“Look, I know we’re not,” Vax attempts, words failing him mid-sentence. Shaun shrugs: that’s not exactly new for Vax, and Shaun is adept at listening for words unsaid. “And that’s my fault.” The skin of Vax’s forehead wrinkles slightly, and Shaun fights the urge to reach out and smooth it away.
Shaun shrugs his shoulders in a slow roll, easing out a crick. “Let’s not play the blame game.”
Vax fixes him with a heady stare, his dark hair tucked behind his ears by quick, deft fingers. He always has such an intense energy about him, and tonight is no exception. It is, perhaps, part of what drew Shaun in in the first place. “Yes. No more games.”
There are moments where Shaun thinks that it would be easier to just cut things off with Vox Machina. He could have Sherri do business with them if necessary, keep the lot of them out of sight and out of mind. He could be away during open hours, he could open up new branches in the cities that remain once the dragon threat has been eliminated. He could stop rubbing salt in an old wound.
“Do you ever think about it?” Vax asks, voice stripped down to dangerous curiosity and something else, something that warms Shaun’s gut like the disturbed embers of a dying fire. “What we could have been?”
It is more than difficult to gauge boundaries with someone who is always tiptoeing across them.
“You don’t want to go down this road,” Shaun warns him quietly. He turns away from Vax, who looks small at the dismissal. “All that lies there is regret. Regret and missed opportunity.”
Shaun considers himself a collector of many things: items, magics, but most importantly, knowledge. He’s used his connections and spells to scry into the past and into the many possible futures of the realm. He’s seen himself happy and loved. He’s seen Vax in his bed, seen the curve of his spine dancing beneath his fingertips. He wishes, sometimes, that he’d never looked. Knowing that future slipped through his grasp... “It’s agony,” Shaun finds himself admitting. He watches Vax flinch at the word and can’t help but think about that damn fiend impersonating his form. “But I’ll live,” he amends, and the edge of Vax’s mouth quirks into a smile.
Vax sits down on the edge of Shaun’s bed. He is fully clothed, and sad in the eyes, and Shaun has never seen anything more heartbreaking. “When I’m not with you, it’s easier to put it aside.”
Shaun finds himself nodding. “I know.”
Vax has a dagger out and it twirls in his hand, a nervous tic punctuating the tension. He bites his lip a little before admitting, nervously, “You’re like the fucking sun, man. When you’re around, it’s hard to know anything else.” Shaun doesn’t move. Doesn’t flinch. Meanwhile, Vax sighs quietly. “There’s a reason the rakshasa chose your form. I can’t deny you.”
This, this is torture. This is Vax cracking him open and Shaun letting him. And it’s sick, truly, because Shaun would rather have Vax here, in his bedroom, unattainable and heart wrenching, than anywhere else in the world. At least here, Vax is safe. At least here, the only person getting hurt is Shaun.
They’ll have to see how long he can survive like this.
“I don’t really know what to say to that, Vax,” Shaun sighs. He rubs his eyes with his hands, kneading them in until he sees stars. “You are otherwise occupied, are you not?”
“Yeah, the dragons are really taking up a lot of my head space lately,” Vax tries with a grin. When Shaun doesn’t return the smile, Vax’s grin fades. “I know.” He shakes his head in disbelief. “You ever ask yourself why the hell you put up with me, Gil?” The question is meant to be playful and self-deprecating, Shaun can tell.
“You must know,” Shaun says simply.
Vax makes a quiet, small noise in the back of his throat. “What I know is that I love her. And I think she loves me.”
“She told you?” Shaun asks. In his head, he adds despicably, With me, you wouldn’t have to guess. I’d sing it from the rooftops, dragons be damned.
“She sent me here.”
That freezes Shaun in his steps.
Vax stands up, sliding the dagger away into his belt. “That’s how I know she loves me. She loves me enough to know that I need—I need you both—” Shaun slowly senses the paths of the universe shift: like a vital choice has altered the course of the future, connecting two lines that should never have met. “Please, Shaun, I know it’s not fair but,” and the name sings across Shaun’s flesh like an arrow flitting through tall grass, “I think I’d like to try it.” Vax does not step forward, nerves obviously coloring his tone. “If you’ll have me.”
It’s incredulous. Absurd.
Shaun crosses the room in a few quick strides. He is far taller than Vax, and when he gets up close, Vax has to tilt his neck up to look him straight in the eye. His eyes flit to Shaun’s mouth for a brief instant before circling back up to his penetrating gaze. “Oh, I’ll have you,” Shaun nods, gently cupping Vax’s jaw, just to make sure that this isn’t some apparition or dream, but no: he is real enough beneath Shaun’s fingertips. And if this is some imposter, Shaun thinks that he’d rather pretend for a while. “On what plane, in what universe could I turn this down?” He gestures at all of Vax, and Vax blushes prettily beneath his thumb.
“I don’t know,” Vax mutters. He palms against Shaun’s stomach, exploratory, searching fingers darting against his dark purple robes, and Shaun can hardly believe this is really happening. “I think I’ve hurt you enough for a lifetime. I wouldn’t have blamed you for saying no.” He looks ashamed, and Shaun can’t have that.
Shaun presses a chaste kiss to Vax’s right cheek, and hovers softly to plant one on the left as well. “I won’t deny that the wound is there,” Shaun smiles. “I won’t lie to you, Vax’ildan.”
Vax looks down at Shaun’s side, where the gash from the initial dragon attack had rendered him nearly dead. “Does it still hurt?” he asks. Shaun isn’t sure about which wound he’s referring to: the physical one left by the dragon or the emotional one left by Vax himself, so he decides to be as honest as possible in regard to both.
“There will be a scar,” Shaun deflects shortly.
Vax frowns and Shaun wants to kiss it away. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be. It means I’ve lived, my darling boy.” Shaun leans down. “And that’s better than the alternative, isn’t it?”
Vax reaches up in a quick motion to clutch at Shaun’s neck, tangling his fingers in his dark, tousled hair. “Do me a favor and don’t die on me, okay?” Vax begs.
Honestly, it’s not a fair request, especially since Vax is the kind of man who throws himself into dangerous situations at a moment’s notice. There’s a hidden layer in Vax’s words that Shaun detects, a tonal shift colored by his sister’s experience in the sunken tomb. So, it’s not a fair request, but Shaun finds himself nodding anyway. “I’ll do my best,” he promises.
Vax nods shortly before standing up on his tiptoes and pressing his lips against Shaun’s.
It’s not the first time they’ve kissed, but it is the first time they’ve been able to really live in the act. The short lived smack he’d received so many moons ago was just that: short, too short to remember much beyond a brief caress and many nights festering on what could have brought it on. Here, Vax is sharp-nosed and determined with a nervous edge that tells of inexperience. Shaun can feel Vax’s hands shake a little against him, and his heart simply aches at the realization. Shaun takes Vax’s face in both his hands, slowly, gently, and kisses him open mouthed, delving into him with little licks of his tongue. Vax asked if he thought about what they could be, if they gave it a try. Shaun is going to do his best to show him exactly that. And Vax is making these noises, these damn noises, they should make these noises illegal, they’re so damn enthralling. Vax seems to melts against him, warm and pliant, and Shaun lets out a quiet groan of his own. It’s one thing to dream it, it’s quite another to actually live it.
Vax pulls back and Shaun finds himself grabbing Vax’s hands. They still once Shaun has them in his grasp. He gathers them against his chest so that Vax can feel his heartbeat. “Easy there,” he smiles.
“For you, maybe,” Vax smirks, hiding his nerves with humor. Shaun watches, however, as his breathing normalizes. “Is it so obvious?”
“There is nothing obvious about you, Vax’ildan,” Shaun says softly.
Vax walks himself backwards, dragging the two of them toward the bed. “Well, I hope this is obvious enough. Care to help me disrobe?” He turns his back to Shaun and unclasps his cloak, letting it clatter to the floor. The Deathwalker’s Ward is now on full display in the lamplight of Shaun’s chambers, opalescent and beautifully intricate beneath his fingertips. He strips it away slowly, gingerly, with Vax’s assistance.
“You know you gave me wings, right?” Vax grins over his shoulder at Shaun. Shaun leans in to kiss the smile away.
“They were always there. Just needed a nudge.”
Vax raises an eyebrow. He’s naked from the waist up at this point, with a small pile of armor at his feet. “And what good is a locked chest without thieves’ tools?” Shaun shrugs but Vax is still wide eyed in what could only be qualified as unmeasured adoration. Shaun basks in the feeling as Vax divulges him of his robes, which are far easier to take off than the Raven Queen’s armor.
“That’s better,” Vax murmurs, letting his hands ghost down Shaun’s chest. He hops back and splays starfished on Shaun’s bed with a delightful laugh. Shaun rolls his eyes and climbs onto the bed as well, caging him in between his arms and legs.
All it takes is one look at Vax in his bed—playful, curious, and excited—and Shaun sees the rest of his life. “What?” Vax asks, and it’s clear that Shaun’s allowed his feelings to cross his face unfiltered. Shaun licks his lips delicately and Vax’s question devolves into a smirk. “You like what you see,” Vax grins, and it’s less a question and more of a dare, a dare that Shaun is ready to answer.
Shaun dips his head and presses a kiss against Vax’s sternum. “Of course,” he murmurs against Vax’s pale skin.
It is easy to strip themselves completely: a cantrip or two and they are both exposed, panting, and wanting in the dark. “What do you see?” Vax asks in a curious voice. “When you look at me.”
Shaun continues his kisses down Vax’s torso, straddling him at the hip, running his fingertips down Vax’s chest in an easy, languorous glide. “I see many things. Why do you ask?”
Vax sighs a little before replying. “You’re… well, we were convinced you were a dragon for a long time. You’ve got glorious in the name. And I’m just a bastard half-elf trying his best.”
Shaun pauses at Vax’s hip, nosing against the skin there that hangs taught across the bone. “I’ve found the best people in life are often bastards,” Shaun grins. “They know hardship and seek to eradicate it for others.” Shaun looks up through his eyelashes at Vax, who is on his elbows now, staring down at him. “Is it so hard to believe that I care about you because I can’t help it, Vax’ildan?”
“I’m sorry, then,” Vax says softly.
“I’m not,” Shaun smiles.
Vax is hard against his stomach and Shaun summons a jar of oil from his bag of holding. He slicks him up with a few drops, and Vax mewls at the sensation. “Fuckin’ hell,” he groans, rocking his hips up. Shaun uses an elbow to hold him down. “Is that—is that magic?”
Shaun laughs, and it feels good to laugh: it settles them both in the moment, and though the tension doesn’t break, it does bend, so that the two of them can relax a little. “No. Do you want magic?” Shaun asks, and Vax splutters out a, “Goddess, no, just keep doing that.”
Shaun keeps up his tempo around Vax and smirks at him as the half-elf comes undone. “Here’s what I see when I look at you, Vax’ildan. I see a champion, who wears his goddess with him wherever he goes. I see a brother’s worry, a furrow right between the eyebrows earned by experience and peril. I see a good man plagued by ancient evils a long time coming. And I see a heart full to bursting, a soul that bubbles over with the love it holds.” Vax can only manage a small moan in reply, and Shaun has to lean down and swallow the noise whole.
When Vax’s breath has finally stopped stuttering out and Shaun has cleaned him up, he gives Shaun a look that forces him backwards onto the bed. “My turn,” Vax promises, settling himself in between Shaun’s legs, splaying his knees wide for better access, a pale hand curling around the dark skin of Shaun’s thigh. The sight is almost too much to look at: Shaun forces himself not to close his eyes or turn away, but to sear this image in his brain like a mental brand. “Gods above,” Shaun murmurs. “You are beautiful, Vax.”
Vax is hesitant but determined. “I’m doing this,” Vax says both to himself and to Shaun when Shaun starts to say something along the lines of it’s okay, we can go slow.
“We’ve waited a long time,” Shaun tells him. “We can be patient.”
“Patience is for other people,” Vax finally says with a stubborn huff before taking Gilmore into his mouth as best he can. A deep groan finds its way through Shaun’s lips and the look of impertinent smugness from Vax is enough to settle Shaun’s reluctance to push Vax beyond what he is comfortable with. There is no gracefulness in the act but oddly, there is grace, and Shaun finds himself enraptured by Vax’s lips around him, slick and warm and pinked up even in the dark light room. It’s obviously an act that Vax has not done before, and he pauses a few times to settle himself and tamp down his gag reflex. There is a generosity, Shaun thinks, in giving yourself utterly to someone else, in putting someone’s pleasure above your own. Not everyone can do it.
Vax is a natural.
Shaun quakes when he’s close. “Vax, stop,” he hisses, and Vax pulls off him in an instant. “I’m nearly there,” he amends, when the look on Vax’s face reflects worry, worry that he didn’t do it right at all. “You were amazing,” Shaun soothes, pulling him close and settling Vax’s legs around his hips. “Here,” he says with a groan, taking Vax’s hands and guiding them around his cock. Vax is half-hard, still in recovery from the last time he came, but his hips nod forward regardless as he jerks Shaun off in bold, quick strokes that send Shaun into what seems like oblivion.
“Your eyes,” Vax murmurs when Shaun finally comes back to the present. “They glowed.”
It’s a comment he’s received from a few lovers in the past: that when he climaxes, the magic in his blood thrums to life. Occasionally, Shaun wonders if keeping his magic so close, set inside his bones like a marrow he saps energy from, is dangerous in the long run. It’s a question he’ll never get to answer: not if he wants to survive in this world. He and his magic are intertwined, even if it’s killing him.
If Shaun can’t defend himself and his own, then he might as well lay down arms now to the dragons.
Shaun kisses him there for a long time, and they find themselves leaning back into the bedding, wrapping themselves in sheets and blankets until they are cut off from the rest of the world completely, until it is just warmth and soft fabrics and them. They are dirty and sweaty and Shaun couldn’t care any less about the state of his bed. Bedrooms were made for few things, and this is one of them.
“I need to tell you something,” Shaun murmurs into the dark, before he can stop himself. He has to say this. He has to say something, for his own sanity. Vax nudges his nose against Shaun’s shoulder in a go-ahead motion. “I think you know this, but you ought to hear it from my lips. Hell, you ought to hear it every day.” Shaun leans up on his elbow to peer down at Vax in the dark. “I love you, darling boy.”
Vax makes a noise in the back of his throat and scrabbles at Shaun’s chest, fingers brushing against the dark hair there. “I know,” Vax says with a small whimper as Shaun squeezes him closer. “I knew, and I didn’t know what to do with that for so long. I was afraid…”
Shaun kisses Vax softly before leaning back to stare at the ceiling. “When are we not afraid,” he mutters bitterly. Since the dragons came, Shaun can’t remember a morning where he hasn’t woken up in a cold sweat.
Vax climbs up and presses a few gentle kisses up Shaun’s shoulder. “If we let fear rule our lives, they’ve already won.”
Shaun closes his eyes. “You were always going to hurt, I think,” he says simply. “You always leave, after all.”
“That is not my intent,” Vax says gravely. He pauses. “I would stay, if you asked me.”
Shaun laughs weakly. “And doom Exandria? Your friends need you to defeat the dragons. Your sister needs you.” He pauses for a quiet moment to steel himself before adding, “And there’s Keyleth, obviously.” When Shaun finds himself thinking of the princess, there is no ill will. There are only flashes of red hair, a bright smile, and a mutual understanding of how hard it is to love a man who walks with death. “She needs you, even if that’s hard for her to admit.”
“Ask me to stay,” Vax repeats, eyes twinkling in the moonlight that casts through the room.
“Stay,” Shaun finds himself murmuring. Vax kisses him deeply in reply.
“We’ll find a way,” Vax mutters against his lips, pressing himself against Shaun. They are warm, fiery beings in his bed, built from years of yearning and aching need. Shaun can’t tell where his skin stops and Vax’s skin starts. “I’ll find a way back. Promise.”
Breakfast at Whitestone with Vox Machina is amusing to say the least. Vex winks at her brother approximately seventeen times when she sees the state of his neck. “What is that?” she hisses at him, and he blushes so furiously Shaun nearly takes them back to his room for a morning reprisal.
“Shut up, Stubby,” Vax says, elbowing her in the side.
Keyleth, for her part, looks wonderfully smug as she sidles up next to Vax. “Morning,” she smiles. Vax takes her hand and presses her knuckles to his lips.
Shaun finds himself locking eyes with Keyleth, who nods at him. “I think there’s a seat right there, Gilmore,” she says politely, pointing to the open chair beside Vax.
“Princess,” Shaun nods with a smile. “You’ve got a good one there, Vax’ildan.”
Grog is staring at the three of them, doing basic math on his fingers. “Wait,” Grog says loudly before going back to his fingers once more.
“All in time, my friend,” Percy laughs under his breath at the sight of the goliath barbarian attempting to translate the sight before him.
Vax tugs Shaun aside and hands him something solid and heavy before the group departs for the Feywild that afternoon. “This is a gate stone,” Vax says softly. “If something happens here that is beyond your power to combat—hold this, close your eyes, and think of me.”
Shaun frowns. “You shouldn’t give this to me.”
Vax presses the stone further into Shaun’s grasp. “Keep it.” Shaun finds his bag of holding and pockets the stone. He’s not sure what the boundary here is, but Vax makes things easy on him for once by standing on his tiptoes and pressing a chaste kiss to his lips. “You’re here,” he murmurs, pressing Shaun’s hand against the leathers of the Deathwalker’s Ward that adorn his chest. “Always. Even when you’re not.”
Someone lets out a whistle of appreciation, and Shaun hears Vex shout, “Come on, brother, we don’t have all day. I have a magic bow to acquire and I’m really tired of watching you make out with people.”
Vax pulls back with a smile. “You heard the lady.”
So when Vox Machina leaves Whitestone once more, it is now with a strong tether back to Shaun Gilmore; and, oddly enough, Shaun finds that he rather likes the idea of being attached.