The following recounts the story of how Dish met Gamba, his alleged true love ~<3
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"You gonna finish that?" Dish said, pointing a narrow finger at Sholga's remaining kebab. The half-orc dominatrix licked her fingers and shook her head.
"You know I'm not," she said. Dish plucked up the kebab, teased the first tiny tomato from the end and fitted it between his lips. Seated outside the Étalon Rampant, they were an unusual couple: Sholga was casually dressed but moss-green, and at nearly seven feet, she'd have drawn eyes by herself. She was beautiful, but in a deadly-powerful sort of way. Dish, meanwhile, was built like a twig, black as the night ocean and dressed like an erotic dancer – never mind his long tail and nacre antlers. Sholga rested her face in her hand, her conspiratorial smile flashing in the coloured candlelight. "You hear about Alphonse Zahn?"
"Mm—" Dish confirmed with an excited nod, swallowing a mouthful of kebab. "—yes – his not-so-secret sex dungeon? Tell me you've seen it?"
"Hah. Zahn wouldn't let me near him."
"I thought his son was a regular of yours..?"
Sholga gave him a suspicious look.
"How do you know that?" she said, and Dish donned a secretive smirk. He polished off the kebab just as a trio of partiers – two men and a woman – stumbled out of the Étalon. Loud and drunk, they swarmed a nearby table, and all three took to smoking, drinking, and chatting. Sholga raised an eyebrow. "Late in the season for tourists…"
"Amnish fighters," Dish identified. "Probably here for the Deep Duels."
"I thought that was over?"
"Just today," Dish said. The warriors' table erupted with laughter, and once it had subsided, he added, "You must be the only person in the city who avoids the duels."
"Yawn," Sholga said. "No business there for me – just men too afraid to admit what they really want, and desperate to prove that it's something else."
"Maybe they just don't like green people?" Dish teased.
"Eat my ass," Sholga grunted. She opened her mouth to say more, but the warriors' table had gone suddenly quiet – a change that warranted some attention. Dish followed Sholga's gaze to find that the warriors were all staring right back. They laughed again, murmured amongst themselves, and one of them stood. Sholga rolled her eyes and took to her own drink. "Here we go."
"Good evening," said the man who'd dared to approach. His accent was as thick as his body, his voice like a lion's purr, and his drunken smile bright against his dark skin. Still, he was young, and he seemed almost shy as he gestured towards Dish. "My friends are wondering… what you are meant to be..?"
Gorgeous, but stupid. The other two warriors chuckled behind him, clearly entertained by their friend's boldness. Dish donned a soft, practiced smile and narrowed his eyes.
"I can be whatever you like, handsome, but maybe another night. I don't take sloppy clients."
"Clients?" the warrior repeated. At the table behind him, his friends laughed again. The woman jerked her chin at Dish.
"Wasted breath, heathen; our Gamba does not lie with monsters," she said. Monsters. The word made Dish sneer automatically. Ignoring Sholga's warning look, he got to his feet.
"I'm not a monster," he said. The warrior, Gamba, was completely oblivious to his friend's slight.
"But… what are you?" he said, then mimed antlers and a tail. "…a demon..?"
"I'm a work of art," Dish insisted, lifting his chin. Sholga motioned for him to sit.
"Never seen a tiefling before?" she said. Dish hated to obey her, but she had a certain unexplainable authority. He sat. Sholga frowned at the warrior. "Didn't think Amn was so backwards."
Gamba looked hurt – perhaps a little insulted – but he persisted.
"You are… magical?"
"That's how most people describe a night with me," Dish said, his irritation fading. Sholga cackled, but Gamba's friends didn't think it was funny.
"Come, Gamba, let's go back inside. Your winnings are better spent on wine than on arcane tarts," the man said, getting up. Gamba shifted his weight, glanced back, but didn't immediately follow. He gestured feebly at Dish's antlers.
"May I touch..?" he said. Dish looked him up and down. This man was no threat and hardly cruel – just inexperienced, which was endearing, in a way.
"That’s something I normally charge for," Dish said, "But I'll make an exception for a Duel winner."
He didn't incline his head – didn't move – only fixed Gamba with a daring stare – like a still, smiling snake waiting for its prey to come just a little closer. The warrior, who clearly found Dish more than a little unnerving, hesitated. He was the size of a bear – at least double Dish's weight – but in the face of unknown magic, he had the presence of a toddler. He reached out, but drew back suddenly when his friend clapped a hand on his shoulder.
"Gamba, come," said the other man, and the three of them disappeared inside without another word. Dish laughed, put a hand over his heart and performed a quiet, anguished sigh.
"Sholga, I think I'm in love."
"You say that at least twice a day," Sholga said. "You said it about the kebabs."
"And about almost everything I could skewer, if you know what I—"
"He's going to get in trouble, drinking like that," Sholga interrupted, shaking her head.
"Oh no," Dish teased. The half-orc gave him a dangerous look – probably one that she normally reserved for her clients – but it only made him smile. Sholga sneered.
"One day I'm going to get sick of your sass, tiefling, and—"
"Beat the shit out of me again, I know," Dish said, curling his tail in delight. Sholga huffed.
"Wrong. I'm going to sit you down, truss you up, and eat a whole feast in front of you. I'll sit you at the table across from me, and while all the courses will be carted in fresh, your plate will stay empty. Meanwhile, I'll eat with agonizing slowness. I might even take breaks. I’ll definitely throw away leftovers."
Had Dish's mouth not filled with drool at the mere thought of a feast, he might have dropped it open in horror.
"That's not funny."
"Then don't test me," Sholga said. Dish leaned back in his chair, sufficiently chastised. The usual post-meal silence fell between them, and while Sholga was undoubtedly thinking about a nice bath and bed, Dish continued to consider the horrors of being forced to watch someone else eat. He was still thinking about it when Sholga leaned forward again. "Shall we?"
"If the wall's free," Dish said with a nod.
"The rentboys of Waterdeep don't part to make way for you?"
"I would never interrupt someone’s practice," Dish said. They stacked their dishes, said their farewells and parted ways, Sholga down the street towards home, Dish down the alley adjacent to the Étalon. He tip-toed past trash bins and danced down the steps, loosening his corset as he went – though it didn't make much of a difference. He came to a stop at the dead end, face to face with a worn wooden wall – his wall.
At least, he’d heard from a number of sources that his name was carved into the other side.
With a wave of his hand Dish lit the lantern hanging near the top of the wall – an indicator that someone was there – and set his purse down under the slot through which clients could drop coins and small gifts. The other three holes were fruit-sized and stained, but arguably just as important. Dish sat down in the nearby chair, pulled a tatty book from his bag and took to reading. It wasn't long before he heard a lone pair of shuffling footsteps, and a couple of coins dropped through the slot and into his purse. A stranger, Dish thought, for his regulars knew to bring sweets as well as cash. He set his book aside and knelt before the wall.
The visitor was quiet, his breath barely audible over the city's faroff music, drunken shouting and yowling cats. When it was over, he left a tip and departed in equal silence; Dish retreated to his book again until someone else approached. As the night drew on the frequency of customers swelled and then slowed; Dish finished his pocket snacks and had almost finished his book when he heard someone else – except they were on the wrong side of the wall.
Dish looked up to find the young warrior from earlier rounding the corner in a drunken sprint, crashing into bins and nearly falling down the steps. He was bloody, frantic, and there were half a dozen others on his heels. He stomped to a halt before the wall, his eyes wide in the lamplight.
"What – ? Where – ?" Gamba panted, whirling around. "It's a dead end?!"
"Yep," Dish said, entirely unhelpful.
Gamba’s fists and teeth were bloody, his forehead beaded with sweat. Seeing that their quarry had nowhere to run, his pursuers slowed, drawing weapons as they descended the handful of steps. If their clothing was any indication, they were all Amnish warriors, and the group included Gamba's two 'friends' from earlier. Jealous duelists, Dish realised, after Gamba's prize money.
"Give it up, young prince," rasped a black-clad woman with a pair of vicious-looking knives, "And we'll let you walk out of here."
"Crawl, maybe," said the largest man Dish had ever seen – he must have been at least part giant. The six of them drew nearer, effectively blocking off any escape that didn't involve climbing. Gamba staggered, clearly still sauced, but he nonetheless adopted a fighting stance and raised his bloody fists. He didn't even notice when he trod on Dish's purse, spilling coins everywhere.
"You can't fight all of us, Jelani. Just tell us where the money is," said a third fighter, coming forward. He was dressed like a storybook villain, with a collar half again the height of his head. Tired of being ignored, Dish finally stood up, open book still dangling from one hand.
"Hi – can I interrupt? I'm not an expert but this seems pretty unfair. Couldn't beat him one-on-one? Sober?"
"Shut up, trollop," snarled one of the fighters. "We'll have a use for your mouth once we've finished with our friend here, but not before that."
"Please – stay back," Gamba quietly urged. He looked worse than Dish had first assessed – he was drooling blood, wheezing, limping. Dish looked at him, at his assailants, and had half a mind to just walk away like everyone was suggesting – but instead he laid down his book. Gamba hissed, "No—"
One of their attackers twitched, but Dish was faster. He felt the familiar swell of magic inside him – like menthol for his insides – and an arcane shadow engulfed the scene, effectively blinding everyone. Their attackers let out a series of yelps and swears; meanwhile, Dish swiped out, felt Gamba's arm, and pulled. Something sharp thunked into the wall – an axe? a sword? – but no one was hurt. Yet. Probably?
"Move you idiot!" Dish yelled. Admittedly, he hadn't thought his actions all the way through, for they still had to make it past the group of armed fighters. Dish drew on his magic once again, and launched a trio of arcane projectiles straight ahead. It felt funny – his spells never felt quite right – but from the yelps of pain that resulted, at least one of the motes had hit its mark.
Dish dragged Gamba forward (rather, he pulled and Gamba had the good sense to follow). Dish tripped over someone's outstretched limb; someone else fell on top of him and for a brief time they were like poor children in an unlit room, fighting over space on the bed. He'd attended orgies that were better organised. Dish painstakingly extracted himself from the tangle of bodies, but not before taking a blow to the face that made his head swim and his nose explode with blood. He crawled away, groaning a summons as they went: "Hhalitcia!"
A set of hands grabbed him, and they didn't belong to Gamba. A wiry arm curled around his neck, trapping and choking him, and then a long, narrow blade was shunted between his ribs. It was so sharp that the point was barely noticeable, but the sudden, blinding pain was enough to steal his breath and utterly weaken him.
Dish let out a strangled cry and dropped any pretense of struggle. His concentration slipped, too – he felt the cold burn of magic in the pit of his stomach and it leeched out before he could stop it. Moonlight returned to the alley, and in the same moment, Dish's attacker was suddenly and violently engulfed in greenish flames. Dish was hurled to the ground and his attacker staggered away, shrieking and causing the other fighters to disperse.
"Hhalitcia hhalitcia hhalitcia," Dish desperately whined amidst the swearing and confusion of the other combatants. He rose to all fours and found that Gamba was still on his feet – still putting up a fight – but perhaps not for long. He kicked at a heavily-tattooed man and tossed the black-clad woman, then looked around and spotted Dish. Their eyes met; Gamba staggered closer.
"Get up," he said, lifting the delicate tiefling to his feet as easily as he might have lifted a doll. At the same moment, Dish felt the familiar prod of his animated broomstick, Boom. He reached out to find it hovering under his hand – as innately as one knows the position of one's own nose – and the broom thrummed with energy, like a horse waiting to run. Gamba noticed its presence immediately.
"Get on and hold on," Dish commanded, swinging one leg over the broom. He didn't normally ride like an amateur, but these were unusual circumstances: he was injured; his passenger would undoubtedly be difficult, and their attackers were quickly collecting themselves. Gamba gawped at him.
"Hold – to that?!" he said, eyes wide.
"And to me," Dish insisted, seizing Gamba’s shirt and pulling again. Gamba mounted the broom behind him – as confidently as one would expect of someone entirely unfamiliar with a flying broom. He placed one hand uncertainly on Dish’s shoulder – until they lifted off the ground, at which point he wrapped Dish in a tight hug.
The takeoff wasn't what anyone could have called graceful: Gamba’s presence came with an endless supply of frantic Amnish swearing; Dish could hardly concentrate on flying given the searing pain in his side, and they only barely dodged the reach of their part-giant assailant. While the broom rose, their attackers produced slings and even a crossbow, but their shots went wide, and Boom was soon speeding away into the night.
It didn’t take long to outstrip the would-be muggers: Waterdeep’s alleyways were myriad and labyrinthine, but everything was a straight shot by broom. Passing only a handful of bats along the way, they sped towards Dish’s apartment. Gamba settled into a terrified silence during the ride, while Dish developed a tremor and a fierce cold. His injured side radiated pain into his whole body, he felt weak, and by the time they reached his small, third-floor balcony he was about ready to fall off the broom. He dismounted awkwardly – Gamba was loath to let go – and once the warrior’s feet were on the floor again, he promptly threw up.
Teeth chattering, Dish left Gamba behind, swiped past his diaphanous curtains and stalked inside. He staggered to his vanity and tore open the drawers, searching and murmuring to himself. He pushed aside makeup, jewelry, coins, and other odds and ends before he found – finally – the little case with the bottles inside.
Bottle, rather. There was only one left.
With one hand still on his side, Dish tore the stopper free with his teeth, then turned to look at Gamba. He had recovered – a little – and was standing awkwardly in the threshold, battered and bloody between the delicate pink curtains. Bottle in hand, Dish hesitated.
"How are you feeling..?" he said. Gamba didn’t reply, clearly still trying to make sense of everything that had just happened – of Dish’s room – of Dish himself. He was wan and weak, too frazzled to have noticed the oversupplied kitchen, the shelves of sex paraphernalia or the summoning circle painted on the ceiling. Dish grimaced, and drank only half of the bottle’s contents. "Eugh."
The potion was sickeningly sweet, but it took effect immediately: his side felt tight and sticky; it still throbbed with pain, but it stopped bleeding, and his breath came easier. His nausea vanished and his face ached only vaguely. He turned to cross the room, but his approach caused Gamba to retreat backwards onto the balcony, palms up.
"Please," Gamba begged, stopping only when he reached the railing. Dish kept his distance. "Please – I don’t want anymore trouble. If you want the money, I can—"
"You know this isn’t a kidnapping, right?" Dish said. Given the look on Gamba’s face, he didn’t know. Dish frowned. "I’m not trying to steal from you. Here. It’s… medicine."
"A potion," Gamba half-questioned, half-accused. Dish nodded. Gamba shook his head. "I don’t partake of magic."
"I just saved your ass using magic and we flew away on a magic broom – you might as well take the potion. It’s only half, anyway, and you’re not well," he said. He took a step closer, and Gamba’s whole body tightened. Dish held out the bottle. "Drink it. You don’t have to tell anyone."
Gamba took the bottle, and Dish went back inside, to his closet. There, he took to undressing: he removed and stored his designer coronet (a desperate imitation of fashion icon Satie); ducked out of his collared lace mantle (imported from Calimshan); loosened and slipped out of his brocade corset (sadly, ruined). He unbuckled, unclipped, unclasped and pulled off his jewelry, and dropped everything into one of his padded jewelry boxes.
When he turned back, he found that Gamba had made it inside. Whether he’d drunk the potion or dumped it was hard to tell, but the bottle was empty and he did seem to be walking a little easier. He still had the bottle in hand, but his eyes were on Dish.
"Is that your blood..?"
Dish looked down.
"It looks like milk," Gamba said, thoughtfully but not entirely intelligently. Dish fought a smile.
"Yep," he said again. He removed the clips and ties from his braid, and shook his hair free. "Feeling better?"
"I am very… dizzy," Gamba admitted.
"The potion won’t stop you from being drunk – or hungover," Dish said. He stepped out of his shoes, then collapsed into his reading chair, peeled off his stockings, and regarded Gamba through his lashes. "With that in mind, should I find you a rickshaw, or do you want to wait until morning?"
Gamba staggered a little – whether from surprise or from drunkenness was hard to tell. Maybe both.
"You mean stay?" he said. "Here? In your home?"
"Do you not partake of hospitality, either?" Dish said. He plucked a ripe peach from a nearby bowl, bit into it and sucked its juices; Gamba turned red, tried to hide it with a scowl.
"What is your name?" he said.
"I am Gamba,"
"I know," Dish said, suckling the peach, and Gamba looked even more awkward.
"I’ll stay," he decided, almost certainly to defy Dish’s expectations. "But… I should like to thank you."
"Yeah?" Dish said, unable to resist a filthy grin. He looked his guest up and down, and Gamba turned red again. Dish leaned back in his chair, took another bite of peach. "How’s that?"
"A date," Gamba dared, bold enough to maintain eye contact. That was unexpected. Dish sucked the peach pit, intrigued, and Gamba added, "Starting with breakfast tomorrow morning, and culminating at my brother’s party in the evening."
"Sorry, love, but I’m booked tomorrow evening," Dish said, picking up a second peach. Gamba smirked.
"Starting now, then?" he said, and Dish let out a delighted laugh.
"You’re far too drunk."
"I assure you I can make breakfast drunk," Gamba said, and perhaps it was the suggestion of food more than anything else, but he held Dish’s attention. "I see you have your own kitchen. You enjoy cooking?"
"I enjoy eating," Dish said, annoyed at himself for having lost control of the conversation. But even with the second peach in hand, he’d have killed for something more. Gamba smiled and approached, with barely a shadow of his earlier hesitation.
"Have you had Amnish breakfast?"
"…you really want to stay up all night and cook for me?" Dish said, skeptical. Gamba wrapped a warm hand around his wrist. His touch felt like magic – like the same incredible, pleasure-pain burn of menthol. Dish’s heart raced, and he forced out, "I thought I was a monster?"
"Earlier, you said you could be whatever I wanted," Gamba said. That voice! He took what remained of the peach from Dish’s hand, and bit into it. "I don't mind, as long as you are also hungry."