots are a little tricky after the third glass of wine.
Back in the kitchen, there are all sorts of voices still chatting away amidst the halfhearted attempt to clean up, loud the way they all get at the end of the night, at the end of the week. Grog is asking Pike something about the dishwasher over a suspicious clanging and Vax is ribbing Scanlan over the evening’s dinner menu and—
“What an evening,” says Gilmore. He’s wearing one of his real smiles as he joins her, a little less glitzy and a little more warm, all soft around the edges. It’s a good smile. “Thank you for the invitation.”
“Oh, well,” says Keyleth, just as warm, a little bit flustered even though this is what she’s been waiting for all night, a moment alone with him. “Thank you. For coming, I mean. I know Vax was happy to see you. We all were! All of us, and Vax. Of course. Since we’re your friends. And everything.”
“And everything,” echoes Gilmore. He has the sweetest smile lines, perfect white of his teeth tucked into the folds of his face. Keyleth takes a deep breath, bracing herself to say— something, something clever. She hasn’t quite figured out what yet, doesn’t know how to make the situation play out the right way, isn’t even sure what the right way is exactly. But it’s all moot because Grog sticks his head out of the kitchen with a rough protest at the both of them slipping away, even though they weren’t, even though Keyleth is just trying to corner her boyfriend’s crush and do something about it.
This is the ninth attempt.
“You didn’t even give me a hug,” rumbles Grog, wrapping Gilmore up tight. He's a delightfully cheerful drunk, Grog, and he tends to forget his own strength. Gilmore reels as he’s set down, eyes flicking to Keyleth in open bemusement, and then Keyleth’s being wrapped up in turn. She giggles when her feet leave the ground and pats Grog’s enormous shoulder.
“We were just putting shoes on,” she promises, swaying so hard when he drops her that he has to hold her shoulder. “We’d never leave without saying goodbye.”
“Who’s saying goodbye?” asks Scanlan and then they’re all in the foyer shuffling around, hugs and Pike laughing about her dish-soap hands and Scanlan sneaking kisses to her apple-round cheeks each time she smiles. There’s an exchange happening between Vax and Gilmore near the door that she half clocks, low voices and gentle looks and Vax’s hand brushing Gilmore’s elbow, but by the time Keyleth extricates herself from Pike’s insistence that they all come to Scanlan’s show next weekend it’s just her and Vax standing in the doorway, yard empty of any trace of Shaun Gilmore.
“Get home safe,” says Pike, and then she and Scanlan and Grog all disappear back inside to pick up the detritus of their weekly family dinners and Keyleth’s lost any chance to corner their guest of honor. Damn.
“Where’s Stubby?” asks Vax, tucking the trailing end of her scarf back over her shoulders. Keyleth sighs and tucks her hands under her armpits as they trudge down to the street, Vax’s shoulder brushing against hers, an unobtrusive reminder. She leans into him a little.
“Vex and Percy left.”
“You didn’t go with them?”
“They were being gross.”
“They always are,” Vax snorts, because he’s the only one who understands how perfectly, beautifully disgusting it is to watch your sibling date your best friend. And how lonely, just a little bit. Not that Keyleth is unhappy, because she isn’t, because she hasn’t seen either of them so perfectly incandescent in all the time she’s known them. But still. They’d all be heading home together, before. Now, though—
“Let me drive you home?”
Now it’s just the two of them. “Okay.”
The twins’ car is a dinky piece of shit they’ve had for nearly ten years, ever since they told their dad to get fucked and moved out, and the engine coughs twice before it turns over. It smells like wet dog and burnt rubber and the little pine tree air freshener trying desperately to help the situation and mostly just making it worse. It’s terrible. Keyleth loves it, loves how loved it is, loves all the memories it holds. The cracked leather of the passenger seat creaks and pokes through the blanket they keep draped over the cushion as she makes herself comfortable and the heater huffs and puffs lukewarm air over them.
"It was nice of Gilmore to come,” she says, closing her eyes. Street lights flicker red and yellow through her eyelids. Pike and Scanlan’s house is lovely, but it’s ages away from the rest of them. It makes the city feel so much bigger. Such a difference from when the lot of them were living on top of one another in their awful apartment building. Not that she misses it, but. She misses it.
“Yeah,” says Vax. Keyleth cracks an eyelid and looks at him, focused on the road even though nobody is out this late, or near enough to nobody that it doesn’t really matter. It’s hard to read his face in the flickering dark of the street lamps. “Pike said it was your idea?”
“Uh,” she says, but it was, and she’s not going to lie to him, so— “Um, yeah. I just. You know. He’s a good friend. And all.”
Smooth, Keyleth. Subtle.
“I didn’t know you were that close.”
“Well maybe I am,” she says, petulant. Vax glances at her for a heartbeat and then back at the road.
“I can be friends with him if I want to,” she cuts in before he can say anything, because no matter what he says it’s going to be awkward, she knows it’ll be awkward. They’re not like Percy and Vex; their edges don’t line up. They’re bad at talking and worse at talking to each other, and now they have this whole thing between them, Vax's stupid, wonderful, enormous heart and Keyleth’s fumbling stubbornness and Gilmore and—
It’s just, it seems like the easiest solution. Vax more-than-likes Gilmore. Gilmore more-than-likes Vax. Two plus two makes four. It's simple arithmetic.
“I know you can,” says Vax, because he doesn’t like to fight with her. She sort of wishes he would, except she’s also grateful she doesn’t have to defend herself on this. Vax is good at that, turning her all to contradiction, making her want two opposite things at once. It’s frustrating, except when it’s also nice, all wine-fuzzy in her stomach but without the cotton tongue the morning after. “I think it’s sweet you want to be friends with him.”
"I am friends with him,” she corrects. Vax chuckles. His hand settles on her shoulder, creeps up to rub at the back of her neck, fingers just a little too cold. It’s nice against the flush of her skin.
“You are,” he agrees. Keyleth harrumphs, a so-there punctuation that would have Percy mocking her endlessly. Vax just hums a little and lets his hand rest at the back of her neck. She closes her eyes again and breathes in pine and smoke and fur. When she wakes up outside her building, car idling and Vax murmuring her name, his hand is still there, fingers warmed by her scarf.
Percy gets home late the following afternoon, cheerful and languid in a way Keyleth doesn’t like to think too hard about. He finds her curled on the couch, halfheartedly watching old television, and settles in next to her until the credits roll, Netflix counting down the seconds until the next episode. She tucks her head against his shoulder.
“I’ll spare you the details,” he says, which is a yes. Keyleth hums, happy for him, not quite as happy as she’d like to be. She’s not doing a particularly good job of hiding it—she never is, really; Percy tells her it’s one of her charms and Vex tells her she’s an open fucking book—but he doesn’t push, just lets her wrap an arm around him and hums in acquiescence when she suggests takeout. It doesn’t solve any of her more immediate problems, but at least the food is good, and there’s extra saag that she can bring to work Monday. Adult life, she finds, is about the little victories.
They watch early seasons of Grey’s Anatomy until she starts to nod off and Percy’s phone rings. Vex’s ringtone. Keyleth lets him go and flops sideways out on the couch, knees bent over the armrest, fishing her own phone out from between the cushions. She has a text from Kash, something about covering his closing shift Monday, and another from Vax. Nothing pressing, just checking in—a snapshot of Trinket on his afternoon walk, a few pictures of the crows at the aviary and the gifts they’ve brought him, an invitation to dinner after work this week. She tells Kash yes and then stares at Vax’s text thread, warm in the pit of her stomach, like drinking but not.
She sends back a thumbs-up sticker, cutesy and a little trite except that she means it. He reacts with a heart. Her stomach flips.
She wonders if she should ask Gilmore to come too.
“What are you planning?” Percy asks when he gets back from his phone call, flopping on the couch and staring down at her, hair falling in his face. Keyleth clicks her phone shut and stares at him upside down.
“Nothing,” she says, utterly unconvincing. “How’s Vex?”
It’s an unsubtle distraction, but Percy has been enamoured for ages and ages and it takes very little pressure to tip him onto another train of thought. Keyleth hums along in the right places and wishes she knew what she was doing.
Gilmore’s shop is right next to the cat café where she works four days a week. It’s how she knows him, how most of them know him. Granted, back when they first met the man the café had been a bakery under terrible management and half of them were working awful hours. Gilmore was their adultier adult, someone who had his life together and also his business and talked them into organizing. Then there had been the whole mess with the manager and the turnover, then Pike had found a grown-up job in her field and Vex had finished her park ranger certification and now it’s a cat café under new management, even if Kima doesn’t really like cats and Allura technically works for the city and not the café. Keyleth likes her new bosses, even if she never sees them. Mostly it's just her and Kash.
“You’re in a mood,” says Kashaw when she comes in Monday afternoon, because he has all the panache and charm of a wet cat. Keyleth makes a face at him and cleans the litter boxes. There’s something meditative about it, scooping that much shit. Not pleasant, but it’s a rote, steady motion that settles her nerves enough to broach the subject. She checks over the espresso machine, twice, and then leans on the counter and turns to Kash and goes for it.
“Can I ask you about a relationship thing?”
Kash barks out a laugh that’s all incredulity, starting the tortoiseshell lounging on top of the pastry case. The couple seated closest to the counter jumps as well. Kashaw’s good at that, putting people off. Keyleth likes that about him, that he’s sort of prickly, that you have to know the right things to get close to him. Makes her feel good about being his friend, even if he’s sort of a dick. Most of her friends are, when you get down to it. She’s used to it.
“You’re asking me for relationship advice?” he echoes, looking at her as though she’s grown a second head, which is fair. “Have you met me?”
She has, obviously—they’ve been working together for nearly two years—but it’s hardly as if she could bring this up to her friends. That would be terrible; there’s no way in hell she can explain any of this to Percy. Or worse, Vex. Actually, Vex might get it, conceptually speaking, but even Keyleth is pretty sure there are rules against asking your boyfriend’s sister about a potential… threesome? Semi-platonic threesome? Can a threesome be platonic?
Maybe Pike would know.
Something must show on her face, or maybe he’s just bored at the end of his shift because he sighs and leans against the back counter and gestures at her to go ahead. He’s a good guy, Kash, no matter how often or loudly he insists he isn’t. She likes that about him.
“So,” she starts, and then falters. It’s weird is all. She hasn’t exactly put it in words before and it’s one thing to have a baker’s dozen fears skittering around her head—that’s just a day ending in -y, really—and another thing to voice them aloud. But it’s Kash. He’ll laugh at her no matter what, and he can’t possibly think anything more derisive than whatever’s already going through his head. He’s her friend, despite his best efforts. Also, his girlfriend is unbelievably hot and cool and miles out of his league, so he must know something worth sharing.
“Wow, yeah, great question,” he says as she opens her mouth and closes it again, trying to gather her thoughts. She punches his shoulder. He sticks his tongue out. Mittens yowls at both of them until Kash unfolds his arms and scritches under his chin.
“So,” Keyleth repeats, arms crossed, picking at the edges of her apron. “You know how Vax asked me out?”
“Yes.” His nose wrinkles. “You’re taking it slow.”
“We are,” she insists. She likes that about the two of them, that Vax doesn’t push, just takes what she gives him and returns it, always careful of her boundaries. It makes her stomach flutter when she thinks about it, which is strange in a pleasant sort of way. But that’s not what this is about. She chews on her lip. “He has this friend.”
“Uh oh,” says Kash.
“We have this friend,” Keyleth corrects herself. “Vax is in love with him.”
Kash blinks. “Okay?”
“That—” Kash frowns at her. Mittens butts against his fingers until he takes up his scratching again. “That wasn’t a question.”
“What do I do?” she huffs.
“I don’t know. Kill him?”
“No, the other guy.”
“I don’t want to kill the other guy. I think Vax should date him.”
Kash blinks at her. The two-head incredulity is back. “Vax is dating you. Because—not sure if you’ve noticed this, princess—he’s head over heels in love with you.”
Keyleth wrinkles her nose. “Yeah, but we’re not— It’s like you said. We’re taking it slow.”
“So you’re going to dump him?”
“Keyleth.” Kash shoos the cat off the counter and takes her by the shoulders. His bad eye glimmers in the café lights. “What the fuck are you trying to ask me? Because I will give you whatever useless advice I can but I have no idea what the fuck you are asking.”
She takes a deep breath. Their voices have gotten loud, carry-across-the-café loud, and more than one of their patrons is staring at them. It’s just— harder than she thought, to put it into words. She likes Vax, likes him so much her fingers and toes and stomach feel funny if she thinks too hard about it, which is why she’s trying not to think about it, except she also always wants to think about it, which makes things sort of tricky. But this is— this is something she’s sure of, in her head. This is something she nine-attempts sure of in her head. She just doesn’t know how to say it out loud.
“I like Vax a lot.”
“Okay. Good, because, again, you’re dating him. In case you forgot.”
“I just— I think maybe Vax should date Gi— the other guy. Our friend. Too.”
Kash stares at her. “You… want your boyfriend to date another guy.”
“No. I mean, yes, but. Not just any other guy.”
“But this guy, he’s okay.”
“Okay.” Kash gives her a long look. It’s a little unsettling; Kash isn’t a long looks kind of guy, unless the look is disbelief or derision or a sullen, cynical sort of impatience. But he’s properly looking at her, mulling it over. She’s not sure why it’s so weird. She didn’t really expect him to take it seriously, maybe. “Okay, well, uh. Do you want to date the other guy?”
“Ew. No.” She considers. “I want to be his friend, though.”
“Aren’t you already?”
“Yes! Of course I am. But not— I mean, not my-boyfriend’s-boyfriend sort of friend, y’know?”
“No, I have no fucking idea,” says Kash flatly. She shouldn’t laugh; she does. It’s mostly stress, high-pitched anxiety. Kash sighs and tugs on her hair. “Cut that out.”
“Sorry,” she says, not feeling at all sorry. Well. Maybe a little bit. Someone comes up to the counter then, stuttering and awkward and sniffling something awful, like maybe he didn’t get the memo about the cats at the café despite all the posted signage. Keyleth takes the kid’s order while Kash starts packing up.
“Look,” he says, shrugging out of his apron, trying not to trip over any of the cats as he works his way towards the back room. Keyleth lifts Minxie out of the way while their customer sniffles morosely and tugs on his backpack straps, waiting for the espresso machine to finish with his drink. “I have no idea what the fuck is going on with you and Vax and I definitely don’t know what’s up with this other guy. But nobody ever went wrong with some good honest communication.”
“You’re telling me I should talk about it?” she asks. And then, just so he doesn’t think she’s asking for clarification, even if maybe she sort of is, she tacks on, “You?”
“Fuck off,” he says, reemerging from the back with his bag. “Bye.”
“See you Thursday,” she calls after him, and then it’s just her and the cats and half a dozen happy couples doing their best to pretend they haven’t heard the entire conversation. Keyleth smiles brightly at the kid and hands him his drink.
“Sorry about him,” she says. He sneezes, winces, and leaves Keyleth standing there with her hand outstretched until one of the cats tries to climb it. She sighs and dumps the cat on the counter and refills coffees until closing.
Vax is waiting for her when she leaves.
Correction: Vax is talking with Gilmore when she leaves.
They’re both standing outside Gilmore’s shop. It’s that lovely dusky blue hour, not quite night but no longer day, and the lights are all on, strung through trees and hung across the road and gleaming inside Gilmore’s shop, which closes later than the cat café on weekdays. The light catches them in all the right ways, emphasizes the rich plum of Gilmore’s suit and the oil-slick shimmer of Vax’s hair. They look like something out of a painting, frozen with their heads close together until Vax throws his head back and laughs with his whole body, holding tight to Gilmore’s arm, and Keyleth’s the only one there to see the face Gilmore makes, a candy-sweet ache.
The thing is, she always sort of assumed it would be them. It was just obvious from the very beginning. And looking at them here, now—
She likes Gilmore. She likes his patience and his wit and how he makes Vax laugh. They’re not like that, Vax and Keyleth. They have their moments, sure, but they feed off each other in different ways, quieter, slower. Not better or worse, just different.
Keyleth loves Vax when he laughs. She knows that already, has known it for a while, but it sits differently in her heart like this, watching. She loves Vax when he laughs. Gilmore makes Vax laugh. Two plus two makes four. Simple arithmetic.
Gilmore notices her first, nudges Vax back upright so he can greet her, grinning, and press a kiss to her cheek. She takes his hand, feeling tender tonight, soft and fond.
“Hi,” she says, to him and mostly to Gilmore, who’s still wearing his real smile, the one that’s a little worn around the edges. She’s pleased to see it, a surprising shock of gladness that tingles all the way down to her fingertips. She squeezes Vax’s hand.
“Hi, you,” he says, squeezing back. “Ready to go?”
“Yes,” she says. And then, before she can talk herself out of it, she turns to Gilmore. “Do you want to join us?”
They both pause. Not long, not nearly long enough for anyone to notice without looking for it, but she’s looking for it. Vax’s hand flexes in hers.
“Ah, thank you,” says Gilmore. He glances at Vax, at her, at the store. “Not tonight, I’m afraid.”
“Next time,” says Vax in that lighthearted sort of way that means he’s joking, but Keyleth nods, firm, too intense and unable to be anything but.
“Next time,” she agrees, and they both look at her again. They wear the same surprise, matching. It makes her giggle enough she can almost forget the nerves. “Great. Okay, well. Have a good night, then! Bye!”
“Everything okay?” Vax asks later, hands still clasped, sitting by the heater and waiting for their food outside a tiny restaurant that smells like cloves and cinnamon.
“Really good,” Keyleth says, honest, and leans across the table to kiss him. When they pull apart, his face splinters into a smile brighter than all the lights under the awning.
She tries to talk to Pike about it, just once. Scanlan is there too, sort of on purpose but mostly on accident, which is how most things involving Scanlan go. It could be worse. He’s probably a fair resource in this particular matter, given the stories he and Grog have told about their early days, back before he met Pike. (And a little bit after, but they do their best to ignore that part. He’s grown since then, anyway; they all have.)
“Pike,” she says, cleaning up after another Friday night dinner, up to their elbows in the sink. Pike hums, eyes clear and bright and patient. Scanlan, sorting leftovers into tupperware while the twins argue loudly with Grog out in the living room, glances up. Keyleth clears her throat. “Um.”
“Everything okay?” asks Pike, face warm and open and inviting. Keyleth’s pretty sure there’s not a single thing she could say that would shock Pike, not really. Still, though. She clears her throat again.
“Yeah, it’s just. Um. Do you know anything about, uh. Threesomes?”
Pike, bless her, only pauses for a moment.
“Yeah. Like. Three people. In a relationship?”
“Oh,” says Pike. “I don’t think I do. Um, Scanlan—”
“Throuple,” says Scanlan with his head and shoulders in the fridge. They both turn and look at him, but he just keeps rearranging the leftovers. “Also, just to be clear, our marriage bed is open only to Percival.”
“I didn’t want to know that,” Keyleth tells him. He ducks out from the fridge long enough to shoot her one of his patented Shorthalt smiles and winks.
“We’re not married, love,” says Pike.
“We could be,” says Scanlan. “Make an honest man of me?”
Pike laughs. Scanlan, who has been asking for six years and gotten the same result each time, or near enough, shrugs and returns to the leftovers. Keyleth goes to push her hair out of her face, realizes her hands are dripping with soap suds, and settles for blowing morosely at her bangs. Pike hums and dries her hands and coaxes her to bend down enough to push it behind her ears.
“I really don’t know what I can say to help,” she says gently while Keyleth is bent down. “Maybe you should talk to Vax about it instead of asking us.”
“That’s what Kash said.”
Scanlan’s voice comes muffled out of the refrigerator. “You asked Kashaw—?”
“He has his moments,” Pike interjects. “It’s good advice. Or you could talk to Vex.”
“Absolutely not,” she says, high-pitched. Scanlan laughs at her, only a little unkindly. Pike flicks dishwater at him until he apologizes. She really is the best.
(She does try to ask Vex, just once. It goes—
“Keyleth,” says Vex, cupping her cheeks in her warm, callused hands. “Darling. I love you. I love my brother. I am very glad to know you two are happy together, even if he’s an idiot who doesn’t deserve you. I absolutely refuse to talk about your sex life in any way shape or form. Alright?”
“That’s fair,” Keyleth agrees, blushing furiously, unsure of how she’d even begin to explain it’s not her sex life she’s trying to be considerate about. So— Anyway. That’s that.)
She invites Gilmore to a second dinner about a month after the first one, head poked into his open doorway, beaming when he says yes. He brings wine and a wealth of stories about starting business in the city, and they all laugh themselves sick, and it’s good, it’s lovely. She feels all light inside, airy and buoyant. Vax sits next to her, thumb rubbing over the knuckles of her hands, stealing bites off her plate with bright-smiling eyes, boisterous and unburdened. He wears happiness in every word and gesture. It’s a good look for him.
Pike catches her eye midway through dessert, both eyebrows raised, head tipped pointedly towards the end of the table where Gilmore is explaining something to Vax, something about aerodynamics and airflow, and Vax is nodding along, fingers laced tight with Keyleth’s. Keyleth squeezes his hand and Vax glances at her, happy as she’s ever seen him, and she’s seen him at his highest and lowest, and—
Well. She shrugs at Pike, who covers her smile with her hand, eyes shining, and nods.
It’s as good a blessing as any.
“Hey,” she says later that night, when they’re both lying down in her bed, tucked in twice-hemmed pajamas and curled up under the comforter. Vax hums somewhere in the vicinity of her collarbone, fingers playing with the edge of her sleeve. Keyleth stares down at the crown of his head and feels fuzzy-warm inside. “Vax.”
“Hm?” He pulls apart enough to look at her, presses a kiss to her nose with smiling eyes. “What is it?”
“You like Gilmore.”
He blinks at her. Some of the glow fades from his expression, mouth going solemn.
“Yes,” he agrees. “He’s a good friend.”
“No, I know that. He’s my friend too.” She says it to get a rise from him, mostly, but he doesn’t bite. It trips her up, just a bit; she hesitates before plowing ahead. “But— You like-like him.”
His face goes even more solemn, which is all wrong, shit, she’s doing this wrong. Her hand fumbles under the blankets.
“That’s not a bad thing,” she assures him so fast it sort of squeaks out, words clattering against each other like pool balls and scattering into the dark bedroom. She finds his cold fingers under the covers, folding her hand around his and squeezing tight. He has such good hands. Clever and gentle, kind to the birds and to her and everyone else. Good for holding. “I promise it’s not— I’m not upset, or jealous, or anything. I swear.”
He stares at her for a long moment, and she waits. He’s always so slow about these things, measured. She likes that, the patience. Makes her feel a little less coltish about everything, like she can take the time to find her footing. It can take her a long, long time to find her footing.
“Okay,” he says eventually. Just that, just okay, but the sort of okay that means it really is alright. He’s listening.
“Okay,” she echoes. Testing waters. “Is it okay that he was at dinner?”
“Of course.” There’s no hesitation there. It comes out tender and honest because he doesn’t know any other way to be with his heart. “It’s always good to see Shaun.”
“Your friend,” he agrees with a heavy, put-upon sort of patience, and now there’s a smile playing at his lips, just the barest edge, and okay, yes, good. Great. Vax brushes her hair out of her face. “Is it okay with you?”
“Shaun and I…” He leaves it there, sort of dangling, unspoken but not really because they both know, because everybody knows. His hand rests just at the curve of her ear, not drawing back and not moving. “Do you mind him being around?”
“Vax,” she says. She loves him. Sweet, sweet idiot. “I invited him.”
“He makes you laugh,” she says. He blinks at her, confusion throwing quiet shadows across his face.
“Gil— Shaun. He makes you laugh.”
“Well. He’s a funny man.”
“You don’t laugh at me.”
“Sure I do.”
“Not the same.”
He pulls away from her slightly. “Kiki—”
“No, no, it’s okay.” She tightens her grip around his hand before he can pull back too far. “I like that he makes you laugh. I like that he makes you happy. I really like when you’re happy.”
“I really like you,” he says, pitched low like a secret. She giggles.
“I really like you too. I think you should ask him out.”
Vax sits upright so fast the cold air vacuums in around them, and Keyleth yelps and yanks for the blankets and then they’re both sitting up, halfway hunched to try to preserve warmth. Vax stares at her, panicked in the faint light filtering in through the gaps in the curtains.
“You what?” he says, then, “Keyleth.” His hands flutter, tugged free of her own. She’s never seen him quite so speechless. It’s a little funny and a little satisfying and a lot sweet. “I asked you out. I love you. I’m dating you. ” He hesitates, expression going closed-off and anguished. “Is that— If you would prefer not to—” He takes a deep breath. “Your friendship is equally important to me, if you would rather—”
“No!” She loses her grip on the blankets in her scramble to cup his face, his lovely uncertain face. “No, I wouldn’t rather, that’s not— Shit. This is so much harder than Kash said it would be.”
He huffs out in disbelief, breath warm near her fingers. “You talked to Kashaw?”
“It’s not like I can ask any of you,” she grumbles.“And Pike approved.”
“Pickle’s a troublemaker,” he says. Keyleth scoots closer so their knees knock together on her bed, shivering and shivery and fumbling for the right words, trusting Vax will listen if it takes her a couple tries to get it right.
“I like you,” she tells him firmly. “I like dating you. I like us. I like taking it slow.”
“I like those things too,” he says. She nods.
“I’m just… I just want you to know that it’s alright if you like him. Too.”
His mouth works around the word for a moment, like he’s learning the feel of it, the weight, like he’s never tasted the word before. “Too,” he says.
She nods, firm as she can, and hits herself in the face with her own hair.
“Yes. Too. I’m just— That’s all. I’m just saying it’s okay. Everything is okay.”
Vax stares at her, and takes a deep breath, and then another, and eventually settles on, “What the fuck.” He doesn’t sound upset though. Just— processing. Keyleth hums.
“Scanlan called it a throuple, if that helps?”
“I’m not sure it does,” he says weakly. And then, “You asked Scanlan for advice?”
“No, I asked Pike. Scanlan was just there.”
“I— Christ, why?”
“They live together, honey.”
“I know they live together.” Even in the dark she can see the unamused glance he gives her with perfect clarity. “I mean. Why Shaun?”
“Well, you’re in love with him and he’s in love with you.”
He doesn’t argue with that. She’d thought maybe it would sting, once, when this was new. Or, not that it would, exactly, but that it should. That if they were doing this right it was supposed to. All the books and movies and stories, they say it should sting. It doesn’t sting though, never has. It just feels nice. Vax has so, so much love inside him, spilling out at the slightest touch. Of course he’d have enough to go around.
As if to prove it, he leans forward, catches her eye. “I’m in love with you too.”
“I know,” she assures him. It’s easy, knowing Vax loves her. Hadn’t been so much at the very beginning, but it is now, a plant of slow growth bloomed bright and alive between them.
“So,” he says, and stalls out there. She hums.
“I like it when you’re happy,” she says. “He makes you happy.”
“So you think I should date another man?”
“No,” she says with more patience than she feels. “I think you should date Gilmore. If you want to. And if he wants to. I’m just saying. I think it could be really good.” She chews on her lip. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it. It’s not like I just woke up one morning.”
“Clearly, if you asked Kash and Pike.”
“I tried to ask Vex.”
“Please tell me—”
“She thought it was a sex thing.”
“Yeah,” Keyleth giggles, and Vax smiles and tucks her hair behind her ear.
“You really are something, you know that?”
“I love you,” she tells him. “You’ll talk to him?”
“I love you too,” he tells her. “I’ll talk to him,” he says. And he smiles like the sun.
It’s a drizzly-wet Thursday evening when it happens. Dreary really, but the dampness in the air turns everything soft, fuzzes around the lights, and it’s not unlovely. She locks up the front grate and takes a deep breath and blows it out, all puffy and white in front of her face in the cold, and Kash says, “You have company.”
“Huh?” she says, and follows the line of Kash’s gaze to the awning next door, where Vax is waiting for her.
Correction: Vax and Gilmore are waiting for her.
They stand together, loose and easy, same as they have a dozen, a hundred times before, but this time they are both looking at her, both patient. This time, their hands are clasped together.
Oh, realizes Keyleth, big and bright and redoubling the longer she thinks it, like echoes, a big oh-oh-oh of joy. Oh they talked, oh he did it, oh. Her face stretches into a smile, and Vax is smiling back, and Gilmore is smiling too, that soft and newly familiar turn of his lips, the one he reserves most often for Vax. And now, maybe, both of them. Keyleth grins so hard her cheeks hurt.
Kash shatters the moment, clapping her on the back hard enough that she stumbles towards them. “Night!” he calls after her. He winks when she turns around to glare. Keyleth straightens her scarf and can’t even be bothered to call him a dick, even if he is. She turns back to Vax and Gilmore. To Vax-and-Gilmore. Simple arithmetic; two plus two makes four.
Or maybe, maybe she's been doing the math wrong. Maybe two plus two makes three.
“Hi,” she says to them. Vax reaches for her hand and she lends it gladly.
“Hi,” he echoes.
“Hello,” says Gilmore. This close, there’s a flush to his cheeks. To all of their cheeks, probably. Keyleth is giddy.
“You talked,” she says.
“We did,” says Gilmore. “Thank you for the invitation.”
“Oh, well,” says Keyleth, warm, a little bit flustered in the best of ways. She beams at him, squeezes Vax’s hand. He squeezes back. “Would you like to stay for dinner?”
“Yes,” says Vax. He glows between them. “Yes, he would.”
Keyleth is pretty sure he’d like to stay for a lot more than just dinner. She’s sure of it in a deep-down way, solid and warm in her chest. But dinner is a nice start.
“Vax is paying,” she says, and meets Gilmore’s eyes with a grin as Vax protests between them, loud and irate and so happy she can feel it on him like a second skin, gossamer. She’s certain Gilmore’s expression must be reflected on her own and she’s glad for it, glad for how much Vax loves them and how much they love Vax, glad for the joy.
“Thoughtful of him,” says Gilmore, and Vax gives up on the complaining, looking between them.
“Alright,” he says, sighing, smiling. “Shall we?”
“Let’s,” Gilmore says. They do.