Shadow's Ascendance

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Chapter Seventeen

Just as Dorf had suspected (and feared), the minute he introduced Natalya to Gregory, his husband fell in love with the half-Elven girl. And the feeling was mutual. After seeing how easily she warmed up to the Elven man who had instantly started baking some cookies for her, to help welcome her into their home as he had said, I couldn’t help but feel a slight twinge of jealousy. After all, hadn’t we helped save her from a blood beast? We helped prepare the people in her caravan for burial, and it still took that long for her to seem relaxed around us. One minute around Gregory, and she was acting like she had known him all her life.

Of course, to be fair, Dorf’s husband was an incredibly gracious host, a natural charmer. I remember the first time that my partner had brought me home to meet Gregory. Dorf had told me that he was an Elf; I had encountered my fair share of prejudice and bigotry from his kind, so while I was hoping that it would go well, a part of me feared for the worst. It is still bright in my mind, what happened when Gregory opened the door. He took one look at me, told me I looked cold and like I could use a good drink and a home cooked meal, and then gave me a hug. Not one of those weird ones, where it goes on for far too long, or where the other person presses up against you too tightly. No, this was the right kind of hug, and I hugged him back, instantly charmed. Never once was my heritage brought up, and so I never felt the need to do so.

Gregory was a study in contrasts between him and his husband, proof that opposites do attract. And not just the whole “he’s an Elf, Dorf is a Human” thing, because that’s obvious. It isn’t the fact that Gregory has forest green eyes and long blonde hair, and Dorf has plain old brown hair and brown eyes. It isn’t the fact that Gregory is only 11 Hands tall. Nor is it the fact that Gregory has that whole Elven tan going on, from spending his whole youth outside before his parents moved into the city; and Dorf is pasty from too many late hours, not enough sun and too little sleep. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that the Elf was in very good shape from his time spent as a nurse before his recent promotion (around 15 Stones), while Dorf was…slovenly is a nice word, and isn’t too insulting. Yeah, I’m going to use slovenly.

What I’m mainly talking about is personality. Dorf is a great detective, don’t get me wrong, but he also acts like a detective, even when he’s not working. He’s naturally suspicious, doesn’t like people very much (in our line of work, we tend to deal with the worst of the worst), and would rather stay at home with a nice dinner and bottle of wine, listening to the plays on one of the newest inventions the Markon company had put out. They were calling it the Receiver of Audible Data and Operations. Most people called it the radio for short. I think that Dorf could probably count how many friends he had on two hands, and that was fine for him.

His husband, on the other hand, is a social butterfly. Granted, in his line of work that makes sense. He excels at making people feel comfortable, being able to talk to them and dealing with any problems they might have. It’s what made him a great nurse, and I’m sure it’s one of the reasons his superiors gave him that promotion. Gregory would be very happy going out to have dinner, seeing a play or a band in person, and just being out and about. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who had anything negative to say about him.

As I watched Gregory rope Natalya in to helping him bake the cookies, I smiled. Even though he didn’t have a spell to help him communicate with her, he was already trying to figure out signs for certain words and actions, and I could tell that the half-Elven girl was beyond delighted that at least he was making the attempt. I don’t even think that it was the fact that he was full Elven and she was half; I genuinely think he would have done the same, no matter what.

“Your husband is a pretty good guy,” I whispered to Dorf. Gregory, if he had overheard, would have made a fuss about how he was just doing what had to be done, and that it was no big deal since anyone would have done the same. That belief that people were inherently good was something else that they didn’t have in common. Unfortunately, my partner and I knew better.

“Yeah, I definitely got lucky when he agreed to marry me. Don’t know anyone else who would put up with my shit and my job,” Dorf whispered back. The love he had for Gregory shone out from his eyes whenever he looked at his husband. “Plus, he’s got a great ass,” he whispered to me, and I choked on the apple juice that I had been drinking. As I coughed and sputtered, my partner just grinned at me.

“Jonas, are you OK?” Gregory called out to me, and I gave him the OK sign while I cleared my throat. “Did my big bear do something to you?”

“You know him too well,” I yelled out hoarsely, taking another drink to clear my throat.

“Hello, I’m right here, you don’t have to talk over me,” Dorf protested. “Besides, what makes you think that I had anything to do with his choking?”

Staring at his husband with one raised eyebrow, Gregory just sniffed. “The fact that you even asked that lets me know that you’re lying. Don’t kill your partner, sweetie,” he said, and I started to thank him. “It’s a whole lot of paperwork I’m sure you would have to fill out, and besides you just got him trained to put up with you.” Dorf howled with laughter while Gregory hid his smile behind his hand and I looked offended. “Sorry Jonas, but the opportunity was there and I just had to take it,” he offered up his explanation over his husband’s loud guffawing.

“You know, married couples are supposed to pick up each other’s habits, but I was hoping that you would rub off on him, not the other way around,” I sulked.

“Would you like to hear about me rubbing off on him?” Dorf smirked.

“Dorf!” both Gregory and I yelled out in scandalized unison. Naturally, our being offended about it didn’t affect him in the slightest, just made him grin all the more.

“What? What did I say?” he protested, his chuckling ruining any attempt at innocence.

“You know what you said, and that’s private talk. I’m sure Jonas doesn’t want to know what goes on between us in the bedroom,” Gregory scolded him.

“Who said anything about the bedroom?” Dorf asked, wiggling his eyebrows.

My groan was swiftly echoed by Gregory. I held up my hands. “Please, I surrender.”

“Hot damn, I win!” my partner chortled, clapping his hands together gleefully. His husband just looked at me and rolled his eyes while I stifled my giggle. Even though Natalya couldn’t hear anything that was going on, she picked up on the mood and shyly smiled at all of us. Gregory and I both smiled back at her, and even Dorf gave her a wink. Moments like this, moments of happiness, are what keep me going when things get tough and events grow dark. You have to have moments like this, to remember why you should never stop fighting.

Reminding us to keep an eye on Natalya (as if we would go to all the trouble of saving her life just to watch her hurt herself in the kitchen), Gregory ran off to his little workshop that he had set up in one of the spare rooms. Between what he made and Dorf’s detective salary, they could afford a nice little house between downtown and East Wall. It had a small little garden that Dorf had tried to cultivate in the backyard, and inside it had the main room/dining room, the kitchen, their master bedroom, a guest room and the small den that Gregory had taken over as his workshop. His parents were master woodcarvers, and he had gotten quite a bit of their talent.

When he emerged, he was carrying a small doll, fixing the hair that he had sewn onto its head. Looking up at us he shrugged, seemingly embarrassed. “I have a patient that one of my girls is taking care of, and she’s really missing her dolly. If Natalya likes this, I can just carve another one.”

But when he went to hand it to her, the half-Elven girl drew back and signed sadly. Trying not to look hurt by the rejection, he turned to me. “What did she say?” Gregory asked.

“She said that, dolls are a childish thing and she can no longer afford to be a child.” I told him, and his heart seemed to break.

“Oh, sweetie,” he said as he put the doll down on the table before turning back to her and giving her a big hug. “You’re too young to let go of your childhood that easily, no matter what happened.” I noticed Natalya watching Gregory’s lips moving, and figured out that she was probably trying to learn how to know what people said that way, if they didn’t know how to sign to her. “I’m so sorry,” Gregory signed to her as he said the words out loud. She gave him a bittersweet smile and signed back.

“It’s not your fault, but thank you,” I translated for him, prompting him to hug her once more. After he released her, he wiped the tears from his eyes before turning to face Dorf and me.

“So, you said her whole family was killed? What happens now?” Gregory asked.

“We don’t know,” Dorf admitted. “All we know is that she’s all that remains of a lead we were tracking down, and that can’t be a coincidence. To me, that means that the killer was afraid of whatever the Ronan could tell us. Hey,” he said as he turned to me. “Do you think that this means that other caravans could be in trouble?”

“Makes sense,” I admitted. “After we get done having the Chief tear us new assholes, maybe we should ask him to send a message to other nearby villages. Can’t hurt.”

Dorf groaned. “You had to remind me that we still gotta go report in to him. Thanks, Jonas.”

“It’s not like I’m looking forward to that either, partner,” I snapped back. “But, for now at least Natalya’s safe and we can go give our report knowing that much. You about ready?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he grimaced. Going over to Gregory, he cupped his husband’s face and gave him a gentle kiss. “I love you,” he said softly while I pretended not to hear it.

“I love you too,” Gregory whispered back. “Now, hurry up and go get your work done. I would like to have a nice dinner tonight, just the three of us.” He gestured towards Natalya with his head, who was busy eating the leftover cookie dough stuck in the mixing bowl.

“That sounds wonderful,” Dorf replied. He gave Gregory another quick kiss and a big hug before turning from him and heading towards the door. I went over to Natalya and gave her a hug before I gave one to Gregory as well, then turned to follow my partner out the door. We heard Gregory locking up behind us and that made me happy. He may believe the best in people, but that didn’t mean he was an idiot who blindly trusted all.

Sighing loudly, I went around the steam-carriage and wedged myself inside. For once, Dorf wasn’t happy to be driving it around. Cranking the engine and putting it into gear, we pulled away from his house and headed towards the police station, already dreading our return.

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