Once Micah got used to being in the Univir Settlement in his wooly form, he tended to traverse the desert in it. It was awkward at first, since he had only just remembered his other self after his fight at the forest, but soon he felt better walking with his paws than his legs in the desert. His shoes always got filled with sand when they sunk into the ground, while as a wooly he would run without problem for hours. And since he had to be a monster to not scare Kuruna and the others, it just made things even more convenient.
The only problem was going back to Sharance.
While he could easily walk back once the sand cleared up the closer he got to town, it was also the area where villagers would wander around freely. He remembered one day when he stayed hidden in a bush for hours while Raven and Gaius mined for iron, another when Shara was trying and failing to find desert flowers, and one when Gaius was just fishing for some reason. He didn't catch anything for hours that day, not even moving when his line budged. Honestly, Micah had been confused that time. But still, people felt safe in the shallow areas of the desert, and it was only a matter of time before he would be…
“Oh hey there little guy, where’d you come from?”
Micah turned around, suddenly aware of the shadow that had sneaked out to the side of his peripheral vision. A nervous ‘baa’ passed through his throat when he saw the villager he had avoided the most in his wooly form - Gaius.
Micah had thought of countless scenarios of what would happen if a villager saw him in his monster form. People just didn’t like monsters in Sharance. That was a fact that micah had to face when he remembered who he really was. It was understandable, since monsters were dangerous when feral, but even kind monsters like Kuruna and Ondorus were hated. If someone saw Micah as a wooly…then he was afraid of what they would do to him. Yell, scream, fight…anything was fair game at this point.
But when Micah looked up at Gaius from far below, he saw a gentle smile, the usual one he saw at the blacksmith's when he was on break.
“What are you doing out here?” Gaius asked him gently, “It’s kinda hot for a wooly.”
Micah couldn’t even get out a dumb 'baa' to respond with, awestruck that Gaius wasn’t even lifting an eyebrow at his other form. Did Gaius not have anything against monsters? He would have thought that a weapons-maker would have something…but he was a dwarf, right? Not as extreme as zaid, but not-human regardless.
It was easy to forget that in Sharance.
“Huh, you seem scared,” Gaius spoke again, rubbing the back of his head, “You don’t have to be. Hey, let’s get you some water.” He reached down and patted Micah on the head, settling a tremble the half-monster didn’t realize he had, and motioned for him to follow. Gaius began walking towards town - no, towards the river that was on the way - and Micah was still staring. It was only when Gaius turned around to check on him when he finally snapped out of it and began to follow.
“So, what’s a little thing like you doing in the desert?”
Micah remembered to 'baa' excitedly, as if he was just a regular wooly that couldn’t use human speech. Gaius nodded along, placing a hand on his chin as if he were deeply considering what he was saying. It was pretty cute, and Micah wanted to laugh at how serious he looked while listening to nonsensical 'baa's. Was this how he looked like when he talked to the woolys in the forest before he got his memory back?
“Right, I see. Still, you should do something about the fur. I’m getting hot just looking at you.”
But Gaius was wearing a jacket. Micah 'baa'ed appropriately, tiny hand pointing at his jacket. Gaius looked confused as his one eye trailed down to his clothes.
“Oh, this? What? It’s thin. Heat doesn’t bother me, anyway.”
Somehow, Micah felt for Raven. A lot. No wonder she gravitated so closely to Gaius, especially in the forge. The silent protector.
“Alright, there it is. Go ahead and drink up.”
Micah looked away from Gaius to see the river. Somehow, the thirst he had been ignoring came back all in a rush. He scrambled to the river, settling on the side to bend down and take a drink. He usually took a drink of water on the way back towards Sharance, and the wooly form was again more convenient for this. Just drinking like a normal wooly was better than cupping his hands beneath the water. Beside him, Gaius sat down and just watched.
“So, you feeling better?”
He looked up, sitting back from the water and nodding in Gaius’ direction.
“Good. Wouldn’t want you getting sick, Micah.”
Everything froze. Micah felt his body fall stiff like a statue, his heart stop the second Gaius said his name. As soon as the last syllable escaped Gaius’ lips, Micah felt himself flee from his wooly form and grow back into human hands, human feet, and a sheet white human face. The magic broken from shock, the fears taking him back into his human form, reflected in the water below him. His eyes widened as he automatically scooted away from the water and from Gaius, afraid. Afraid of how Gaius knew and if anyone else knew, afraid of what Gaius thought, and afraid of Gaius himself. The normally gentle smile on Gaius’ face seemed dissonant to him. like he shouldn’t be smiling, but disappointed.
Or the smile could be a triumphant one. Gaius had found the wolf in the sheep.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Gaius spoke slowly, hands raised with his palms out.
Micah felt himself scoot back even more, “H…How?”
“I saw it.”
“What?” That was it. He was too careless. He didn’t watch enough. Anyone could have known and Micah was only lucky that Gaius hadn’t told anyone else. What if the mayor knew? What if Shara knew?
“Not directly,” Gaius hesitantly leaned over to place a grounding grip on Micah, like an anchor to a boat in a hurricane, “I remember seeing a wooly walk around…and then you were there the next minute walking to town. At first I thought you were just being quiet, but then I didn't see the footprints from the desert. Only tracks."
“Does anyone else know?” Micah forced the question out of his throat, though he wished he didn’t ask it. He didn’t want to know. It was the dread that Micah never wanted to face.
“No,” Gaius answered, solid and sure, “I don’t think anyone else would have noticed.”
“Right…” Micah replied, still doubtful. Gaius was observant, but so were others in the town. The innkeeper, the mayor, Raven. How could he have been so stupid?
“Look, Micah,” Gaius held out his other arm and took Micah’s other shoulder, holding him steady, “I wouldn’t have done this if I wasn’t concerned. You’ve been a little too tense lately, even Raven’s been noticing. When I saw that…I knew what it was.”
“How could I not be tense?”
“I’m aware…” Gaius’ serious expression relaxed into his usual one, and Micah couldn’t help but look into his eye, “But I’ve seen someone try to keep a secret like this to themselves. I just wanted to let you know that someone has your back, alright?”
Micah stared in disbelief for a second, half-expecting this to be a dream and the real Gaius to be chasing him through the desert with a hammer. He blinked one…two…three times and Gaius was still there, smiling at him. The heat of the desert pressed against his cheeks, and he felt a flood of stress pour from his body. This was real…and Gaius really did accept him for who he was. Even if he didn’t really belong in either Sharance or with the Univir.
“Alright…” Micah answered, voice quieter than usual. Gaius’ hands slackened, one reaching up to rustle his blonde hair.
“Great,” Gaius spoke as both hands fell to the side, “I’m going to head back to town.” Ge started to get up, but stopped suddenly, looking at Micah with a slight hint of something in his eyes. Like there was still something wrong. At first Micah was afraid. Was Gaius still hesitant? It would be natural, knowing what he was now, but it still was sad to him. Another reminder of what he was.
Just as Micah opened his mouth to ask, Gaius placed a kiss on his forehead.
Micah froze, cheeks growing bright red as Gaius stood up, turning around so that Micah couldn’t see his expression.
“See you later, alright?”
“Y…Yea…” Micah choked out of his mouth, staring with his mouth hanging open as he watched Gaius walk faster than usual towards Sharance. He looked down to the river, seeing a reflection of messy blonde hair and a completely red face.
What was that?