• Mature • [Lowgarden] Home Is Where We Are

With the escalation of hostilities between Etzos and Rhakros, a series of small walled towns is being established as a network of early warnings and defenses against Rhakros' reprisals. Only the very bravest and most formidable of characters should risk themselves on the Witches' Wilds frontier.

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Carver
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[Lowgarden] Home Is Where We Are

Sat Aug 01, 2020 3:19 pm

Early Morning Before Dawn
The Third Trial of Ymiden, Arc 720

Lowgarden, Etzos
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That Bayou Life...

It took one and a half trials to travel to Foster’s from Lowgarden, half-a-trial to secure lodging, two trials to gather supplies, and three long trials to return.

Seven trials, in all.

Carver stepped off the ferry boat and onto one of the many docks in Lowgarden. He hoisted his pack against his shoulder. His boots shuffled while he adjusted to the slimy moisture stuck to the wooden boards. A thick fog slid along the swampy small town of Lowgarden. In swaths of green-tinted mist, the condensed moisture smeared across the flatland to hide the cheap stone, wood, and clay homes. The squat buildings dotted between the twisted canals that drifted out from the Southwood River that anchored the town.

He couldn’t see too far, before the fog curtained the horizon in opaque sickly pale green. Some people in Foster’s gossiped that Lisirra’s plague still hung in the air around Lowgarden, but Carver didn’t understand what that meant. People wouldn’t live here if the air was toxic, right? Regardless, he lifted his bandana to cover his nose and mouth from excessive inhalation of the mist.

“How far off is yer place?” grunted Samson, an older man beside him.

Carver glanced over and up, at Samson. The taller acquaintance had a thick handlebar mustache, slicked stringy hair that hid underneath a wide-brimmed hat, and tattoos along his forearms. He wasn’t Etzori, from what Carver had gleaned, though he apparently had relatives who once had lived there before moving on. More importantly, behind him, he had a woman who followed close behind. His fiancé, Jessie-Fern, was an Etzori (born and raised in ‘The Big Smoke’, as she proudly put it) and she held onto most of their bags – not that there was much more than a couple heavy satchels of clothes and other necessities.

Jessie-Fern was a slip of a thing, stretched thin by her tall height, and she wore mismatched leathers with bits of fur that dangled here and there from the large patchwork. Her auburn hair was split into two curly puffs of tangled strands. Compared to Samson’s blotchy red skin, she had a golden tan to her own rough complexion… and when she smiled (though it appeared more like a grimace from the curves of her broad face), there were a few gaps of missing teeth toward the back.

“Not much farther now,” answered Carver in what was accented Common, as he tried to practice the affectation he’d decided to go with. It wasn’t a recognizable accent, just a foreign one and no one cared to ask much about it. Especially not in Lowgarden where immigrants packed the marshland town to the brim, then flooded out to the edges much like the waters that seeped into the grassy cattail fields. “Raft should be right over there…”

He walked along the dock and listened to the taps of their boots while the couple followed him. There weren’t too many people out. In fact, he’d taken the ferry he knew would be arriving either during the night or in morning, but not midday. As such, Lowgarden was as quiet as it ever was. With the cover of the mist, no-one but the ferry conductor had seen them together, and the few other passengers who were mostly too involved with their own lives to bother. All the others were headed to Etzos – or The Big Smoke – anyway. None of them cared to hang out in the grungy little town along the riverside.

Carver found the raft where he’d left it. There was a walkable path to the home but only by the most technical terms of walkable. It was a path of thick mud patches, insect-riddled tall grass, and prowling hungry predators. It took nearly an entire trial to reach Lowgarden that way, or to get to the home. By the raft, through the canals and then into the bordering swamps, though, it only took a few breaks.

Once they’d tied off the belongings at the anchored corner crates, to assure balance of the raft, the three carefully settled into position. Samson and Jessie-Fern sat in the center while Carver stood to guide the raft through with a long oar. He went quiet, almost silent while he rowed: testament to how much he’d practiced rowing through the waters when they’d first arrived to Lowgarden many trials ago.

The canals turned wider, and the water turned green and thick with a film of algae growth and river-plants. Beside the raft, he could make out the faint ripples of something that moved under the surface. Hunting or just curious? Carver eyed the shape of the ripples but couldn’t figure out what exactly it was.

While Samson and Jessie-Fern talked about something or other, that Carver didn’t pay attention to, the sun rose in a corner behind them. By the time that the morning fog dissipated, the town of Lowgarden couldn’t be seen anymore. Various birds, frogs, and insects chirped, croaked, and buzzed. Carver navigated around a crop of reeds, to the side into a narrower corridor of slow water. Walls of gnarled, knotted trees curved to create a canopy that shaded the dark path deeper into the swamplands.

“Ohh, look,” whispered Jessie-Fern, while she shoved on Samson’s shoulder then pointed toward a span of the trees. “Aren’t they cute?”

Carver glanced over and saw a trio of petite deer that had paused to watch them pass by. The animals’ tall ears swiveled to follow the gentle sound of the waves that came from the raft and oar. He continued to row. His body – once claimed by the previous soul of Antoni - had finally toughened to a reasonable strength with the endurance to keep rowing the raft without rest. He listened to Jessie-Fern coo at the deer in an odd way he wouldn’t have expected from her, but then she seemed a bit odd all the same. She had, after all, convinced Samson to accept Carver’s job offer despite the rural location and undetermined length of time to finish the vague construction project.

A fork of triangular land split the water and Carver took them to the left, into a wider section of swamp where the trees had gotten taller, growing out from the water itself, and hung with curtains of thick moss. The warming sunlight was partially blocked by the timbers, casting a greenish glow over the area.

“Is that it?” asked Samson.

“That’s it,” confirmed Carver while they approached a one-story wooden shack. Built on stilts, the water had risen in the past trials which nearly reached the porch. When they’d first found the place, the water had been lower and required climbing on the ladder to reach the porch. A backside of old timber planks was partially finished, draped with pinned sheets where the rest of the building needed to be put together.

“See what you mean,” said the older man gruffly when he took notice of the unfinished structure.

Carver rowed the raft up to the dock and tied the rope to the post. He stepped out onto the boards. The same moss that hung from the trees also hung from the overhang of the shack’s roof. It created a curtain that blocked the few windows from easy view at the private dock.

After he unloaded the raft to the dock, he noticed the ripples in the water and the familiar gray scaly snout that stuck over the algae surface before it disappeared again with bubbles that trailed after. The visitors didn’t seem to notice. Carver slicked back his long, dyed brown hair to get the strands out of his face. He probably needed to cut it, but he’d been putting it off. Same with the scruff around his jaw and neck that he needed to shave.

“Wait here,” he told the couple. “Need to clean up quick…”

Jessie-Fern seemed eager to look around and didn’t seem concerned with the possibility of waiting and so, Samson didn’t either.

Carver picked up his pack, then swiftly walked down the dock, up the few planks that led onto the porch, then he paused. He passed by the door, then followed the wrapped around porch to a window. The young man jimmied the thin glass open and brushed aside the dour gray curtain to sneak into the home. He landed quietly, then slid the window shut behind him.

It was late morning by now, but he suspected that Laures might still be asleep. He hadn’t given the other man a specific time when he would be back from his trip to Foster’s, just that if he weren’t back within ten trials to go looking for him then. It was the first time since they’d arrived to Etzos that he dared to leave Laures for such a long time… but someone had to keep an eye on the home while he was away. Who else would feed Squeak?

The interior of the shack was just as simple as the outside. Damp wooden planks that had mold along the edges. Moss hung down from the roof that served as the ceiling with no insulation. A few buckets to collect droplets when it rained. It was hardly the cozy little home they’d had in Scalvoris Town, but then… the isolated location suited fine, and there was a working kitchen area in the corner. A round table for dining at with a few crates to sit on. Behind a pinned-up curtain that served as a divider was an old mattress with a dark blanket thrown over the top. It wasn’t where Laures would be sleeping though. That was in the walled-off smaller room that had been built to the side that wasn’t visible from the dock.

Carver set down his pack on the table, surveyed the area to try and figure out how Laures had fared in his time away. He looked at the door that blocked off the partially constructed backroom. Instead, he slipped past the raggedy blanket that served as their bedroom door. The house had come with a moldy old bedroom door, but Carver had taken that down due to how annoyingly it squeaked on its rusted hinges whenever the slightest wind went through the swamp.

Dark, the one window was boarded up with nailed wooden planks and only a couple streaks of thin light broke through into the humid space. The mattress wasn’t on the floor, but it was very low on a simple frame of about two inches height. Sure enough, Laures looked to be asleep in the narrow bed.

Squeak laid on the corner, and the aye-aye mouse lifted its head. Floppy ears swung slightly while the rodent silently chattered in excitement when it recognized Carver. Since Scalvoris, the critter had grown a great deal and rather than the size of a baby mouse, Squeak had reached the size of a rotund cat. It still had strange patches of fur over its taut gray skin but a fluffy long black tail, which lifted as Squeak got up to greet him.

Carver lowered his bandana and placed a finger over his lips in shushed gesture to the aye-aye, then carefully slid over to lay along Laures’ backside. His hand caressed up to cuddle, though he noticed a sharp glint under the pillow of a knife kept near. Carver smiled slightly, then kissed just behind his sweetheart’s ear.

“La…ures…” he whispered against the pierced ear, then kissed the other man’s neck. “I’m home… and I brought gifts.”

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Laures
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Re: [Lowgarden] Home Is Where We Are

Sun Aug 02, 2020 3:24 pm

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TEN TRIALS HE WANTED HIM TO WAIT, TEN WHOLE FUCKING TRIALS IN THE MIDDLE OF FUCKING NOWHERE SURROUNDED BY THINGS HE DIDN’T KNOW AND DIDN’T UNDERSTAND, THINGS THAT STARED AT HIM IN THE MORNING WHEN HE WENT OUT AND DRANK HIS TEA ON THE PORCH AND THAT STARED AT HIM AT NIGHT WHEN HE LOOKED THROUGH THE CRACKS IN THE WOODEN PANELS, AND IT WAS TERRIFYING THERE WITHOUT HIM BUT IT’D ONLY BEEN EIGHT TRIALS, EIGHT, AS IF HE COULD NOT HAVE DIED IN EIGHT TRIALS AND LEFT HIM ALONE IN THE SWAMP FOREVER AND EVER AND EVER AND EVER and after a few trials of pacing the dock back and forth, Laures stopped staying awake all night and told himself not to wait up every time for Carver’s return.

Laures knew, in his heart, that his lover would be back. He had seen him, and it might have been a dream, but it was real. Carver would not have set off on a journey so perilous without him, not if he was truly worried for himself, and the anxious ex-harlot reminded himself of that fact anytime he thought of the other man.

Which was all the time.


3rd of Ymiden, Arc 720
Early morning in Lowgarden, Etzos


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Laures had only been in bed for a break or two at most, by the time he felt warm breath against his neck. Always one to adapt rather quickly when forced into situations that required it, he had adjusted to sleeping alone only a trial or two after he had resigned himself to sleeping through the nights. Waiting up all night with his legs dangling over the edge of the dock was not the brightest of moves, but it had been the only thing he had known to do, in his self-induced distress.

It had not even been of his own volition that he had stopped wearing himself thin and sitting out there, but through the unshakable persuasion of a large, scaly tail sliding past his legs in the water. He had decided, then, that he would not let himself get dragged into the swamp and drowned before his husband came back to him.

Daylight breaks had come to mean the longest of drawn-out solitudes. What was he meant to do, without Carver at his side? Without anything to (attempt to) study, or a place to go and work? If it weren’t for the damned rat his husband had dragged into their home, he might have been allowed to go with him when he had left.

He did not mind Squeak. The creature was a petulant thing when he wanted to be, and his attitude only seemed to worsen when Carver was not around, but Laures cared for him. He supposed. He had certainly thought he did, before he had to take care of him on his own, and before he had learned to resent the sound of cracking and snacking on little nuts and seeds. More than once, the former slave had nearly grabbed the aye-aye mouse and tossed him out into the swamp, just to shut him up.

(And then, after calming from his chaotic bouts of anger, he always felt the guilt for having considered such a thing. In those moments, Laures stepped back inside, and knelt down to offer the floppy-eared thing scratches and pets, and extra, for Carver’s share too.)

It was increasingly difficult, as the trials went on, for Laures not to let himself spiral. For him to stay afloat amidst the waves of energy and anger and panic and everything else that he bounced back and forth so quickly between, until he was certain that he had forgotten what it felt like to feel stable. To feel… grounded, when the center of his balance had taken off almost ten trials ago and left him to fend for himself. Himself, himself, and himself, and himself, and all of his other many selves. He could barely focus on the word for how quickly his attentions flitted from one thing to the next.

He cooked what he could, but he did not care to eat. Without Carver around, his return to old habits was quick and almost entirely unnoticed by the blond himself. Was it always going to be like this? Anytime his husband went away, was he to deteriorate and return to the strange shell he had been before? Cracked and washed ashore, just hollow enough to let the wind filter through and rattle about all his insides. They shook and scattered and crashed together; a dilapidated pen of feral creatures.

One, two, three, one, two, three, one two, three, one, three, three, FUCK it never made any SENSE anymore to him.

He fed Squeak.

He sat at the docks when there was enough light overhead to see the world around him. This did not last long, however, as he quickly learned that the big, armored creatures in the water did not need darkness to hunt. He watched one spring forth from the water and onto the shore, and drag a limping deer into the depths. He went inside after that.

And he fed Squeak.

Laures sat on the counter at the little kitchen area, beating no scraping no tapping his fingers against the surfaces and across the wall beside him. Squeak slept in the corner of the little room, unbothered by the noise at that point. Blue eyes focused in on him, practically gray and tinted green by the swampy scenic views.

“I suppose I should feed you, shouldn’t I?”

He’d set out a fresh bowl of food for him two breaks ago, but the aye-aye had not eaten. Laures found that, when Carver wasn’t there, Squeak did not like to eat unless the ex-harlot sat there and pet him during the process. He drummed his fingertips along in rapid motions.

“Stupid thing. Why can’t you do anything yourself?”

“Are you still talking to Squeak?”

“I’m talking to both of you.”

A frown pulled at the corners of his mouth.

He fed Squeak.

“I NEED A NAME,” Laures proclaimed while he pulled the blankets off of their temporary bed. “I have some ideas. Shut the fuck up. Listen to me.”

The blankets were taken outside and he knocked them clean of collected dust and dirt. Squeak had decided to sleep on the bed the night before, after tromping his way around the docks earlier in the trial.

Laures shook his head as he began to fold them again. “You have a name,” he murmured, and pulled two corners of the blanket together. “You don’t need another one.”

“Why do you get more than one?”

“Because–”

“Don’t encourage him, please, he won’t ever stop if you do.”

“Shut up,” he hissed. Laures set the folded blankets over his arm and stepped back inside.

He fed Squeak, and slept until noon the next trial.

The bed was fine. It was nothing special. It reminded him more of the bed he had slept on for… for… he could not remember how long, anymore, but sleeping alone on it made him think of that place and he just wanted Carver back already. When was he coming back? It had been five tri – no. It had been more than five. Six? Seven? Fifteen? Had it been ten trials yet? Could he go look for him? He inquired with Squeak about the details, but the aye-aye only blinked at him and went back to sleep.

So Laures sat in the center of the bed, legs criss-crossed beneath him, heart racing in his chest. Had he taken something? No, where would he have gotten it? But it felt like he had. It felt like his heart had been directly injected with some sort of stimulant and doused in caffeine and sugar. He breathed deeply (as much as he could), closed his eyes, and forced his fingers to stop twitching where they rested over his knees.

He was shaking so much that the centerpiece of his collar jittered against the grave-gold metal and sounded like chattering teeth.

“Fuck,” Laures cursed in a sigh, nearly out of breath for how hard he was concentrating on staying still. His body relaxed with the frustrated exhale, and his fingers began to flutter against his hard kneecaps. He opened his eyes.

“...What was that supposed to be?” he asked, squinting slightly as he looked about the candle-lit room.

“I was trying to meditate.”

A loud laugh forced the air out of his lungs.

Squeak ran into the room, claws scraping against the floor, and jumped onto the bed to greet him. Giggling still, and with a lop-sided grin split across his face, Laures pulled the aye-aye into his lap and pet him for a while.

He slept. He did not know how, after hearing the scaly swamp creatures pull something else into the water (it had screamed like a woman, but it could have been anything), but he got into bed, dressed only in his undershorts and collar, and he slept. Earlier in the trial, he had taken the scissors to his hair and chopped a fair amount of the blond locks off. It had started to annoy him, and though there was still enough to pull work with, the shorter cut framed his features a little better.

The aye-aye mouse had slept at his side for a while, but during the night he had moved off to wander the shack on his own. Laures did not stir when he had left the bed, but his heart beat a little faster in his sleep when his unconscious mind seemed to register his solitude.

La...ures…

WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT?

Something against his neck, something against his warm, sleeping body. Laures pulled the blanket a little closer to himself.

I’m home…

WHO IS MAKING THAT NOISE?

...and I brought gifts.

“Gifts?”

Slowly, his eyes opened, stormy and blue and blurry from sleep. The presence behind him was registered fully then, and Laures breathed in deeply as he awoke. A small smile graced his lips, and he pushed back to cuddle a little closer to the man behind him.

Carver.

“I missed you,” greeted Laures, his soft voice quieted further from his rest. He lifted a hand and pushed his hair off of his forehead, then turned slightly to look at his husband. So unkempt… he closed his eyes again for a trill, and leaned his head against Carver, allowing himself the moment to simply appreciate his returned presence beside him.

“You’re well, my love?”
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Carver
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Re: [Lowgarden] Home Is Where We Are

Sun Aug 02, 2020 5:06 pm

3 Ymiden, Arc 720

Carver continued to caress Laures while he admired his partner. Those familiar blue eyes opened, unfocused from slumber, and he could see right through them to his soulmate who resided within the handsome body. His own smile slanted in return to the other’s smile. He wrapped his arm tighter around the blond’s waist to hold him even closer. Heat gathered quick between their respective bodies, even though-

-his fingers (rougher, less smooth than when Carver had first landed in the body) traced along the familiar scarred lines on the design he had etched into his lover’s torso during their many trials together. How long had it been? One hundred and fifty-six trials? The last eight were spent apart…

148 trials hardly seemed like any time compared to the far-too-long span of 8 trials apart.

“I missed you, too,” he returned in his raspy voice. He kissed the other man’s cheek. Adjusting their position so he wouldn’t slip off the bed, he happily gathered the other to lay against him rather than be turned away. Carver took a few deep breaths, having missed the scent of his sweetheart as much as any other part of Laures.

“You’re well, my love?”

“I am now,” he answered. He nuzzled his face against the older’s neck, and inhaled, then licked and playfully bit at the jugular vein above the collar. Though he wore all his dirty clothes still, even his dirty boots with the muck and algae still on the soles, he climbed farther onto the bed. Carver clambered on top of Laures in his eagerness to be back together. “You look so lovely, sugar… did you cut your hair?”

He ran his fingers over the chopped blond hair, then pressed down to kiss. Carver didn’t care if Laures had sleep breath and if he still had a stale taste of fetid tobacco in his own mouth from a long night on the ferry. Beneath the various tastes, the flavor of his lover came across the most. His tongue sought more of it, while his hands sought to reacquaint with the bony angles of Laures’s waist and hips and legs and-

-“Right,” he interrupted himself while he drew back. “Gifts.”

Carver bit at his nether lip, the scar that lined it from lip to chin burned a deeper red along the pink and white skin. His dark eyes examined Laures again. He lowered to kiss over the other’s chest until he laid his head so he could listen to his soulmate’s heartbeat underneath the sternum. It soothed him. He wrapped his arms around and hugged tight while he kept his ear pressed up against the bare chest to listen to the pulse of life within.

“They’re waiting outside,” he murmured absently. “Did y’… I thought maybe… here, stay here.”

Carver lifted in a quick press of his arms without trouble, despite breaks of rowing the oar. He kissed Laures on the lips, nose, then forehead before he leapt out of the bed for how swift he went. Disappeared past the raggedy sheet that acted as door to the bedroom, he went to the table and grabbed a wrapped package out of his pack.

Wrapped in pale scaly hide, it was tied with twine into a bow. He returned and sat down on the bed, then held the present out for Laures to take. It wasn’t the only one, but it was one he wanted to give him first. He said, “If y’ don’t like it, we can… use it for somethin’ else or I can try an’ sell it some time.”

Inside the hide, once unwrapped, was a satin garment of scarlet red. Not just any garment, but a long nightgown-styled dress with thin lace along the hem and rounded sleeves. Carver pet Squeak while he waited for Laures to open it, instead of watching, and he smiled as the aye-aye rubbed against his legs with quiet chatters of teeth clicking together.

“Yes, I missed you too. Mmhm, yes I did,” he told the rodent pet while he lifted Squeak up. Carver smooshed his nose against the aye-aye mouse’s nose in affection. Squeak tapped claws against his face, but not enough to leave marks. Carver set the critter down to settle in his lap while he pet its patchy fur, and he finally looked over to Laures with a brilliant smile.

“I didn’t know you were gonna cut your hair…” he admitted, then said, “But I was thinkin’ if y’ wanted to… play, some… I thought maybe we could have a proper dinner. Haven’t had one in a while, and… y’ want to be my wife for it? I got uhm- oh-”

Carver set the aye-aye mouse aside, got back up, then went out to the main area again. He returned with a small box in his hand of red-painted wood. The dyed-brunet stood beside the bed, and he opened this one in a slow reveal of the lifted lid. Inside was a set of gilded jewelry, slightly chipped in spots and with flecks of blood along the ornate necklace, bracelet, and large hanging-styled earrings, but shiny all the same. It was bronze but flaked and painted to appear like gold, though with far less luster when examined under the light. Carver wasn’t sure if Laures would care about that or not. The set design was more dramatic than the accessories his lover usually wore.

“…whichever,” he finally added while he set the box on the bed and waved a hand to shoo Squeak away. “Better get dressed. I can’t keep them waiting out there. Gator might get ‘em.”

Without a lick of explanation otherwise, unless truly pressed to it, Carver headed out of the bedroom to get to the front door – unlock it – and he leaned out with a call in his purposeful affectation of a fabricated accent like he heard from some of the other migrants in Lowgarden. “Jessie-Fern? Samson? Y’ can come on up now.”

While he waited for the couple to climb onto the porch with their bags, then enter the shack, he waved away some pesky insects that tried to sneak into the interior. He shut the door quick after them, then said, “Bags down right over there, and it’s not much but we’ve got this bed if you want to sleep in it.”

Carver lifted the curtain to show the mattress on the floor, then let the fabric divider fall again. He smiled while the couple looked around (both seemingly unimpressed by the home) and guided them with a gesture to sit at the table. From his pack, Carver started to take out food items and spices that Laures had wanted from Foster’s that couldn’t be cheaply found in the Lowgarden marketplace.

“It’s uh… nice here?” it was meant to be a statement, but spoken like a question. Jessie-Fern offered a smile anyway. “That’s a… kitchen, there, yeh?”

Carver glanced over and nodded.

“Didn’t yeh say you were married?” asked Samson while he tried to find a comfortable posture on the crate where he sat.
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Laures
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Re: [Lowgarden] Home Is Where We Are

Sun Aug 02, 2020 8:46 pm

Rough, familiar fingertips swept over his scarred skin. Laures’ racing heart was soothed beneath their touch, and slowly returned to its usual, mismatched beat. Carver held him closer, and as the older man adjusted to the waking world again, he lightly stretched his limbs in extensions of his arms and legs. Oh, how easy it was to find peace when he was in his lover’s arms… so he spent another moment in stillness after that, simply relaxing in the comfort of Carver’s return.

When he was turned onto his other side to face the younger, Laures took the opportunity to worm closer. He slipped his arms around Carver’s neck in a loose, sleepy hold. For a moment the older almost seemed to drift, as his eyelids slowly… began… to close… and he muttered something quickly about swamp creatures as they snapped open again. What had Carver just said? He had replied to something… but the playful little nip to his neck distracted him before he could think too much about it.

Laures smiled with a quiet little laugh. Carver, in all of his beautiful filth, was dirtying up the bed he had cleaned only the trial before. It was difficult for the blond to be mad about it when he was doing it to be closer to him. He moved his arms to hold onto his husband’s waist when the man moved above him, and replied, “mhm. What do you think of it?”

Without care for a response, he lifted his head to meet the kiss half-way. He was just so glad to have him back, he did not care what the other man wanted to talk about. Carver could have slipped into their bed during the night and not woken him up at all, just laid there and pulled him close, and Laures would have been content. His hands (which had once been calloused and rough) had softened and smoothed well enough after trials and trials of lighter work, and caressed over his lover’s dirty clothes to feel the shapes beneath. Everything about him, really, had been somewhat refined and pushed into line with what the older blond preferred of himself. While he would never be as short, or as frail as he used to be, Laures figured that was a good thing nowadays.

With Carver’s head rested against his bare chest, he pushed his fingers through the long, dark hair. He had half a mind to go back to sleep right then, with Carver held close, hugging to his waist.

“They’re waiting outside,” murmured Carver, and Laures opened his eyes to look down. Who was waiting outside?

The swamp creatures?

WHERE IS HE GOING?

His soulmate left the bed after a few (well-appreciated) kisses, and Laures’ hand shot out to grab after him. It did not catch the quick-moving brunet, but in truth he had not intended on hindering the other’s movement in the first place. Cold fingers curled into a light fist before his arm dropped back to the blankets. He took another deep breath, covered a yawn with his hand, and then stretched out his arms again while he waited.

By the time the younger had returned to the room, Laures had pushed himself up, and sat beneath the blankets with his back against the wall. He took the wrapped gift with a grateful little smile, and then looked down to carefully untie the twine bow. The mention that they could sell the gift if he did not like it went ignored; he was certain that that would not be the case. If it was from Carver – if it was something that his soulmate had put the effort into getting him, that he wanted him to have – then he wanted it. While Carver pulled Squeak into his lap to pet the aye-aye mouse, Laures pulled the silken garment from its hide wrappings, and a brighter smile curled the older blond’s lips.

“Of course I like it, love,” he laid it out before him on the blankets, and ran his restless fingertips over the scarlet dress. His gray-blue gaze lifted to look at his soulmate, softened as it was in his affection.

“and… y’want to be my wife for it?”

A little laugh. Genuine and almost breathy in his surprise, in contrast to the harsh, bubbling giggle he was used to. Laures did not understand, not fully, what he meant by play – if he had invited someone over, or if he simply wanted to pretend for the sake of it, but he would not disagree either way. Softly, he chided, “ladies can have shorter hair too,” and that was as good as confirmation that he would, indeed, be his wife.

He looked over the dress again while Carver left the room to fetch something else. Yes, it was perfect, and it almost (almost) made up for the other’s absence for the last eight trials. As much as anything really could. Laures had folded it and pulled it closer to himself when Carver returned, and he looked up for the second gift as soon as the red box was slowly opened. Of course there were more gifts; it made perfect sense to him. His hands brushed over Carver’s as he took the little box from him, with an approving hum at the sight of the jewelry set.

It would do. It did not please him as much as true gold might have, but it was pretty nonetheless. Most likely, the blond would simply remove the flaking paint when he had time, and leave the jewelry in its natural bronze color. Imitation was as good as mockery, when it came to gold, and Laures had known gold since his birth.

Carver stepped away, with another mention of them, whoever they were, and Laures parted his lips for a moment, but did not speak. He nodded instead, and smiled, and let the other man leave the room.

Left alone, Laures pushed the blankets from his legs. He listened to his lover’s voice as it filtered easily through the curtain door. It was… different? Accented? A quiet hum rumbled through his chest as he stood up and grabbed the dress. Definitely accented, in the same way that many of the other folk in Lowgarden had sounded. Laures pulled the scarlet dress over his head. It fit his slender form better than it might have before – as he had gotten considerably skinnier since even Carver had seen him last – but he did not spend as much time as he wanted in admiration of the garment. His husband had told him to dress quick, and he would.

Sheer black socks were pulled on and ended at his mid-thighs. Hardly important with the length of the dress, but they were there. Next he removed his collar, and donned the large earrings, necklace, and bracelet his lover had presented to him. He ran a hand through his hair, gave a dissatisfied little sound, and then swept the blond waves to one side. He pulled at them until they stayed in place, and then smoothed down the wild mess he had created in his sleep. What else, what else…

Laures grabbed a backpack from the corner of the room and pulled out a few things he had stolen from his classes. Not too much, he decided, and he added a hint of color to his lips with his fingertip, just enough to accentuate the natural peachy-pink. That would do. They were only in Lowgarden, after all.

He peeked out through the makeshift door. One… two people? Who the hell were they? Laures’ eyes darted to the side and he looked at Carver for a trill, as if surprised.

“Didn’t know we had company,” said the blond, mirroring his lover’s accent, and it did not take much to further push his soft voice into something more feminine. “Elsewise I’d’ve made myself a little more presentable.” Laures stepped out of the bedroom, and he offered an uncertain smile to the strangers while he went to his husband’s side.

Turned a little to the side, the red dress hugged at his slender waist in a near-perfect fit. Once he got into the habit of eating again, it would help, but for now he worried not for the dress. Bright eyes wide and blue, he looked between Carver and the others – Jessie-Fern and Samson, if he’d heard it right – and held lightly to his husband’s arm. “Hello,” he greeted them both more directly, “my name’s Linnea. I’ve the u-nique delight of being married to this one here.”

Laures gently squeezed his husband’s arm, and then pulled his hands back to himself and held them together at his waist. Rather than stand with his head held high and his shoulders pulled back, his posture was shy, unrevealing – his head was slightly bowed and tilted to the side, and he held his weight to one side with a slight shift in his hips. His eyelids lowered with a flutter of dark lashes, and rested slightly lower than normal over his pale blue gaze, as he looked from Jessie-Fern to Samson and back.

“You are…?” and his more important follow-up question, “will y' both be staying here a while?”
word count: 1579
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