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Today I Love You Even More

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Yeza isn’t frightened of his wife.  She looks different.  She is different, really.  But he supposes… well, what she’d been through would change anyone, wouldn’t it?  Being drowned and resurrected in a body that wasn’t yours, being tortured and forced to torture others, escaping only to realize that no one would accept you because you looked like…

Honestly she doesn’t look that bad.

The teeth are a little bit of a problem for, um, things.  But when she thinks someone is being ridiculous she’ll still make that same hilariously deadpan face; when’s scared her eyebrows will still scrunch up in that precious way, and when she thinks someone is cute she still gets that little curl in the left corner of her mouth.

And his wife thinks a lot of people are cute.  That certainly hasn’t changed.  He’s already heard enough teasing about the minotaur “Sunbreaker Olomon” from Veth’s friends that he’s taken the initiative and started teasing Veth about it in private.  Asking for details of what he looked like.  What he’d sounded like.  If she’d made a move (“Not that I could blame you, honey, I mean, just thinking of how big he had to be…”).

It always surprised his wife when he took the initiative with those things, and Yeza Brenatto loved surprising his wife.  It happened so rarely, after all.  She’s just too gosh darn sneaky for him to surprise all that often.  

But at least she never has to hide anything from him, or at least she never had before.  Fears, daydreams, desires, insecurities, fantasies… they’d shared everything since they were kids.  The two little weirdos who understood each other.

So it was a little confusing that she was being so tight lipped about Caleb.

“I mean, I get it, honey, I do: if there’s stuff he’s told you in confidence, I totally understand if you’re not comfortable sharing that.”

“No, it’s not that.  I mean, maybe I shouldn't be comfortable, but it’s the same fuckin’ people you were dealing with, so honestly I think it’s fine, I’ll ask him.”

“Oh.  Oh boy, the Assembly messed him up too?”

“Honeybuns, you have nooooo idea how bad they messed him up.”

“Alright.  Maybe he’ll tell me someday.  But regardless, why are you so… Y’know, uncomfortable about him, huh?”  She gets that guilty look on her face.  That look of shame he saw when they were little and she thought something was wrong with her.  That look when she tried to sleep on the floor their first night back together.  He sighs.  Veth is brilliant, but she can be such a dummy sometimes.  “You know it’s only natural that you’re going to form other attachments, all that time we spent away from each other.  I know we were always kind of attached at the hip, but I’m glad you weren’t lonely while you were out there.  Glad you had someone to keep you warm…”

“It’s not like that,” she argues, shaking her head.  She’s a terrible liar.  Always was.

“Maybe not.  But you want it to be, right?”  Yeza strokes her hair — dark green and stringy rather than the thick black braids he once knew, but still hers.  He smiles and continues in a sing-song voice: “He’s pretty cuuuuuuute.”

He has to actively try not to laugh when she flops face down in a pillow while her long green ears turn a muddy brown.  Goblin Veth (or Nott, as her friends called her) blushes just the same way that Regular Veth did -- from the tips of her ears all the way down her chest -- and he loves her all the more for it.  But she doesn’t get back up after, just lies there hiding her face away from him.  Yeza looks at his wife with a fond sympathy and lies down next to her on his belly, face turned towards her.

“Hey,” he whispers, waiting for her to look at him.  When large yellow eyes with narrow pupils finally turn his way, he can’t help but smile.  Part of him misses her brown eyes, her rosy cheeks, her sweet nose, and her bushy eyebrows.  But this is his wife.  This is Veth.  He can see it in every inch of her gobliny face, and he loves it.  She’s alive and she’s the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

“I spent too long,” he murmurs, “thinking you were gone to have you hide your face from me now.”

Veth’s large eyes shine and crinkle fondly, her mouth curling up in the corners in spite of herself.

“How is it,” Veth replies, “that you can be completely tongue tied and awkward around people but when you open your mouth around me it’s like… fucking… fucking romantic poetry or something, I dunno, you’re ridiculous.  You’re so… you’re the perfect husband.”

“I know,” he winks and curls in closer to her, relishing her warm breath on his nose and her waist under his fingertips.  “Look, I’m not surprised you’re attracted to him, I mean, I have eyes, he’s a good looking fella.  Not usually your type, but—”

“Um, excuse me, pasty-genius-surprisingly-smooth-talking-nerd says what?”

“What?”  She smirks.  He gets it.  “Oh!  Oh.”  He blushes and continues anyway.  “Thought I was just an exception.”

“You’re pretty exceptional.”

“Now who’s smooth-talking?”  They wind their fingers together and bump foreheads, content to share space for a moment before he continues.  “And… I’m not surprised that you have feelings for him either.  No, no,” he sees her starting to object, “I know that look.  I know you.  I see you, Veth.  And it’s okay.  Of course you have feelings for him: you… you went through so much together, and you protected each other when I couldn’t be there with you.  He’s your best friend.”

“My other best friend…”

“Honey, I got the husband upgrade, I don’t feel threatened by you having a best friend,” he chuckles.  “And like you said, he’s kind of a genius. Of course you love him.”

She looks a little sad.  A little ashamed.  Yeza wishes she wouldn’t be, wishes she could accept that it was okay to have her feelings, all of them, even the weird or confusing ones.  He wishes he could wipe that shame and worry away from between her too-thin eyebrows.

“It’s… complicated, huns-buns,” she responds.

“I’m sure it is.  I’m sure I can’t even begin to understand how complicated.  He’s your family.”

“I… he… yeah.  Yeah he is.  We had a… a very weird sort of dynamic together.  He thought I was this kind of weird child goblin, and I was looking at him almost like… like he was both you and Luc mashed together?  Which, okay, a little messed up maybe.  But Yeza, you have no idea how bad the Assembly fucked him up.  Sometimes he would just cry and shake and all I could think was wanting to hold him and rock him the way I did with… with…”

“I know, sweetie.”

“But he’s also brilliant!  Seriously, he’s the second smartest person I’ve ever met, and you should see him cast a fireball it’s really fucking sexy, and those are all very not motherly feelings !”

“You guys have been through a lot.  It’s not surprising your feelings would grow and change and go through a bunch of different variations.  And wanting to comfort someone doesn’t mean that you can’t also be attracted to them, it just means you care about them.”

He smiles.  Strokes some green hair out of her face, resting his hand on her cheek while his thumb plays over her lips.

“He’s good for you, Veth,” he continues.  “And you love him.  It’s pretty obvious.  And I’m not jealous!  I mean, how can I be?  He brought you back to me.  Helped keep you safe and healthy and happy.  That’s all I want in the world.  For you to be safe and healthy and happy.  You and the boy.”

She gets that soft look on her face.  Like she doesn’t know how to hold all the love she feels.

“How are you so good ?”  She says a little louder than is necessary.  He smiles fondly.  “I mean it, seriously, how?  How did some hot young halfling not snatch you up while I was gone?”

“‘Some hot young halfling’?  Veth, you’re twenty-four..”

“I mean, if you wanna get technical about it I’m pretty sure I’m like ten.”

“Ten?!”  Yeza sits up suddenly, glasses knocked askew.

“To be fair, ten is well into adulthood for goblins, apparently,”  she nods, wearing an utterly unconvincing expression of innocence.

“But ten?!  I…. It…” he pinches the bridge of his nose and closes his eyes, but honestly can’t even be upset with her, not with how cute she is when she’s trying to poke fun at someone.  Even when it’s him.  “Revettha, I swear…”

“Oh you’re pulling out the full name, motherfucker?” she cackles and bounces up as well, embarrassment forgotten as she pokes him.  “Don’t you ‘Revvetha’ me!”

“I didn’t even break out the middle name, just you wait, you’re gonna get it,” he teases back, knowing that he’s miles out of his depth trying to tease her.  He’s always known.  It was one of a million reasons he loved her.

“I’m ‘gonna get it’?”  Veth’s voice drops a little bit as she crawls almost half onto his lap, hands sneaking around his back.  “What’re you gonna do, Mister Brenatto?”

“I’m gonna,” he’s struggling to think of something, but it’s particularly difficult with his wife squirming in his lap and her hands grabbing at his ass.

“You’re gonna?”  Veth grins, leaning in to nibble on the spot below his ear.

He gets caught up for a moment in the feel of her.  The weight of her.  The smell of her.  She smells different now; more like moss and peat, less like barley and ashwood, but somehow she still has those faintly sour citrus-like notes about her.  He doesn't know how that could make sense, but none of this makes sense.  She is alive.  She is a miracle.  A miracle.  Yeza Brenatto is a man of science; he never had much faith in the gods beyond knowing they existed, but that day she came back to him… he tries not to think about it too much otherwise he’ll spend every day happy-crying and get nothing done.  But he prays now, sometimes.  Thanks Avandra for bringing her back to him, changed as she is.  He will happily accept change.  Life is change, and Veth is alive.

“You gonna finish that threat, hot stuff?” Veth murmurs into his ear and Yeza feels a jolt of heat go through him…

“Or I’m gonna flirt with Caleb first,” he manages.  A threat with absolutely no teeth, but it definitely gets a reaction, judging by the hitch in her breath and the way her knees suddenly clench around him a little.  Yeza Brenatto watches his wife’s green skin flush brown-pink and he suspects it might be his new favorite thing.  More experimentation is required.

It takes a while for Caleb to stop acting weird around Yeza, even after he and Veth (or Nott) were officially A Thing.  First he was outright avoiding him, which was super weird, but that ended soon enough.  Now he’s just awkward — terribly earnest, but undeniably awkward — but that makes sense now that he knows Veth hadn’t told anyone about him or Luc until a few weeks ago.  He’s hurt for a moment, but it makes sense: a goblin going around talking about her halfling family and being… cursed or something?  Things were probably difficult enough for her without having to explain all that.

But still.  He’s heard so much about Caleb, yet it feels like they haven’t really gotten to talk much.  A few spare conversations about books and arcane and academic theory.  They were nice talks -- intellectually stimulating, and Caleb could be pretty funny when he was excited -- but it seemed like sooner or later he would remember who he was talking to and get a little… quiet.  And then run off.

Eventually Yeza realizes he needs to build some more trust and, hopefully, an emotional connection.  He’d really like Caleb to be his friend, at the very least, even if he’s not interested.

“Hey, I, uh… can we talk?”

Caleb’s in the kitchen, pouring himself a cup of tea when Yeza approaches from the doorway.  He sees Caleb’s shoulders tense up a little bit before relaxing, and wonders if that’s about him or about… well, the guy’s got some trauma.

“Er, ja, of course Mr. Brenatto, one moment.  Ah, would you like a cup?”  He asks, gesturing to the kettle.

“That’d be nice, yeah, I appreciate it.”  Yeza smiles as Caleb brings both of their cups over to the kitchen table, and they both sit for a moment, taking in the warm scent of the brew.

“So, er, what is it you would like to talk about, then?”

“I… I dunno, a bunch of stuff, kinda?”  Yeza takes another sip and wonders if maybe he’s the one stalling now.  “I… well first off I wanted to thank you.”

“Oh, no, there is no th--”

“I get to thank who I wanna thank, and I wanna thank you. For being there.  For Veth, I mean.  I know you all were, but she’s, uh… she’s told me a lot about you guys, and what life was like for her before you met.  You know, as a… Goblin.”  He almost whispers the last word.  He’s noticed Veth is fine when other people call her a goblin but looks like she wants to disappear whenever he says the word himself.  “You’re family to her.  Even before, y’know, your relationship changed to what it is.  Which means you’re my family too, yeah?”

“I…” Caleb looks a little stunned, staring into his teacup like he’s practicing divination.  “Y- you should not feel indebted to…”

“I don’t!  I mean, I mean I do, I totally do, but this isn’t about that.  It’s,” Yeza takes a deep breath and sets down his teacup.  Trying to find the right words for this.  “Look, I just wanna say that, you know…” 

Yeza has to lean over pretty far to put a hand on Caleb’s knee. It’s awkward, but he’s used to being awkward.

“I just want to say that I’m here for you.  For whatever you need, okay?  I know we don’t know each other super well, but you… you’re part of our family now.  I want you to know that.  And I don’t know what you’ve been through, I mean… I know there was something to do with the Assembly — and buddy, oh man, I- I’ve got some complicated feelings about them if you ever feel like talking—“

Caleb actually lets out the most pathetic sounding half-laugh ever, a mixture of surprise and gratitude and disbelief and horror.  Yeah, that tracks.

“But also just… y’know… nerd stuff?”   Yeza takes his hand back and shrugs, smiling.  “I’m still trying to work through some of the chemical properties of that distillation from the Beacon, which, wow, are those people ?  I mean, the potion, was that made of consecrated, or, um, consecuted, like, souls ?  Or just arcane energy?  I don’t know, but I really want to because that’s kind of a huge and slightly horrifying deal.  So, if you ever feel like tinkering with some theory and tossing ideas back and forth…”

Yeza drinks the rest of his tea quickly before he can embarrass himself further, and stands up.

“I’m around.  And I think you’re great.  …okay, good talk, I’m gonna go find Veth now!”

He has just enough time to catch Caleb looking surprised and a little confused and kind of… soft in a very endearing way before he books it from the kitchen, hoping to Avandra that his face isn’t red.  Gods he’s blushing and he hadn’t even flirted with the man, he is useless at this.

Caleb goes along with it, a little.  Which is nice.

He does come by the study while Yeza is working more often, and helps explain some of the finer points of arcane study that Yeza never really got to — he only learned as much as he needed to craft potions that mimic arcane effects, after all.  It’s easier when Veth is there too, trying to learn magic from Caleb and throwing Yeza the component she knows he needs before he even thinks to look for it.  She’s so smart.  He missed her so much.

And listening to her and Caleb together is fascinating.  They have so many stories!  He’s sad he missed out on them, and also very relieved he wasn’t there.  

Yeza starts to get more comfortable with the whole team, actually, which is nice.  They hadn’t had a lot of Grown Up Friends back in Felderwin even before he’d isolated himself and been under the thumb of Lady Vess, so his social skills are pretty rusty.

When Veth and Caleb tell him about Modern Literature -- which is both horrifying and hilarious -- Jester insists on reenacting her absolute panic at seeing it for the first time, dragging a reluctantly theatrical Caleb along the floor by his feet, screaming his name to the heavens.  She is… a lot.  Delightful, wonderful, very sweet, and a lot.

Caduceus has made a little habit of describing the different flora of his home while Yeza tries to identify them, which is difficult due Caduceus being woefully unfamiliar with any of their colloquial or proper names.  Yeza’s pretty decent at drawing, and gets a lot better with that practice.  His presence is remarkably soothing.

Yasha is good at noticing when something is wrong.  Some days he feels a little off-kilter, as if he’s living in the wrong world, and she always picks up on it. When she asks, he recalls running with Luc through the woods while Veth bought him and the boy time.  He remembers abandoning her.  He remembers a year and a half where his wife was dead.  Yasha sits next to him and…says a few things that make a lot of sense.  He promises not to tell the others, and hugs her when she cries.  She’ll talk about it in her own time.

And Fjord… well, the third or fourth time Veth and Fjord are sniping at each other at the dinner table, Yeza unthinkingly says “Honey, stop flirting with Fjord, you know he’s not ready for you yet.”  Caleb snorts so hard that solid food somehow gets stuck up his nose, and the whole table devolves into chaos from there.  Yeza is red-faced the entire time, unsure why he’d even opened his mouth or where he’d got the gumption to make that kind of joke in front of these people, but weirdly proud at how hard Caleb had laughed.

Beau high fives him afterwards and expresses utmost approval.

“Didn’t know you had it in, you, Yeza.”

“Oh he doesn’t right now, but he’s gonna,” quips Veth, sneaking a hand between his ass and his chair and goosing him with the least subtlety anyone could ever manage.   The table erupts in catcalls and shocked laughter.  Yeza hides his face behind his hands… and looks forward to it.  Gods, he missed his wife.

He notices Caleb quirk an amused eyebrow in his direction.  Well he’s already blushing, it’s not like anyone will notice if that makes him blush more.

“You haven’t even flirted with him, have you,” says Veth with a smirk a week later.

“I… it… there… there hasn’t been a good… I…” 

She’s got that fake patiently-curious look on her face that she wears when trying not to laugh.

“Shut up,” Yeza pouts, but there’s a smile in the corner of his mouth and she can see it.  She always could.  He always enjoyed her teasing, and enjoys it now more than ever.  It means she’s here.  “Look. I’ve been getting to know him, okay?  You guys have had almost a year, we’ve had a few weeks.  Give me some time.”

“Need any pointers, huns-buns?”  She leans on the table next to where he’s working.

“From you?  On flirting?”

“Eh, that’s fair, we have different methodologies,” she grins.  He grins.  Slips his hand into hers even though his face is still in his notes.

“Hey, if you have pointers on overcoming decades of social anxiety and the awkwardness of flirting with your just-returned-from-the-sort-of-dead wife’s boyfriend, I’ll take them.”

“I mean, booze works.”

They’ve already talked about that.  A bunch.  She’s already cut back a little, but… he understands the need for a coping mechanism, even an unhealthy one.  Particularly with everything she’s gone through, and everything she has to face on an almost-daily-basis.  It’s healthier, he suspects, than obsessively throwing yourself into dangerous and probably unethical work for a probably evil political entity, so he isn’t exactly ready to push her on that.  Yet.

But there is something to be said for the occasional application of alcohol as a social lubricant.

“...please just don’t let me embarrass myself too much?” he whines.

“Aw but you’re so cute when you embarrass yourself,” she sighs, and kisses his cheeks.  “You get so brave underneath that blush.”

Yeza smiles and kisses her back.  He doesn’t need to be brave with her anymore: he already knows what she likes, and every moment he spends hearing her groan and sigh and moan is a miracle to him.

Veth does mention that he doesn’t have to flirt with Caleb if he doesn’t want to.  He appreciates it and says he might not end up doing anything.  He might not.  He probably won’t.  He’s unlikely to, anyway.  He… it’s not… Caleb is… so… yeah.  But he should just focus on being friends.  It was a really nice idea, though.  And it’s certainly fun to get Veth worked up about it.

They end up drinking in the study.  Veth had aimed for the hot tub, but Yeza and Caleb both rightly pointed out that if she just wanted a “quiet night in with her boys,” getting drunk around the hottub would only invite hijinks, catcalls, and Jester Lavorre.  So they end up trading stories of spare happy  moments in their lives.  Moments untouched by goblin attacks or uncaring parents, by loss and fear, by whatever on earth the Assembly had put Caleb through.

“Wait, you did this?”  Caleb looks even more dishevelled when he’s been drinking, but in a charming, relaxed way rather than an anxious, not-caring-for-himself way.  It’s uncomfortably attractive.  Or it would be uncomfortable if Yeza wasn’t so relaxed himself by now.  So he guesses it’s more just regular-attractive.

“I know, he didn’t seem the type!”  Veth gazes fondly and pokes his cheek.

“She made fun of your eyebrows,” Yeza frowns defensively.  “I love your bushy eyebrows!”

“And for this, you would glue the poor girl’s braids to her chair?”

“Wouldn’t you?” Yeza asks expectantly.

“... ja, probably, I would.”

More laughter.  More drinks.  More stupid questions and silly stories, beyond Bethaniss Fletcher’s braids.  Caleb getting Torrin Nackle in trouble with the boy’s parents for making fun of his cat when he was six.  Veth adopting a frog from the stream that she named Timothy, who she visited every day for about a year (even though she was never actually certain that it was the same frog).  Yeza’s first kiss with Caramip Deepwell when he was thirteen, even though he actually had a crush on her brother.  Well, and on Veth.

“Oh, of course you wouldn’t kiss the people you were actually interested in, that would make too much sense,” Veth laughs.

“Hey, I kissed you eventually!”  Yeza pouts.

“Yeah, on a dare!”  Veth shouts joyfully, Caleb bent double, laughing.

“Well I… was… scared, okay?  I’m not the bravest… hah.  Hah!  I get it!”  Yeza jumps up from his seat (and nearly falls over, and then rights himself), pointing triumphantly.  “Nott the Brave!  Cause you’re… wait, no, that doesn’t make sense at all.”

“Really does not,” agrees Caleb.

“I mean, you’re crazy brave.”

“She really is.”

“The bravest!  In the world!  That’s you.”

“I concur, Mister Brenanto.”

They snort at Caleb’s liquor-mangled pronunciation and continue to sing Veth’s praises for the next ten minutes.  Caleb talks about Nott the Powder Monkey (“wait you were a monkey?” “no sweetie”) and their adventures on the Lucidean Ocean.  Yeza talks about how Veth had stood up to her shitty older brothers when they tried to beat up Yeza over some perceived slight. They both extoll the virtues of her dexterity in not-terribly-subtle-yet-never-actually-explicit innuendo.  Eventually Veth loudly demands a change to the subject.

“Nope, nope, it’s Cay’s turn now.  Caleb, you… are SO smart.”

“So smart!” Yeza echoes unthinkingly.  It just seems like the right thing to do.

“You just, you figure stuff out so quickly!  You’re a genius!  And you taught me magic!”

“Myyyy wife does magic now!  It’s amazing!”

“Sweetie, no, it’s Caleb’s turn.”

“Right!  Caleb, you’re… you’re great, you’re the greatest, you’re just… you’re, you’re so nice!”

Caleb scoffs loudly at that and mutters some comments about meeting him a few months ago.

“Well you’re nice to me,” insists Yeza.  “You’re really sweet.”

“Oh!  And,” Veth adds, voice momentarily heavy with gravitas, “ And … you … have… the cutest little butt!  Well, the other cutest little butt.”

“It’s okay, honey, there can be more than one cute butt.”

“I know, I know, just--”

“Plus, his is right at eye level, I mean, it-it’s really convenient!  It really is a nice butt, Caleb,” Yeza says matter-of-factly, like he’s complimenting Caleb on a well-cooked meal.  “As far as butts go, top notch,” Yeza clicks his tongue and winks and oh no he is drunk, oh no.  No, no, he’s just being funny!  Relax!  It’s fine!

“See, I told you Yeza thinks so,” Veth says triumphantly.

“You what?!  I- I didn’t even… did I even tell you that, though?!”  The room is just a little tiny bit spinny and Yeza is just a little tiny bit afraid and he doesn’t remember why.  “I told you about his holster, the book thing, cause it makes his shoulders look really good, I didn’t say anything about his butt!”

“You didn’t need to, huns-buns, I have eyes, I saw you looking.”

“B- but… You---”

Veth climbs onto his lap and blows a raspberry on his neck, making him laugh loudly and squirm until he forgets what he was so nervous about to begin with.  They’re just telling stories.  Getting drunk and telling stories.  It’s nice.  It’s… it’s really nice.  It’s been a long time since he’s felt safe like this.  Luc and Edith just left Alfield with some kind of cleric escorting them, and they’re on their way to Nicodranas.  His boy will be safe.  And he’s safe.  And his wife is alive.  And everything is beautiful.

“Ohhh sweetie, you’re crying again,” he hears, and Veth is wiping his face with the hem of her yellow dress.  “Happy things, I hope?”

Yeza nods.  Very happy things.

When he looks up, he sees Caleb looking at him with a curious, surprised expression.  A soft one, maybe a little bit of a smile, but Yeza’s not sure.

“What?  I’m very in t-touch with my feelings, and crying is nothing to be ashamed of,” says Yeza, not sure what that look is about.  “Oh, do I have something on my face?”

“Just my dress, sweet-pea,” Veth reassures him, and wipes another stray tear.

“Oh good.”

Soon Caleb tells a story about a time when his teachers caught him and two other students with their hands in each other’s pants in the library at school.  It’s sexy and hilarious and scandalous and he gets a little quiet and distant after.  Yeza falls asleep in the chair not long after, exhaustion and alcohol having taken their toll.  He wakes up with a soft blanket tucked around him, and sees his wife and her partner asleep, snuggled on a small couch across the room.  They’re adorable.  Last night was good.  Caleb is good for her.  These people are good for her.

And maybe seeing that is good for Yeza too.

In the end it just kind of… happens.

There’s no dramatic talking about it, no stressful dancing around the subject, or even heavy flirtation.

No, in the end, they go to Nicodranas.  And Veth and Yeza are reunited with Luc, and it’s quite possibly the best moment of his entire life.  It’s everything.  Everything.  Luc is still in his picky-eating stage and it feels like Yeza didn’t miss a thing.  Veth keeps crying a little when no one else is looking (she almost never cries, but he’s not surprised that this is what does it) because it feels to her like she’s missed everything.

But Luc seems to have adjusted strangely well to the idea that his mom is alive.  That she’d been fighting goblins to keep him safe, as Edith told him, and protecting a group of the most incredible adventurers, as Ms. Lavorre told him, and being “a super badass-- I mean a super cool, really awesome rogue lady,” as Jester told him.

It’s when it’s time to say goodbye that it happens.

Caleb pulls Luc forward and asks for a little help with some ritual magic. 

First he magically poofs Frumpkin into Luc’s arms, and Yeza feels his entire being melt a little bit at how effortlessly Caleb both entertains and comforts the boy, while managing to make Luc feel powerful and in control and helpful.  Not a victim.

Luc stands very still while Caleb draws a little circle around his feet in sparkling chalk on the hardwood floor, and a larger circle around that.  He brings Veth and Yeza in to stand at equidistant points within the circle, creating a sort of internal triangle.

“Luc, the world is very big,” Caleb begins, gesturing to the larger circle.  “And it might feel like the three of you are very far apart.”  He draws lines to create the triangle between the three of them.  “But as far away as your mother may seem, in the blink of an eye, she can come back to you.  You are never far from her, and she is always with you.  Just as your father is always with you, and you are always with them.  You make them strong, you know.” 

“I do?”

“Oh, ja,” Caleb affirms with an earnestness that commands the young halfling child’s focus.  “That’s how magic works, you know.  I cannot even tell you how much stronger your mother became after she saw you in Felderwin.  That’s how we rescued your papa, yes?  You helped her.  They were both very brave.”

Yeza is trying not to cry.  He’s really, really, really trying.

“You want to help me fill it in, yes?”


It takes ten minutes… well, a little more than ten minutes, to complete the teleportation circle, with Luc’s “help.”  Caleb has to go back and fix a few lines, but manages to pop Frumpkin in at precisely the right moments to keep Luc both involved and out of the way.  Yeza feels almost flabbergasted at how naturally it comes to Caleb, who he knows has never had a child.

Yeza and Veth both stay very still in their separate corners of the circle, watching the scene, even though they want to hold each other's hands.  This is for Luc.  It’s worth it.  Caleb is doing a marvelous job.

Yeza realizes that he is falling horribly in love.

“I know your mother has to go now, but she is off doing big things, and she has a lot of assistants.  Nine of them!”

“Okay,” Luc nods.  He’s wearing his I’m-being-a-big-kid face.  Yeza missed that face so much.

“But you’ll hear from her,” reassures Caleb, his hands on Luc’s shoulders.  “And she’ll be back soon.”

Luc nods enthusiastically.  He looks more excited by the prospect of witnessing magic than by anything else.  Yeza has a feeling every bedtime story for the next few months is going to require some element of wizardry.

“Everybody ready to go?”

Yeza feels a little small, a little shy, as he tugs on Caleb’s hand to bring him outside the circle while Veth says goodbye to the boy.  He pulls Caleb down and hugs him.  Smells like linen and burnt candle wicks and the leather of that blasted book holster.  Caleb slowly, tentatively hugs him back.  They both melt into the embrace a little bit, unsure how long it lasts.

When he pulls back, he finds his hands have made their way to the sides of Caleb’s face.  He shaved, but Yeza can feel the scruff of it coming back in.  It’s nice.  A texture that somehow makes him feel like he can get a better hold of the man.  He’s never far.  Just like Veth.

“Thank you,” Yeza says quietly, looking over the rim of his glasses.

“I’ll bring her back safely,” Caleb starts, but Yeza interrupts.

You come back safely too.”

There’s a tense pause.

A large human hand brushes a small brown curl off of Yeza’s forehead.  The same one that Veth always brushes away.  Caleb’s hands mirror Yeza’s own, cupping his chin and his cheeks and his face and he feels so warm, so thankful.

“May I kiss you, Mister Brenatto,” Caleb whispers shyly.

Yeza grins, almost laughs, and just kisses him instead.  Chapped lips, warm breath, just the point of a tongue and a shivering lower lip and now they’re both silently giggling, shaking their heads.  This is ridiculous.  Impossible.  Everything about this is so…

“Like I said, you come back safely too, Caleb,” Yeza repeats.  His blunt fingertips trailing along Caleb’s jaw just before they separate completely.

Veth is smiling over Luc’s head and Yeza can see the Mighty Nein very studiously examining the ceiling.

When Veth kisses him goodbye and slips her hand in his back pocket to grab his butt, Yeza can’t help but silently thank the Changebringer again.

Life is change.  

That change brought the love of his life back to him.  And it brought him someone new to love as well.  When they get back… well, they’ll see how it goes.