Cassian did not do well with inaction. He was a man who fought his way through any situation, and needed tangible, physical solutions so that he felt accomplished. Being told that there was literally nothing he could do was devastating. The only remaining reprieve came the second day of Nesta's disappearance, when that subtle sense pricked in the back of his mind—that she was still here, somewhere, and that he did not lose her forever.
He needed to feel useful. He had picked up more patrols, but the beasts in the forest had been noticeably quiet. He could train, but it just turned into obliterating punching bags and wooden dummies. Cassian required more delicacy, something he had to focus on so acutely that he couldn't worry, he couldn't twist himself up in knots about getting Nesta back.
The shop was a welcome reprieve. Cassian, on more than one occasion, had visited Nesta's workplace, though he had not spent much time among the potions and baubles and magical items. He should have, it would have made tending to the business, while all of its owners and employees were missing, easier. Cassian had been lucky that Elain offered to assist him, and better yet, Vax.
Unfortunately, Vallo did not stop functioning just because Outlanders had gone missing—that revelation had made him angry, earlier in the day, when he had crushed a healing pot in his hand while helping a customer. Their ignorance was frustrating.
By the time the day had passed, and they were left alone to close up the shop and count the money and whatever else was involved with entrepreneurship, Cassian was exhausted. It had done nothing to distract him from Nesta's absence.
Cassian moved toward Vax at the counter as he locked the front door. "I am not sure if I could keep this up everyday. I do not know how Nesta does and she does not work everyday like Gilmore."
Much like Cassian, Vax was not made for sitting idle. He had allowed himself to be idle the first day, after he had woken up to a Shaun-less bed, then a Shaun-less Vallo. It had been one of his fears since he had watched each member of Vox Machina arrive and then slowly disappear once more, equal to that of waking up and finding that his sisters were gone. They weren't -- this time, at least -- and that had given Vax's heart a little reprieve.
But he couldn't stay idle forever and he had jumped at the opportunity to do something -- anything. The shop was both of those things, a challenge in that he knew very little about customer service and how to run a business and more than enough to occupy his mind. Even though the store was enveloped in memories of Shaun, from the decor to the merchandise to the beaded curtain that he was still so pleased to have been allowed behind, he didn't have much time to dwell on them when he was being asked for potions and Trinkets of This or That and had literally no idea where to find them or how much they were.
And so, even though attempting to take care of the shop in the stead of the owners and employees had been a grand distraction, Vax was not at all subtle about the sigh of relief he let out when he heard the click of the front door locking.
"You can say that again," Vax said, looking around the shop. There was tidying to be done, that was for certain, as well as money to be counted -- maybe? That was something people did, right? "I suppose he has some experience having done it for as long as he has, but I don't know how Shaun doesn't take more holidays. I'd need one every other day at this rate."
"You might have to be the one to convince him to do it," Cassian said, with as much hope as he could muster. That would mean Shaun and Nesta would need to come back, and they would. Perhaps not to a store that was completely functional, but it was the thought that counted right? Maybe even he and Vax could prove to them that the shop was in good hands while they were gone and that taking a break was not completely out of the ordinary.
Cassian's eye caught on a book that had fallen off the shelf and neither of them managed to see it missing or on the floor. He grimaced and bent down to pick it up. So, maybe Cassian couldn't keep track of the items in the store the same way he could keep track of fae on a battlefield. He managed to fail that too, given that he had lost Nesta who had been right beside him in the bed they shared.
"Is that how you met him?" Cassian asked, sliding with extreme effort through the tight aisle, his wings pressed uncomfortably against his back. This had been an on-going maneuver throughout the day and Cassian had managed not to take out a whole shelf thus far. "A business owner who never took a break?"
Despite himself and despite the situation, Vax felt a fond smile form on his face as he moved to close the curtains on the windows; he remembered Gilmore doing that, just with more magical flair than he could manage as he manually did it. "That's right," he confirmed. "My friends and I were new to the capital city and his was one of the first shops we stepped into looking for potions and magic items. Of which," Vax paused, gesturing around their surroundings, "he had many. I tried to flirt with him to haggle down on prices, something he luckily found charming, and the rest is history."
Of course, it wasn't really as simple as that. "We never actually were officially together back home," Vax continued, moving onto the next set of windows. "I feel rather lucky that he gave me a shot here." And he would continue to feel lucky, as soon as they righted this nonsense and he had his sorcerer back -- because he would get him back.
Deciding it best not to dwell on that (his optimism could only stretch so far and he didn't want to overdo it when he had the rest of the day ahead of him), he glanced back toward Cassian. "What about you and Nesta? How did you meet?"
Cassian nodded, feeling that familiar line—we weren't together back home. Neither were he and Nesta, not really. Not like they were here. And home had always been the problem. Cassian was beginning to realize that they would never have gotten the chance in Velaris, even if every part of him yearned for it. Vallo had been good for something. It seemed to have the same effect on Vax.
"Ah, that is—'' Cassian laughed at the question. It was not as carefree and delightful as Vax's story with Gilmore. Then again, if Cassian lied, Nesta would rake him across the coals. He was certain they both had differing opinions on how their meeting went. "Her sister is my High Lady. I met Feyre before Nesta, but due to political issues," Oh that was the softest way to put that and, even then, Cassian's face soured at the diplomatic nature of that statement, "Nesta was forced to be part of the court, for her safety. We grew closer that way."
But even that was a half-truth. Nesta had kept him at a cool distance. Cassian could only guess—through rare, impossible moments—that the distance was calculated for her other reasons. "She wanted to take up sword training again this week. I have a feeling she might have sensed it would be needed." Cassian glanced up to the row of shelves behind the counter—more potent potions, he assumed.
"Nothing back there looks familiar for possibly finding them?"
These were the sorts of stories that Vax enjoyed hearing most; ones about different worlds, different experiences. He knew that his adventures with his friends could be viewed as grand and exciting to some, but they were just a Whelsen (or Tuesday, as he'd come to learn it was in Vallo) to him. He had no doubt that there was more to Cassian's meet-cute with Nesta, just as there was plenty more to his history with Gilmore, but he liked the bit of insight that it gave him into them both.
Closing the last curtain, Vax turned, nose scrunched up. "Not that I could tell," he admitted, surveying the shelves nearest him as well, as though some solution might jump out from nowhere. When nothing did, he straightened out a display of jewelry. "But I have no doubt that when -- " when -- "Shaun gets back, he's going to try to magic something up to keep it from happening again."
Because it had better not happen again. Vax didn't know if his heart could take it.
Cassian thumbed numbly through the pages of the book in his hand. He had become more of a reader because of Nesta, but now books themselves were a painful reminder of her absence. If they didn't return soon, Cassian might lose his mind with regret and helplessness. It was a terrible feeling.
"That sounds promising," Cassian said, laughing a little. He imagined many people would start putting up new magical precautions. "Nesta will likely be furious. If she hasn't killed whoever did this by now, she will. And I am inclined to let her. I would offer, but I would never get in the way of a woman and her driving force." There was a chance Nesta may take it out on him, but that was expected. At least they were easily mediated by Elain.
"If anything, I would hope they return soon because I feel like the store is going to lose money if we are behind the register any longer and—" Cassian turned and that's what did it. His giant wing knocking into the shelf and even battle reflexes couldn't keep him from catching it in time. Books, papers, and oh—something expensive that shattered—hit the ground.
Vax heard, rather than saw, as the shelf fell -- and he immediately cringed. He could relate to having large wings, but he had the literally god given gift of being able to put them away. How Cassian had managed all day was beyond him, but Vax was pretty sure this was going to happen eventually.
Despite himself, the cringe was replaced with a good-natured huff of a laugh, both at the situation and at what Cassian had been saying before the shelf and its contents went down. "There's probably a reason we're the significant others and they're the ones that run this place," he said, amusement still clear in his voice. It was a nice change of pace from the general moping that he'd spent the prior day doing.
Vax moved forward to help pick up everything that had fallen, gingerly setting the broken bits of whatever delicate and undoubtedly magical thing had shattered. "If I know Shaun, he'll figure out a way back here by sheer force of will once he finds out I'm trying to haggle people."
Cassian started laughing too. It was inevitable. His grace and dexterity came from being airborne, not in cramped enclosed spaces. If anything, he tried. And better yet, it happened after hours, where the only witness was Vax. Cassian maneuvered himself down between the shelves to assist in picking up the fallen books and pieces of glass, but it was akin to watching an animal stuck in a fence. At least Cassian didn't struggle, but it was immediately awkward.
"I can already feel Nesta sensing I ruined books, blasphemy in our home," Cassian said as he lifted a tome that was currently leaking pink goo from a broken bottle. He winced considerably. "Maybe we don't tell them about this, unless Gilmore has some kind of visual security he is tapping into? Is that something he is capable of doing?"
The faint buzzing in his chest, the one that let him know Nesta was alive, close, his, warmed him, even if he was talking about their inevitable gutting for taking care of the store. "You and I have to remain steadfast in this. If one of us goes down for this, we both go down for this."
"Your secret is safe," Vax promised, though his eyes immediately lifted to look around the space surrounding them. He was pretty sure that Gilmore and company hadn't upgraded the security of the shop to reflect that of the more technologically advanced stores in the city; why would he need to, Vax reasoned, when there was magic almost literally oozing out of his boyfriend as naturally as his charm did? "But I can't promise you he's not watching us right now, likely agog and possibly panicking."
Letting his gaze drop from where he was imagining scrying orbs to be floating about, Vax added with a wry smile, "Steadfast, though, I can get behind. We might just need that solidarity before this is through."
There were, after all, plenty of more things to knock off shelves, potion bottles to accidentally drop and send smashing to the floor, and items to attune to, just to know what they do. And that didn't even consider the haggling that every customer seemed to deem necessary -- a hypocritical thought, Vax was all too aware of given his own history with the shop.
"Maybe it will be enough for him to whisk the rest of them home, sensing the accidental destruction of his store," Cassian said, conspiratorially, all grins. It might have sounded a little forced, knowing if it was that easy, the combined willpower of everyone in Vallo would have made that happen the moment everyone vanished. The ache in his chest for missing Nesta was all-consuming, and it was frustrating that it wasn't enough to call her home.
So keep moving, he had to keep moving. Gathering things—broken, damaged, or otherwise—Cassian dropped them onto the counter, and rested there for a moment. His grip on the edge of the glass cage pressurized, causing a crack down the center. He swore deeply, and stepped back.
"I am not cut out for this," Cassian looked at Vax, shaking his head. Running the store, he was not cut out for this but then he clarified. "Waiting. I'm not cut out for waiting. I want to smash something, but this is clearly not the place to do it."
Glancing down just once at the new crack in the glass case, Vax looked up to Cassian with an expression of understanding. "I'm also not good at waiting," he admitted. "I never have been and it's, ah -- it's gotten me, and by extension my friends, into more than my fair share of scrapes."
It was probably why he was here in the first place. Yes, it was out of an unwavering loyalty to his partner and a desire for Gilmore to, when he came back, be able to just step into life as normal. But Vax needed to be doing something. He needed a goal, a mission, an adventure to keep himself occupied. Without it, he became restless. He had only just began to accept that maybe a more leisurely pace where the goals were about love and family was just as exciting as dragons and vampires was just as rewarding -- but much of that lesson, he knew, was in thanks to the man that was now missing.
Vax sighed. "I know they'll be back," he said, his tone more sure than he might have actually been in the moment. "But it would be nice if the solution to get them here was smashing or daggers, rather than patience."
Cassian liked Vax's confidence, the surety in his voice. It wasn't that Cassian doubted Nesta's determination to rip a hole into whatever had swept them away to get back, it was that Cassian couldn't do it himself. They had fought for a sense of normalcy here, away from the pressures of the court and their families to see what would happen with them after the war. But this was a testament of faith in one another, a lesson in patience and devotion.
He couldn't wallow though. Nesta would never let him live it down. Worried about me, bat boy? He could practically hear her crooning in his ear just to see the effect the soft affectionate insult had on him. A lot, apparently.
"I fear I might cause more unintentional damage here if we stick around," Cassian said, eyeing the mess on the ground, the broken bits on the counter, the dusting that needed to be done. "Could I convince you to count the money while I disposed of the evidence, and we spend the evening smashing and throwing daggers at one another? I think the store might thank us."
"Yes," Vax agreed, perhaps a bit more emphatically than necessary. He was not, after all, very excited about counting money, but he was pretty certain that it was a necessary part of the work he had volunteered for and he also had a feeling that, if he felt it was needed, it wouldn't be too hard to convince his sister into checking his work. What he was excited for, though, was getting the chance to blow off some steam because the gods only knew he needed it.
"Give me, say... a half an hour?" Vax asked, already making his way behind the counter to where the money was stowed. "And then I'll be happy to throw daggers at you."