#and I think that alone is a testament to just how much Buck cares about Eddie
destiel fic recs pt.4
heeeeeere we go again
part 1 | part 2 | part 3
new testament 'verse (15 works, 47k, g-m) the most underrated work imho. i have no words to describe this one. it makes me FEEL. sad cas, sweet caring dean, singer salvage, domesticity. one of my all time favorites
rivers and roads (3k, g) cas hitchhiking his way home after the fall. they are the sweetest boys
entertaining strangers (9k, e) cas tells dean about his threesome. just. wow. OCs in this one are the best.
the walk series (196k, e, AU) dean turns tricks and one day he meets cas. who is religious and sad and married. i loved how all their found family came together in this one.
seek to know you better (27k, e) they are on a road trip and play “36 questions to fall in love”. cute
some boys are sleeping alone (4k, m) dean and his sexuality. very very sad
command me to be well (28k, e) not an obvious one of 15.18 fix-its
after a storm (10k, m) where dean doesn't tell cas to leave bunker in season 9 (as it should have been)
there’s only one sure thing that i know (20k, e) dean and cas get stuck in ohio. very old one. beautifully written
elemental (600, g) “the man who would be king” coda
the best bang for your buck (6k, m) cas finds dean’s profile on sex toys website. this is so funny
the gambler (4k, t) dean retires. with cas. sam is oblivious. the fluffiest fluff
i saw the heavens and the earth cry over you (3k, m, mcd) why do i do this to myself? hah. i don't even want to recommend this one, but i have to, i’m sorry. read at you own risk. cas becomes human. his body starts to slowly shut down. incredibly sad.
things dean winchester loves (3k, m) so cute. cas makes a list.
story time (1k, g) dean and cas retire. they tell stories to local kids.
string lights (2k, g) christmas fic. i love the atmosphere
you and me in the war of the end times (5k, e) remember i told about shotgunning? yeah.
the face at the end of the hall (3k, t) psychological horror. short and sad.
things happen (they do, they do, and they do) (28k, e) my favorite one of 15.18 fix-its. dean is a repressed bean.
flowers in the backyard (34k, e, AU) awwwww. love this one. dean inherits bobby’s cabin, cas is homeless and made the cabin into his home.
prosopagnosia (32k, t, AU) dean is a firefighter, cas works in gas-n-sip and can’t recognize and memorize faces.
on vessels (2k, g) cas tells dean that he wanted him to be his vessel
holding this in mind (13k, e) yeah, well um this one is 13k words about fisting. but it’s such a tender fic. more like character study, than smut, truly.
death of the author (7k, e) post-15.18, first time fic. soooooo cute.
special mention, aileenrose’s little AUs. they are so special and unique and writing is *chefs kiss*. my favorites:
every dog has its day (12k, m) dean meets homeless cas, they rescue a puppy.
a case for evolution (9k, m) plumber dean, anthropologist cas. they are nerds. nerds in love.
love, take your toll (9k, t) this one owns my heart. lonely toll collector cas and motorist dean. unbelievably tender fic. i wanted to hug cas so much
all that is gold does not glitter (8k, m) jeweler cas, dean comes to collect sam’s wedding rings. cas thinks it's dean who’s getting married. dumbies.
an exploration of habitat (11k, m) cas is a protester who lives in a tree. dean is afraid of heights. last lines made me weep. this fic made me feel so happy, oh god watch and learn, cw
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#36: "I want to try for a baby" with Sam Wilson?🥺💕
Pairing: Sam Wilson x F!Reader
Warnings: Tooth rotten fluff nothing more.
Word count: 2,653
Summary: You’ve been thinking about it for a while now, just wasn’t sure how Sam would take the question.
Note’s: Written for the wonderful @autumnleaves1991-blog for the Writer Wednesday-Writer Challenge. Thank you so much doll for tagging me and including me in this opportunity.
Set after the ending of Falcon and The Winter Soldier, Sam has taken the mantle of Captain America as his own. This is my first time writing for Sam so I do hope I’ve done him justice.
Rolling the idea around your mind for what felt like the hundredth time today. Worried about his reaction, scared he might say no. Neither of your ready for the biggest leap since the ring he put on your finger. Sparking in the late summer Louisiana sun simple single two carat engagement ring catches your eye. Dreamy smile tugging the corners of your lips up.
“You gonna help finish these meal’s Y/N or stare at the rock Sam gave you?” playful annoyance filtering through her voice. Sarah glances your way smile bright and full spreading over her plush lips. “Come on girl quicker we get these meals out the faster we get back home and relax.”
“Yeah, yeah quit your bitchin babe I’m coming,” sending her a wink back. Thoughts temporarily side tracked as is your path when Cass and AJ cross, both boy’s laden with styrofoam containers. Delicious smells tickle your nose as they path tummy grumbling in reminder of a missed meal.
“Better get that checked out Aunt Y/N sounds like you got a bear in there,” AJ teases laughter in his voice.
Scowling playfully you take off after him intent on smacking his butt for the sass. But miss by a few inches, looking towards Sarah for sympathy. “What he’s not wrong and I told you to eat something earlier,” lips tipping up. Grabbing two food boxes at a time to pack them into the larger cardboard carry box.
“No love, non at all and you’re suppose to be family,” arms crossing refusing to help.
“Who’s suppose to be family?” Deep timbered voice asks from the side kitchen door, leaning on the frame like he doesn’t have a care in the world. Smiling russet eyes glance over Sarah and the boys before landing on you, back towards him. His favorite pink, yellow and white sundress fitted to your body, wearing it especially for him. Butterflies start dancing in your belly at his voice but you don’t turn just yet adding the last two containers to the box AJ packed up.
Shaking her head, “You’re late I guess there’s a first time for everything huh?” Hands placed on her hips trying to look stern but a smile spreads over her lips at seeing her big brother back in one piece.
“Don’t blame me for that Sarah. Bionic stare machine in the reason,” thumbing over his shoulder where Bucky appears sheepish grin on his lips.
“Uncle Sam you’re back, how’d it go?” Cass exclaimed happily running over to his uncle and flinging arms around his neck when Sam bent down to hug him.
AJ joining a little slowly, “Got the shield with ya this time?”
“Maybe but it’s not for you to play with,” Sam snarks back running a hand over the boy’s head, pulling him in for a one armed hug.
That’s when you turn seeing the love shinning like the sun in those such cherished eyes. Breath catching for a moment as visions filter through your thoughts. Sam holding his own child, your child, making your heart beat out a quick step. You try to cover by turning away and checking to make sure you have everything. Hoping Sam won’t notice.
“Ah but Uncle Sam please?” Puppy eyes on full blast eagerness in his tone.
But he does, filling the question away for when you’re alone together. “Don’t y’all got a truck to pack? Those meal’s ain’t gonna deliver themselves.” Stepping deeper into the kitchen with Bucky following. Eyes trained on you for a moment till Sarah moves and he shifts to look at her. Slight change in demeanor, soft smile on her lips with eyes, ‘No,’ drawing an invisible line from his sister to Bucky and back. “Oh hell no, not the two of you. Seriously Sarah the man is old as dirt.” Exasperated huff leaving his mouth, running a hand over his head acting like the prospect pains him.
Partnership somewhere along the years turned into friendship though the banter and good natured ribbing still persisted. Somethings just never change ever over the years. Not that either one of them would. Their brand of team work fit the two of them perfectly and with amazing precision.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about Samual and keep out of my business in that department,” brow lifting, Sarah grabs for the cardboard box.
Eyes rolling arms crossed over his massive chest everyone else quiet for the moment. “It’s my business since you’re my sister. Can’t have little cyborgs running around here.” Seeing your shoulders shaking, Sam tries to keep the humor from his tone, “I mean think what the neighbors would say Sarah. You’d be going out with a centurion.”
“Actually it’d be centurion plus ten,” Bucky butts in grin sliding over his lips, looking from you to Sarah as his features soften into an almost bashful smile.
“I think it’d be cute the two of them,” you quip reaching to takes Sam’s gloved hand in yours, gaining his attention for a moment.
Shaking his head, “Neither of you are helping any,” though his russet eyes stay with you before an “Oaf,” exists his chest, hand coming up to rub the center of his chest. “Why?”
“For butting in where that overly large nose doesn’t belong. Why don’t you mind your own business and stay outta mine?” Box in her arms, Sarah heads towards the door that Bucky holds open. Looking both men over with a fake exasperated sigh, “Neither of you can go to town in those get ups. Change and meet us at the carnival.”
Turning back to you with a small pout, “Here you deserved it buddy told you not to snoop in her love life.”
“No sympathy for your fiancé?” Wrapping one arm around your waist to pull you against him, feeling the leather crease with your curves pressed tightly. “She still hits damn hard. Wanna make it feel better?”
Triple groans leave three sets of mouths and you both turn to see Bucky, Cass and AJ making gross faces. Pretending to throw up while holding their stomachs. “No one said you three needed to stay,” sassy tone to your voice. “AJ, Cass your mom is waiting and Buck get up stairs, shower and change the both of you look like shit by the way.” Though worry underlays the tone noticing the slight limp Sam’s sporting, along with a busted lip. Bucky not much better with buries blooming purple along his jaw and eye. Who knew what other injures the two of them acquired from this mission. “Sure hope the other guy’s look worse.”
“Count on that on Y/N,” nodding then he turns to head upstairs following your orders. The boys having already disappeared out the door.
Attention back on Sam, cupping his whiskered cheek, “You need to shave baby, it’s grown since last I saw you.” Brushing your fingers over the soft beard, worry filled eyes locking with his.
“I’ll get right on that sweetheart but first there’s something I’ve been needing to do since I left,” voice quiet drinking in your beauty. Tightening his arms around your waist to pull you a little closer. Captain America’s new flight suit bitting into your cloth covered frame. Circling your arms around his neck and drawing little patterns with your nails on the skin just below the collar of his suit.
Tipping your head to the side, “Oh and what would that be?” Innocent smile tugging your lips. Sure it’s only been three weeks since he left out but that’d been a long three weeks of worry and fear. You trusted his skills and that Bucky would watch his six. It’s the other assholes you didn’t put much faith in. The bruises and scars littering his body a testament to how hard they tried to put him in the ground for good.
“Eat a slice of that heavenly banana bread Sarah makes,” keeping his face neutral as a gasp leaves your lips, making his twitch. Halting your fist from smacking the same place Sarah did. Palm come up to caress your cheek, bringing you close breath ghosting over your trembling lips. “Thought I was serious sweetheart,” words mumbled before slanting his lips over yours.
Gentle to start, just pressing your mouths together finding the right fit and sliding his tongue over the seam of yours. Requesting permission which is granted on a sigh, melting into his arms. Wrapping yours around his shoulders giving over to him those little noises he loves to brag from your throat. Meeting his tongue to tangle and caress each other. Teeth snagging your bottom lip to suck and nibble on a moment while gathering air. Before diving back in deepening the kiss till you’re both breathless and panting. Foreheads resting, eyes staring with goofy little smiles on your faces.
“Missed me didn’t you?”
Teasingly, “Nope don’t know what you mean Mr. Wilson I missed Bucky though.” Giggles bursting from your throat with the groan from Sam. Who drops his head on your shoulder squeezing you closer in a hug. Lips brushing his ear, “You know better than that Sam I always miss you.”
“Tease,” turning his head to press a kiss to your neck right when the car horn sounds making you both groan. “Impatience as always,” pulling back to place on more kiss to your lips. “Go I’ll see you in a bit. Save me some cotton candy?”
“Of course and a ride on the ferries wheel to,” not wanting to let him go but knowing delivers needed to be made. Leaning up on your toes to press one last kiss, “Welcome home my love I missed you.” Before pulling away, grabbing the box and walking over backwards. Watching him as he stares back love shinning in those deep russet eyes. Blowing him a kiss at the door.
“Y’all can trade gooey eyes later Y/N shake a leg we got work to do,” Sarah calls out making Sam shake his head and you to laugh.
Heading for the door, Sam grabs your hand one more time, “Miss you to sweetheart, I love you.”
“Love you more,” quickly pressing forward to give him one more kiss. Jumping off the last step and up into the truck waving as Sarah pulls out heading towards town.
Two hours later, food passed out you and Sarah parked yourself on a picnic bench near the parking lot of the town carnival. Sharing a pretzel with hot mustard while the boys run around working off the sugar high they’ve put themselves in. Gathering crowd catches your eye, smile spreading over your lips at the sight of Sam and Bucky. Pausing to take pictures sign autographs for the kids mainly. Both men cleaning up nicely though your eyes stay with Sam. Dressed casual with a fitted blue Henley top two button’s open and black jeans that hugged his thighs and waist just perfectly. However, it’s his demeanor, laid back at easy with himself and those around him which speaks to you most. Catering to all the children who beg for a photo or signature. Heart expanding when a young mother asks him to hold her baby for a picture. Watching how he cradles the young one to his chest and coos has a small gasp leaving your lips.
“You need to ask him before your ovaries explode while you stare,” teasing cadence in her voice making you whip around to stare at her. Laughter sweet and clear echos around the small area. Beating the table with one hand in her mirth Sarah rests her head on the other.
Heated face buried in your hands hating and loving that Sarah knows you so well. “I can’t help it Sar that man was made to make beautiful babies. Most importantly making them with me,” bottom lip tugged between your teeth, eyes landing back on Sam who’s striding over.
“I see the two of you have started without us.” Sliding beside you, wrapping an arm around your shoulders to pull you against his side.
Plucking up the last bite of pretzel to feed him, “Couldn’t wait much longer handsome. What took the two of you so long? Here I thought us women are bad.”
“Went to check on the boat heard it’s been running a little rough,” looking over at Sarah while saying. “We’ll take care of that tomorrow sis it shouldn’t be too hard a fix.”
Nodding, “Should leave it to someone who knows what they’re doing.”
“And I don’t?” Faking offense, hand on his chest.
“Last time you tried to fix the boat, you damn near blew it up Sam.” Teasing tenor states from beside Sarah making both women chuckle and Sam rolling his eyes.
“Thanks for backing me up Buck,” glancing over at you then pointing at Bucky. “You believe him thought we were friends I’m wounded.”
Laughing harder, dropping your head on his shoulder while Bucky answers straight faced, “We’re barely partners Wilson I don’t know where you get friends from.”
“Come one,” taking his hand, tugging up up. “You promised me a Ferris wheel ride remember.”
“Where’s the cotton candy?” Getting up Sam wraps an arm around your waist as the two of you wave a goodbye to Sarah and Bucky.
Steering towards a small inclosed trailer, signs advertising cotton candy, kettle corn, deep fried snickers and corn dogs for sale. You step up, pulling your small wallet out but Sam places his hand over yours to pay and grab the paper stick from the vendor.
Snuggling into his arms, walking and sharing the sticky sweet treat. Line thankfully short of the ride, not the most popular with the kids being slow and only one direction. Though for you it holds a special meaning of the first kiss you and Sam ever shared all those years ago.
“Do you remember our first kiss?” Nodding the the attendant who holds the little bar up for you and Sam to slip into the metal seat.
Getting as comfortable as one could, arm wrapped around your shoulders to hold you against him. “How could I forget that night sweetheart.” Gazing down at you, he leans in to brush his lips over yours, “It was the night I lost my heart.”
“Oh Sam,” happy tears forming in your eyes. “I love you so much.”
“Damn good thing because I love you just as much,” smirking that’s wiped from his mouth when yours pressed back into his. Deepening the kiss, gasping when the wheel comes to a stop at the top giving him the advantage to slide his tongue into the sweet cavern of your mouth. Sampling your favorite and drawing a whimper from your throat.
Breaking on a sigh, “I know it might be too soon but seeing you with AJ and Cass, plus tonight with the little baby you held.” Reaching up to caress his cheek seeing the furrowed brow in confusion. Soft smile spreads over your kiss swollen lips. “I want to try for a baby Sam.”
First time for everything, Sam Wilson is at a loss for words till the Ferris wheel jerks to a start again slowly. Fear clutching your heart till he turns that mega watt smile on you. Breath lodging in your throat at the unadulterated love shining in those deep russet eyes.
“Can we start tonight?” Catching the smirk tipping one side of his lips up before there on yours insistence and demanding. Stealing any words you’d reply with and transforming them into little whimpers and moans.
Breaking when the ride comes to a stop and someone clears their throat. “Looks like there’s gonna be little Cap’s running around instead of cyborgs.” Good natured chuckle leaving Bucky’s lips watching his best friends kiss.
Foreheads pressed together, sharing gasping breaths, “I’ll take that as a yes?” Moving to place a kiss to your forehead then helping you out to rejoin the family.
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Should Auld Acquaintance be Forgot
Honestly, Emma was less mad about the whole thing than she expected. Disappointed, that was the word. And everyone knew that disappointed was far worse than mad.
Because being dateless on New Year’s Eve was one thing. Being dateless while pining over a roommate with a secret Match.com profile and apparent relationship-type desires that were the complete opposite of her was—
If Killian kissed anybody, she was going to drink an entire bottle of champagne by herself.
Rating: Teen, kissing, far too many Grinch references
Word Count: 9.2K
AN: Today is our last festive prompt! Or, at least one that’s a stand-alone story. Our said prompts come from @kmomof4 who asked for “i don't wanna get up-- you're comfy."// "i'm cold. come closer." //"i love you a lot, but please stop trying to cook me dinner, you suck.” And I got all three in. As always, I cannot thank you guys enough for clicking and reading and saying such nice things. Here’s to a 2021 that’s full of even more fic, satisfying TV storylines and lots of fictional characters making out.
Also on Ao3 if that’s your jam
Rolling her eyes over the top of the phone in her hand, Ruby didn’t look particularly amused at the distinct lack of enthusiasm in Emma’s voice. That was something of a theme. For like—the last thirty-six hours, but also the majority of their relationship, and none this should have come as a surprise, only she’d had a lot of wine in the last forty-six minutes, and it might have been catching up with her. Was definitely catching up with her.
“How much did you pay for the garbage alcohol you’ve been shoving at me?” Emma asked archly, and she was only slightly worried about getting home. Her head felt muddled. Like there were too many thoughts, and this time of year always did that to her brain, and her consciousness, and at least eighty-two percent of this was Mary Margaret’s fault.
For deciding that they were going to have a party.
On New Year’s Eve.
Like complete cliches.
“I’ll have you know,” Ruby drawled, eyes dropping back to her phone and whatever noise it was making, “that I paid at least twelve dollars for—”
“—Lies,” Elsa yelled, and it was a testament their current situation that she’d raised her voice at all. Nothing like that ever happened, and the overall roll rate of Ruby’s eyes was going to give her a migraine.
Her phone made another noise.
“She’s lying to you,” Elsa added. “Straight to your face.”
She’d still be staring down a dateless New Year’s Eve, but—
Emma scrunched her nose. “What else is new?”
“Oh, I take offense to that,” Ruby cried, but she was almost too obviously distracted, and the inability of this conversation to be concise was starting to grate on Emma’s nerves. Or what remained of them. Maybe she was the Grinch.
No, that wasn’t right. The Grinch had an enlarged heart, which Emma certainly did not have — and that was nice and appropriately festive for the season, the Grinch, not her, and he had a dog. Emma didn’t have a dog. If she had a dog, there was no possible way she’d be annoyed as she was.
Her date, or lack thereof, was not important, and she was going to drink this entire bottle of Barefoot Moscato, price tag be damned, and then she was going to figure out some way to get home. Without falling over.
Also, the Grinch didn’t have a roommate. Unless you counted the dog, and Emma didn’t think Max could conceivably hold so many titles in a twenty-two minute animated Christmas special, and she imagined the Grinch was also not pining after his dog slash roommate slash stand-in reindeer. That’d be weird.
For a twenty-two minute animated Christmas special.
She’d never seen the Jim Carey version. Or that other one with Benedict whatever-his-name-is.
Away from dating apps and wine that was very likely going to give her one hell of a headache, and Killian would at least make sure she was vaguely hydrated before she collapsed on some sort of horizontal surface. She wasn’t going to be picky about which one, honestly.
“Why are there so many versions of the Grinch?”
Ruby didn’t look at her. Her eyebrows moved, though. Lifted ever so slightly into her hairline, and Elsa’s glance wasn’t exactly subtle, and Emma needed to go home.
“Expand on that for me,” Ruby said, lips twisted as soon as she stopped talking. Something was wrong. Well, more wrong. In an alcohol-saturated sort of way that included all those previously discussed mobile dating apps.
“There are so many Grinches,” Emma said. “You think that’s a commentary on society? Like as a whole? That we need to—”
“—Embrace the spirit of Christmas?”
“Because we as a general population are all assholes?”
“You’ve had too much wine.”
“Not a question,” Elsa mumbled, elbow bumping Emma’s shoulder when she perched on the edge of the sofa, and Ruby’s eyes were still doing that thing. Widening every now and then — a flash of understanding mixing in with surprise, and Emma wasn’t sure how many muscles were in a human thumb, but she figured all of Ruby’s were getting quite a workout, scrolling as quickly as they were.
“If I have,” Emma muttered, “it is entirely Ruby’s fault. Who buys pink Moscato and expects their guests not to drink the whole bottle?”
“Seems to suggest you’re a guest, though,” Ruby said, “and that’s awfully prim and proper.”
Ruby couldn’t possibly be Cindy Lou Who in this metaphor.
Emma couldn’t argue with that. Mostly because she’d drank so much of the pink Moscato. “Ok, ok, forget the wine for two seconds. And the Grinch. Why were you making proclamations before? They were very loud and—”
Nothing changed. The phone was still there — wobbling slightly because it seemed Ruby’s forearm strength was lacking just a bit, but the screen didn’t change, and Emma was certain this was somehow also Taylor Swift’s fault. For rerecording Love Story and letting Ryan Reynolds use it in that Match.com ad.
Although really that made it more Scooter whatever-his-last-name-was’s fault, for stealing all of Taylor Swift’s songs and being a noted and massive dick, and Emma’s inability to remember anyone’s last name was clearly something of a personality failing.
“Thoughts?” Ruby pressed.
At least twelve-thousand, but none of them seemed especially interested in being said out loud, and Emma’s tongue felt like it was simultaneously growing and dissolving in her mouth. None of it was particularly comfortable, what legitimately felt like cotton balls bursting out of her cheeks and making it difficult to breathe, and she should have lived in a cave. With her dog and the inexplicable set of antlers she owned to make that same dog look like a reindeer, and then she wouldn’t have to be staring at Killian Jones’ dating profile on goddamn Match.com eight days before a New Year’s Eve party she only marginally wanted to attend.
“Don’t people just use Tinder now?”
Emma’s voice did not sound like her own. Presumably because of the tongue thing and the cotton ball analogy, and she wondered if the Uber driver she was inevitably going to request would be especially annoyed by her desire to blast Taylor Swift in the backseat.
She’d give them five stars.
No matter what — because she wasn’t an asshole, but especially if they let Emma blast Taylor Swift in the backseat.
Ruby rolled her eyes. “You’re very old; you know that?”
Her face was very warm.
“Buy me better wine.”
Emma had never gone into cardiac arrest before, but the sinking feeling in her chest was sudden and a little jarring and she tried very hard to swallow down the wad of emotion currently taking up residence in the middle of her throat. Didn’t work.
“Only nine bucks, honestly?”
Failed spectacularly, quite honestly.
“I don’t want to know,” she announced. “Whatever he put on there is his—”
“What Killian does or doesn’t do in the world of modern dating has nothing to do with me,” Emma said, only a little disappointed because she didn’t think people got multiple miracles in their lives and to having hers ensure her voice didn’t shake over those particular words in that particular order felt lame.
“I don’t care.”
All things considered.
Scrunching her nose, Ruby’s nod lacked a certain sense of honesty. “Sure, sure, sure, well—” She shrugged. “—He’s here. Being available. Presumably for New Year’s, and…”
Emma waited for the rest. All the reasons she’d heard before, and her friends were convinced. Something about inevitable, and happily ever after, but that second part was mostly Mary Margaret and it was likely easier to believe in the fairy tale when you were living it.
Pessimism was also fairly lame. As far as defining traits went.
“What are you—” Elsa started, but then she was moving and her teeth clicked exactly five times, as soon as she looked at the screen, and Emma was not capable of dealing with any of this. Watching her friends gape at her, Ruby’s phone still held loosely in her hand, and neither one of them objected when she finally managed to get to her feet.
And the Uber driver didn’t offer to play any Taylor Swift, but Emma didn’t ask and she didn’t blast it in the backseat.
So, that felt like a victory. Which she desperately needed — to counteract the state of her pancreas and half a dozen other internal organs when her thumb hovered over the button, and it took at least two minutes and twelve seconds for Match.com to download.
She should have waited until she was on wifi.
To say that Emma’s relationship with Killian Jones was complicated would be something of an understatement. And she wouldn’t use the word relationship.
He was her friend.
Her very good looking friend, with stupid eyes that regularly flashed at her like he was too aware of the mush-like state it sent her into, and he was friends with her brother, and once upon a time she’d briefly considered hating him, but that never really stuck and he made hot chocolate better than anyone she knew. Refused to use the prepackaged mix. Did something on the oven that Emma didn’t entirely understand, and never trusted herself to try on her own, and Killian was never late with his half of the rent.
Or any of the utilities.
Living together was a decision born of convenience and the extra room Killian had once Will moved out, but it also made a lot of sense and it was good. Really good. Would have been great if Emma wasn’t pining after him and his stupid eyes like some lovelorn idiot, but she had gotten almost impossibly good at rationalizing the whole thing in the last few years, and—
“Shit, shit, shit,” she chanted, slumped in the corner of the couch with her knees threatening to impale her chin and there must have been a record for frustrated cursing while staring at a roommate's dating profile. She’d definitely passed it, like, seven minutes ago.
Scrolling down only led to scrolling back up, twisting her lower lip between her teeth while staring at photos and lists and options she was sure came from some AI or relationship-type algorithm and coming to terms with the end of the world was harder than she expected it to be.
At least the end of her love life.
Of which there wasn’t much to begin with, so it probably wasn’t very hard for the whole thing to topple over, but Emma was feeling especially melodramatic and they needed to buy some WD-40. For their very squeaky door.
“Hey,” Killian said, shrugging out of his jacket and it was apparently snowing out. Flakes dusted his shoulder, clung to several strands of hair, and Emma couldn’t melt into the couch. They couldn’t afford to buy another one. “That can’t be good for your spine.”
Humming, Killian didn’t bother brushing the snow out of his hair before he walked forward, falling onto the other end of the couch and pulling Emma’s sock-covered feet into his lap. “Are they any cookies left?”
“I’m going to tell Mary Margaret you’re a cookie glutton and—”
Sixteen guys had messaged her already.
“So I’ve heard. Whatcha you doing?”
Maybe that was a compliment. Emma didn’t think so, though.
She couldn’t believe she had to make a profile. To stalk her roommate. And his interests. There were a lot of interests on Killian’s Match.com profile.
Strictly speaking, she didn’t have much experience with shoulders and their proclivity to being rested on, but she liked to believe Killian’s was one of the more comfortable out there. Her head fit very well, at least.
So as to avoid any lingering after-effects from its continued failure.
“I’ve got twenty-seven bucks on him asking at the party,” Killian said, “but Locksley thinks he’s just going to lose any sense of self-control and blurt it out before, I just—”
Emma’s phone dinged.
Again. Multiple times, in quick succession — and she should have turned off notifications for that stupid app, but she wasn’t really using it for its intended purpose and Killian was staring at her. With a look that made it all too clear he knew what was going on.
That didn’t make her feel any better.
“Ruby said she was thinking about bringing someone,” he muttered, “to, uh—to the thing. The New Year’s thing.”
The air shifted. Crackled with electricity Emma knew she was imagining, and want she was only barely managing to temper and if Will did propose to Belle on New Year’s Eve she refused to be held accountable for her emotional reaction. She’d totally cry.
“Call it a thing again.”
Ruby would never let her hear the end of that.
Shaking his head brusquely, Killian’s grip tightened around Emma’s ankle. She had no idea he was holding her ankle — fingers wrapped all the way around the joint until the tips threatened to touch because apparently his fingers were that long, and she’d probably only obsess about that for like the next few years, or so. Which seemed reasonable.
“Anyone good?” he asked, low and gruff and whatever was back in the middle of her throat did not appear intent on leaving any time soon. No matter how many times Emma swallowed.
Or how often Killian’s eyes flickered. Towards her throat.
The idea never even crossed her mind, honestly.
Flinching the way she did only guaranteed that Emma’s spine collided with the arm of their couch, but she was at least less inclined to melt and she supposed romantic beggars could not be choosers. “Yuh huh,” she said, “and you’re well acquainted with the noises and the reasons behind the noise?”
That probably wasn’t important.
And just like that—it was fine. Well, maybe not fine, but at last fine adjacent, and something inching closer to normal, and Killian kissed her temple again before he stood up.
“You’re avoiding my question.”
She didn’t pick up her phone until she went to bed, dragging every blanket they owned behind her down the hallway.
On the ever-growing list of problems Emma had during a week when problems were supposed to be non-existent, Killian's Match.com profile had very easily cemented itself at the top of the list.
It didn’t match — her, at least. Every single thing he was apparently looking for in some sort of potential life partner was the exact opposite of every single thing that made Emma her. Musical tastes were diametrically opposed, movies she’d never once seen him watch in the legitimate decades she’d known him were praised with the kind of adjectives even Robert Ebert would scoff at. The pictures were good, but Emma knew that was more a result of her attraction to her roommate than anything else, and he said he liked people who cooked.
She couldn’t cook.
Twenty-four hours after the weird couch incident, which was a name only Emma was using, she was sure, and the smoke alarm had gone off and—
This was Ruby’s fault. And Taylor Swift. Whose new album was very good, and made for perfect and consistent pining music.
She was so disappointed she was positive she reeked with it.
“Cooking,” Emma said, like that was an explanation and not an excuse and she was definitely using too many of her personal miracles. “Nothing caught on fire!”
Lolling his head to the side, Killian leveled her with an exasperated expression. Brows pinched together and that shade of blue wasn’t quite as sharp, but was still somehow almost amused and she didn’t think the oven was supposed to make that noise. It was very loud. “Lack of flames is not a sign of success, love,” he said, “and it’s—ah, fuck.”
The smoke alarm was louder than the oven.
Blasting through their apartment and, Emma was sure, through the entire building, the beep hit its rhythmic stride quickly, so she reacted like an adult to the whole situation by gritting her teeth and squeezing her eyes shut. Killian breezed by her, swinging open another squeaky door and fumbling through what sounded like several dozen boxes and he cursed. More than once.
Emma cracked open one eye. “We do, I—”
Their neighbors must hate them. Rightfully so.
“We definitely own a broom,” she promised, “we’re not savages. We clean.”
Graham was probably very nice.
“Was there a reason for that?”
Emma swallowed. Still didn’t help.
“Alright,” Killian said softly, “c’mere.”
Saying that what happened next happened quicker than Emma expected it to, also suggested that Emma expected it to happen at all, which was one of the bigger lies she’d told in the last week or so, and she was really growing a metric shit ton of lies, so that was especially impressive and she yelped very loudly. As soon as hands gripped her hips, lifting her off the floor and directing her underneath the questionably loud smoke detector.
“This could wake the dead,” she proclaimed, shouting the words because if they were going to descend into total farce, then she was really going to lean into it.
Killian’s head fell to her stomach. If she died right there, she hoped he didn’t drop her. Although, she’d also be dead, so—she probably wouldn’t notice.
“Just turn it off, love.”
She hated all that music.
“See,” he grunted, “that makes it sound like we don’t have a broom, and—” Adjusting her, one of her legs twisted around his, something Emma was going to claim as instinct and not that same want that was another one of her more defining characteristics, and he definitely exhaled. Loudly. And directly into her t-shirt. “—Swan, I really need you to fix this, love.”
Using his shoulder as leverage, and keeping her leg exactly where it was, she still had to stretch her arm out and it took far more movement than either one of them could apparently handle silently for her to press the button that fixed everything.
Despised The Godfather, on some sort of fundamental level and Kay deserved better than Michael Corleone, even if that version of Al Pacino was almost kind of attractive, but—
Relatively speaking, at least.
He didn’t lift his head immediately. Or drop her. That probably wasn’t a metaphor.
Emma’s metaphors regularly sucked, anyway.
“Pizza or Chinese?”
Chuckling into her stomach, Killian’s laugh warmed her from the inside out and kept the goosebumps there and she’d kind of forgotten he was shirtless. Idiot bastard, that was her.
Graham Humbert had owned more plaid shirts than anyone Emma had ever seen.
“Order extra egg rolls, and I’m in,” Killian said, finally working her back to the ground and they didn’t move. They stood there. Staring at each other, and conducting more inventory, and Emma could only imagine the penance she’d have to do for keeping her stomach in its correct spot.
“She’s in love with him.”
“Which part?” Ruby asked. “How in love Emma is with Jones or whether or not we were acknowledging his shitty dating profile?”
“Doesn’t have to,” Elsa muttered over the top of her half-empty glass. “It basically broadcasts out of her.”
They took the batteries out of the smoke detector a day later.
“Either or, I guess.”
Not the safest thing they’d ever done, but Emma kept trying to cook and failing spectacularly and she was certain the people at the Chinese restaurant fourteen blocks away knew their order based solely on the sound of her voice when she called.
“Does this have a name?”
Slumped as she was over the edge of the bar, Emma barely noticed the lift in Killian’s eyebrows, but that also might have been her tendency to be preoccupied with his mouth and he was smiling at her. Wide. Meaningful—ly.
At some point that afternoon, she’d decided she needed to respond to Graham’s messages. Or, well—keep responding. There’d been some conversation, what might have been construed as flirting if Emma’s thumbs didn’t keep cramping up while they flew across her phone’s keyboard, but that definitely wasn’t a sign either, and the overall lightness in her body was likely a direct result of whatever blue-colored alcoholic concoction Killian had put in front of her forty-seven minutes before. There were gummy—things floating in it.
Or there had been.
She’d eaten them.
Her mouth felt a little numb.
“What do you think we should call it?”
Propping her chin on her hand made Emma wobble a bit, Killian’s lips twitching again. Idiot bastard asshole. Poor Graham. She was a jerk. And his eyes were getting brighter.
Killian’s. Not Graham’s.
She had no idea what Graham’s eyes did.
“Are you serving me unnamed alcohol?” Emma asked, and she was sure she did not slur her words the way it sounded.
Good thing the holiday season was nearly over.
And Will’s reaction was far too loud, tossing a towel over his back before he draped himself across Killian’s back, hooking his own chin over that slightly lifted shoulder. “He’s showing off, Em. That’s all it is. Are you going to die, though?”
At the bar.
“Your tongue is blue.”
Four seats away from Leroy the regular.
“Don’t move so quickly, Swan,” Killian said, a hand finding her cheek and that was fine. Totally fine. Great, even. Super—
So, she was more drunk than she’d been. Like, ever.
“Your fault,” she mumbled. Burrowing further into his palm was not an option Emma had, so naturally that’s exactly what she did and Will made another noise. “Something to add, Scar—” Emma paused, lifting an impatient finger when both men in front of her dared to laugh. “—Let, you jerky jerkface.”
“You will find out whenever else does, kid,” Will guaranteed. “And there were at least four different types of rum in that swill he gave you.”
That would have annoyed Belle.
Humming, Will untwisted his limbs from Killian, a different hand finding her cheek and the strands of hair that were hanging over her eyes and she scowled when he tapped her chin. “Trying to impress you,” Will repeated intently.
“Is he—” Emma’s brain couldn’t keep up. Thoughts rushed through her, firing synapses that were only passably functional, and the lights from the jukebox across the room were starting to float in her vision. Pressing her fingers into her cheek, Emma knew the skin there moved, but she also could not feel a single thing and—“You’re laughing at me.”
Her head hurt. Ached, even through the haze she’d only recently evolved into, and Emma hated bowling. Was absolutely God awful at it. The kind of awful that required bumpers whenever they’d gone, and they used to go when they were kids. On New Year’s Eve afternoon, some tradition that Ruth had come up with and David honored, even after he and Mary Margaret had segued into happily ever after, and Emma could count on one hand how many times she’d crested the 100-point mark.
“I am,” he said, “but you’re also sloshed, so I’m willing to give you a pass. And no.”
She felt oddly similar now.
Playing a game she wasn’t very good at, with more gutter balls than any self-respecting adult should record. Eight pounds of cylindrical force kept rolling through her, threatening anything in its path, but not hitting what it was supposed to, and she also could have eaten an entire tub of bowling alley snacks right now.
“Why are fries better in a bowling alley? Like, better than anywhere else.”
Will’s eyes narrowed. “Better than Shake Shack?”
Blinking continued to be one of Emma’s less impressive reactions, but she was stuck on that bowling ball metaphor and Killian’s arm around her shoulders made it impossible to talk.
“You ready, love?”
“We’re leaving, love,” Killian said, and there was at least part of her that was smart enough to pick on repeat endearments. And then promptly cling to them. In her swollen heart.
“Make sure you brush your tongue too tonight, Em,” Will advised, “otherwise that blue is going to stick.”
Saluting left her more off-balance than she’d been all night, laughter echoing behind them as Killian pulled the door shut and he’d ordered them a car. Emma honestly had no idea how they got in said car, but then they were moving and she was only slightly dizzy and he—
He made another noise, slumping next to her, which made it even easier for Emma to touch as much of him as possible and he didn’t object. She didn’t think he would. Ever, actually.
“Smell really good.”
God, poor Graham.
She was the worst.
David played hockey when he was a kid.
“Not as such, no,” Killian said, “just thinking we might be able to add something new and—” His shoulder shifted under her cheek, Emma’s soft hum of disapproval making him smile. She still didn’t check. “—Not that we haven’t been making money, but...people gotta have a schtick.”
No sound. Nothing except engines, and there could only be one engine in a car, Emma was fairly positive, so that didn’t really make sense and Killian stared ahead when she tilted her head up. “Sometimes,” Killian admitted softly, “but, uh—like I said, just trying to get something that might help us a little more and weddings are expensive, y’know?”
“Whatever,” Emma groaned, “just—I’m saying it’s a good bar.”
Thinking about melting as often as she was, was starting to become patently ridiculous.
“You’re trying to come up with ridiculous bachelorette party drinks—”
With such God awful interests in the opposite sex.
Emma rapped her knuckles against his chest. “To help pay for Scarlet’s wedding?”
The world was a joke. Happy Holidays.
“You’re not getting ready with Lucas or Elsa or anything tomorrow, are you?”
Huh. No grand slam, then.
Of all the questions she definitely wasn’t prepared for, that was at the bottom of the list. Emma was not actually making any of these lists. “This isn’t prom.”
Being hungover on New Year’s Eve was one of the crueler jokes the universe had played on her in the last week or so.
“Yeah, ok,” she said, letting her head drop back to his shoulder and Emma wasn’t sure why it sounded like he exhaled. In something almost like relief. Eyes fluttering the way they were, she must have imagined it, another ridiculous metaphor and even dumber analogy and her groan was especially pitiful when the car stopped. No way her stomach was going to stay where it was supposed to for the rest of the night.
All of Emma hurt, muscles she hadn’t been aware she was in possession of seemingly rising up in revolt of her very existence, and she couldn’t really turn her head. Which endlessly delighted Ruby in a way that was making her reconsider their friendship, and Killian kept glancing in their direction. His arm bumped Emma’s no less than twenty-four times in the car over.
And for as much as she wanted to crawl under several mountains of blankets and consider all her romantic shortcomings, something in the back of Emma’s mind preened a bit under his flitting gaze, trying not to meet his eyes too often. Only to fail every time — if Ruby’s laughter was any indication, and Will had groaned several times, but he also didn’t appear to be engaged yet and Emma had apologized to Graham that afternoon.
Through text, though. So it only kind of counted. She wasn’t even sure parts of the messages were English. Her head felt like it was going to snap open, which made the champagne she was practically shotgunning at that point a very bad decision, but she’d been on a roll on that front, so she had no intention of altering course and it was nearly midnight.
“This is depressing,” Ruby announced. “He’s staring again.”
Rolling her eyes was an impossibility if Emma didn’t want to make a spectacle of herself in front of her brother and some of the teachers from Mary Margaret’s school, and Ruby’s date was nice. Had a lot of pictures of her dog on her phone, but nice all the same.
More blinking. Honestly, she was a mess. The teachers kept hogging space on the couch. Killian smiled when he looked at Emma, that time. “Elaborate on that.”
“Are you the dumbest person alive?”
“No, this is just our general opinion of you. Both of you, really. I—are you not almost painfully aware of how in love Killian is with you? Em, he is staring at you. Like, right now. Blatantly. Obviously. Some other adverb.”
“We live together.”
Wide eyes and an impressively straight row of teeth were all the warning Emma got before there was a hand on her shoulder and he smelled just as good as she was hopeful she hadn’t mentioned last night, but that felt like wishful thinking and Emma did not, in fact, eject any bodily fluids when Killian turned her. Victories, she was flush with them.
“I’m so bad at cooking.”
“Hey,” she breathed, and Ruby groaned so loudly it likely did damage to the ozone layer.
Frozen to the spot, she tried very hard to regulate her breathing and fix her pulse, and neither thing worked. And then. Something clicked — almost audibly in her brain, and her soul and her heart’s potential for explosion was suddenly something she had to worry about.
Killian’s lips twitched. “You got a second?”
“Please don’t look at me like that,” Killian murmured. She barely heard him. Not when there were fingers tracing up her side and lingering on the small of her back, and Emma’s head moved her head as slowly as she could.
If she moved any faster, she’d either fall over or wake up from this very lucid dream and neither of those things were all that positive.
“Cooking, it’s—I love you a lot, but you are absolutely atrocious at it.”
“You’ve got to stop cooking, love.”
The world stopped. Paused, at least. Gave Emma’s muddled mind a second to catch up, and she’d need several more seconds, but she also wasn’t quite that greedy and Killian’s smile widened. As soon as her fingers curled into his shirt.
He didn’t move his hands.
“I—” she stammered. “I am...but we don’t match!”
“What is happening right now?” Emma breathed, only cautiously optimistic she wanted the answer.
A chorus of angry jeers rained down on them — Will using Robin to keep himself upright while he flipped Killian off with both hands. “Pining piner who pines like a goddamn idiot.”
“Well, I’m fairly in love with you. To an almost ridiculous degree.”
“I do appreciate the cooking effort though,” he added. “But it’s a very old profile, made almost entirely by Scarlet in—”
“I honestly forgot it existed,” Killian continued, “I’ve never used it, really. Just knew that Scarlet had made the thing, and then I ignored the messages and—”
As it was, her fingers were already tight enough that Emma very easily pulled herself up and the hand at her waist helped keep her balanced and they were very good at this. Kissing, specifically. Heads tilted automatically to an angle that made it all too easy for Emma to open her mouth, and Killian’s tongue was even more distracting when it was brushing hers, and someone was groaning, but that might have been her, or possibly him and his hair was soft. Between her fingers.
“Not as many as you did.”
Breathing was suddenly a secondary concern, and Emma’s lungs had already proved they were basically made of steel, or at least impervious to the flames currently exploding between her ribs and none of that was biologically accurate.
She never did find out where her pancreas was.
And she was so busy dealing with the way the solar system appeared to be reordering itself around the pair of them, that Emma didn’t notice the countdown or the metallic crown tossed at her feet. Only that there were eventually cheers and Ryan Seacrest’s face plastered across the TV on the other side of the room, and one of Killian’s hands had worked underneath her shirt.
The sparkly one that had made his eyes noticeably widen several hours earlier.
“How did you figure it out?”
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the littlest pet swap | darwin & nell
TIMING: during the waking world potw (aka wonky magic times).
LOCATION: the street outside darwin’s apartment + darwin’s apartment.
PARTIES: @asranism & @nelllraiser.
SUMMARY: a summoning gone wrong provides ample confusion for both darwin and nell, but mostly a lot of yelling in the street.
The sun had long slipped below the horizon as Nell opened the gate to one of the swankiest dog parks in town, though her slight form wasn’t accompanied by a canine of any sort. In fact, she looked entirely alone, a singled out figure in the low light of the street lamps while she opened the chain link gate of the park, satisfied with the emptiness of the enclosure. On nights like tonight she liked to make her way here, far after any other owners and dogs had abandoned the park so that her own ‘dogs’ could have as much fun as they liked without her needing to fear of the ruckus they might make should anyone catch sight of three hellhounds playing a game of fire tag, maws alight with flame as they chased after one another and playfully singed at each others fur. Raising her thumb to her teeth, she bit it until it bled, reopening a scab on it that had yet to heal from the last summoning of the hellhounds she’d performed. In a quick motion, she swiped the offering over the tattooed summoning sigil on her arm, a piece of magic she’d designed as a specific shortcut that would bring forth the demons she’d befriended some years ago. Except as the magic swelled and then ebbed, it wasn’t three hellhounds that stood before her but...something much smaller than she’d been expecting and- was it wearing a tuxedo? “Ah- hello,” Nell spoke to the mysterious demon with bewilderment, wondering where the hell her dogs were. “You’re not who I was expecting.” Had the unpredictability of her magic bled into this as well?
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Nell, a hellhound materialized in the middle of a strange and unfamiliar kitchen, and the young demon known to the witch as ‘Scrappy’ instantly began to growl at anything that dared to move within his vicinity. And perhaps the most concerning thing within his vicinity was a man foreign to him. Instinct was quick to take hold as his hackles rose, and it only took a small second before he was advancing on the man, a loud and threatening bark showing razor-sharp teeth as he wordlessly demanded to know what it was the interloper had done with his mistress.
Afternoon naps have never been a thing for Darwin Asrani, formerly the heir to the Asrani family business of subjugating demons for a quick buck, but things change, they always do, with his own escape and self-imposed exile from Asrani family dinners a testament of how the outgoing but sarcastic charmer isn't afraid to welcome change. Oh, how that statement is going to bite him in the ass in a few seconds. That, and something else. While Darwin was fast asleep, knocked out but comfortably so, deep in a dream of a better present where he wasn't running around, going after his family's mistakes, correcting them like he was responsible for their terrible choices in life, which he clearly wasn't, his tiny demon butler Bertrand was in the kitchen preparing its master his evening alcohol. Bertrand is of course Darwin's most loyal summon, a strange little demon who had a thing for wearing butler clothes, which in this context is a pretty charming tuxedo, and for some strange reason taking care of its summoner like the “Alfred” to Darwin's less gloomy and more fabulous Batman. Unfortunately for the two of them, that evening alcohol would not come to be, as something else stirred nearby, and soon Bertrand disappeared from where he stood, summoned elsewhere, while in his place a more terrifying and less clothed demonic entity stood growling at everything and anything.
"Bertrand, where the hell is my morning cock..." Darwin groggily walked into the kitchen, having finally awoken, in a sour mood after his fantasy was revealed to be nothing more than just that, a fantasy, not the actual reality of his own making. If he didn't have his sense of morality, the disgusting piece of him he liked to hide behind drapings of sarcasm and veils of flirting, he would have remained with his family, making a quick buck at the expense of other sentient creatures. It would have been an easy life, yet even as he made his way to where Bertrand should have been, he could not fully accept that option. Demons are scary, sure, and they are capable of damning things. But demons still have their own will. For another to bend that will to their own desires... Darwin could never accept that. Although, he would have considered the option as he gulped at the sight of not Bertrand in his kitchen, no, but a hellhound that looked like it didn't want to be there. At least they had something in common. "...tail?"
Everything happened so fast. Before Darwin could summon his own senses to return to him, his mind to conjure a plan or strategy of defensive measures, the hostile creature was upon him, chasing him out of his own apartment and into the cold dark night. Darwin could do nothing else but run, screaming, as the thought of his bits and pieces getting bitten to shreds was not something he wanted to come to pass. Fortunately for him, as the chase continued into the nearby dog park, he found Bertrand standing with lovesick eyes directed towards another, a woman with textbook attractiveness. Another spellcaster? "Bertrand! Quickly, rein in this monstrosity after me! I'm not wearing anything under my robe!"
“Hello?” Nell repeated to the newly appeared demon as it simply stood there, apparently transfixed on the young woman before him. Maybe he was in shock? She’d witnessed a few demons who experienced cases of confusion after being unexpectedly Summoned. After all, it was certainly jarring to be one place one moment and somewhere entirely else in the next. “Sorry- I didn’t actually mean to summon you here. Were you doing something important? I can send you back to wherever you needed to-”
Her sentence was cut short as a panicked sound cut through the air, and it took the witch a long second to make sense of the words. Bertrand? Who the hell was Bertrand? And what monstrosity was the guy speaking of? “Oh shit,” Nell uttered as Scrappy tore after the man and his delicately robed state, flames licking the corner of the hellhound’s mouth as he barked and sprinted in hot pursuit. In an instant, Nell was tearing after the hellhound’s victim and the dog in question, her strides fast as she left the unfamiliar demon behind. “Scrappy! Scrappy, don’t! It’s okay!” The poor pup was no doubt startled, having shown up in a stranger’s presence with no familiar face in sight. “Scrappy come back! I’m right here! I’ve got fingers!” she yelled as she continued to run, referencing the emergency supply of human fingers she kept as treats for her assorted demonic creatures in her pocket. The hellhound seemed to hesitate for a split second, his pursuit of the man slowing at the mention of food. As a precaution, he tried to herd the man into a corner, gnashing his teeth and growling all the way as he made his attempts.
Well, Bertrand certainly took his time. Even though Darwin was sure that he emphasized his immediate concerns regarding his endangered bits and pieces, the supposedly loyal demonic butler seemed to wait a minute or more before dashing to its master’s safety. They were going to have a talk about that later, much later, when Darwin was once again certain that his own bits and pieces were 100% safe. Bertrand is going to have a lot of explaining to do, though technically it’ll probably only take a mere mention before they both forget about it. It wasn’t like Darwin actually required a butler, and Bertrand, in its defense, was doing the whole schtick out of love and nothing else. It was a strange relationship but it was the only one Darwin was comfortable in trusting.
“Bertraaaaaand!” Darwin yelled again, as quietly as he could, which was a bit of a hilarious contradiction, even as the tiny demon ran to his aid. The other human was already doing her best to keep the hellhound away from Darwin’s precious jewels, which made him think that it was most likely her own Bertrand. “Is this your...pet?” Darwin immediately hated that word. Pet. Demons weren’t meant to be pets. They were meant to be respected as the intellectual and ancient beings that they were and— Oh, my god, it’s about to burn my bits and pieces!
“I’m not sure what happened, but I found your Scrappy instead of my Bertrand in my current place of residence.” He gulped, backed into a corner, and heaved a sigh of relief when he saw Bertrand finally making its way to his defense from the corner of his eyes. “Bertrand! Oh, dear god (ironic, he knows), I’m glad you’re safe! What happened? Why are you out here? Who’s that with you? And for the love of all that’s good and sexy, can YOU please not feed your Scrappy my fingers?! I need them...for stuff.” Darwin fired the series of questions in quick succession, still barely awake to actually make a coherent plan of defense, having just woken up from his afternoon nap, though it was already late at night, and violently at that.
Bertrand just stood there itself, a little panicked, shifting its gaze from Darwin to Nell and then to the hellhound, unsure of what to do. On one hand, Bertrand needed to save Darwin. On the other, it wasn’t quite sure if Nell would appreciate if it tried to fight Scrappy. Besides, Bertrand still had hope in his tiny demon heart that the other human could rein in their own friend. The last thing it wanted was to start another demon-on-demon violence. That was certainly not part of their current deal.
“Scrappy!” Nell continued on with her authoritative tone when it came to making the hellhound stand down. “Scrappy, it’s alright, really.” Much of this particular hellhound’s aggression was actually caused by anxiety and fear, and a need to appear as fierce as possible in the face of a potential threat. The demonic dog finally seemed to pause its attack, though his teeth were still bared, not quite ready to let Darwin forget he was a threat. “Scrappy is…” Nell hesitated with an answer to Darwin’s question, also disliking the title of ‘pet’ when it came to the creatures she looked after. If it came to it, she’d use the word ‘pet’ as a cover, not needing normal humans asking strange questions about the less than usual animals that surrounded her. But as the witch’s gaze flickered from the other, smaller demon, and the man in front of her calling him ‘Bertrand’ with a voice that betrayed familiarity, it wasn’t hard to guess that she was being faced with another spellcaster. “I take care of him, and he helps take care of me when I ask him to,” she said truthfully, rolling up a sleeve to show the summoning tattoo that she’d gotten for the hellhounds, making it easier to Summon them at the drop of a hat. It was inked over the extreme scarring of her arms, the skin of them appearing mottled like a patchwork of flesh.
“And this is Bertrand?” Nell asked curiously, giving the little demon another friendly look. “Does he...speak? I tried talking to him before you ran out here, but he didn’t seem to have much to say.” With a gentle eyeroll, Nell crossed her arms over her chest before digging into her pocket. Scrappy, sensing a treat nearby, finally sat calmly at her feet. “I’m not gonna feed him your fingers. And I’m Nell, who are you? Do you always yell about your bits in the streets?” she decided to jibe playfully. But she was uncertain if the lightness would last. If this man was, indeed, another spellcaster— there was no guarantee he wouldn’t have heard news about the three sisters banned from their coven for necromancy and demon summoning, Nell being one of those three. Witch society was generally less than forgiving when it came to raising the dead, but perhaps he hadn’t heard, or perhaps she’d dodged that conversation by not providing her full name. Finally, she leaned forward to offer Scrappy a very human finger, and the dog eagerly gobbled the treat before sitting properly once again.
Darwin looked her over as she explained herself, mostly just her relationship with the hellhound Scrappy, as he wrapped his robe tighter around him in an attempt to stay warm out in the cold embrace of the night. He was now feeling a bit calmer with Bertrand finally standing beside him while the woman reined in her own companion. It didn't take long to dawn on Darwin how familiar the other spellcaster's relationship with Scrappy seemed with his own with Bertrand. Although Bertrand took a liking to acting and looking like the former Asrani family heir's butler, Darwin himself never really saw their relationship as master and familiar. Bertrand took care of him, even saved his life at one point, and for that, he will forever be grateful. It was most likely that very reason why he could not take to the demon as lesser than himself. Darwin owed Bertrand more than he'll ever care to admit, if only attempt to show through quieter actions. Like sharing pizza and interacting with him like he would any other. To be honest, Darwin probably treated Bertrand better than he did most humans. Without Bertrand, there would be no Darwin to this day.
He instinctively raised an eyebrow when the woman showed him her tattoo, dark brown eyes immediately trying to make sense of the handiwork as if there would be something more hidden beneath what they could see. Darwin thought of showing her his own tattoo but wasn't quite sure if that would be a good idea. The placement was, after all, somewhere more intimate and they were currently outside. Although he was certain that appearing to expose himself to another would be less offensive than having demonic entities prancing around in public, that didn't make him any less wary about that scenario. Thankfully, the woman's curiosity saved him, like the school bell to his hapless problematic student. "Yes, this handsome fellow's name is Bertrand." He turned to the tiny demon with a smile, both born of pride and affection. "Bertrand's my most loyal friend, though he often speaks only through the mind, which I suppose he reserves with known friends, those whose names and consent have been shared with him."
Bertrand himself turned to Darwin, and when their eyes met, nodded with a smile on his face. That moment was quickly ruined when Nell mentioned him yelling about his bits in the streets. While Bertrand was quick to hide his amusement, Darwin feigned a cough as he tried to hide his bits and pieces within his robe, which was barely doing a great job. "Well, you would, too, if you had just awoken from your drunken stupor, only to find an aggressive hellhound in your kitchen instead of your most trusted friend, and then get chased by that same hellhound into the night..." It was certainly an odd choice to summon a hellhound outside, but Darwin was yet to become familiar with this strange place, with its strange love for mimes and stranger disappearances, so who was he to know what was odd and what wasn't in White Crest? One thing he knew for certain, however, was that his bits and pieces were getting cold. "...I am Darwin, and I don't know about you, Nell, but I'd like to keep my bits and pieces warm. My place is, well, you probably already know. Feel free to follow me inside. I rarely have any company, so it might be a little too gloomy, but I just woke up, and I will most likely be up for a few more hours, so feel free to join me and my gloomy company where it'll at least be warm and our friends safe from..." He looked around them, an eyebrow raised, both emphasizing his point and making sure no one was eavesdropping on them. "...curious eyes."
With a nod to her and another to Bertrand, Darwin began to walk away, back inside his place. Bertrand himself waited on Nell and Scrappy with a wide smile, exactly like a butler waiting to usher in his master's guests. The sheer size of that grin would reveal to anyone how much Bertrand wanted to have guests and how few they ever got any. Of course, with a demonic butler and a host that had just arrived in town, the strange pairing wouldn't find it easy to have guests. This was a strange new town for them, and they were a strange new addition to the rest of the town. Besides, Darwin wasn't here to make new friends, but he was at least certain that the other spellcaster would not be his quarry. Perhaps, she would even be of great help to him and his cause.
He had to know what the tattoo was based on his reaction as well as what it meant she was, and Nell wasted no time in pressing the matter of his own identity. “So you’re a spellcaster then, right?” There was a flicker of tentative hope in her words as she asked them, eager to meet another magic user that wasn’t a part of the coven she’d been banished from. Of course, there was no guarantee that news of her and her sisters' excommunication hadn’t reached other corners of witch society, along with the magic they’d done. Obviously demons most likely wouldn’t be a problem with this man, seeing as he had one accompanying him as well, but necromancy was a whole other can of worms, and one that was also heavily feared and frowned upon within magical circles. Not to mention there was the fact that Nell often utilized blood magic, another practice that was most often met with harsh judgement and heavy reservations when others heard she used it. For the moment being, she wouldn’t mention it.
Instead, she decided to say hello to Betrand once more now that she knew his name. “Hello, Bertrand,” she offered a proper greeting with a smile and small nod of her head. “It’s nice to actually meet you. And sorry for summoning you unexpectedly,” she apologized again, knowing it must have been confusing to find himself somewhere new and unexplained.” It was interesting that he preferred to speak mentally, and though Nell was very much wanting to speak with the little guy, she wasn’t quite so sure how she felt about letting him into her mind just yet. With her general desire to keep the inner-workings of her head private, and the consistent mind breaches she was courtesy of Ma’al’s demon cult...she had little desire to forfeit the scarce safety she had in her mind at the moment. But maybe the future would grant her the pleasure of having conversation with Bertrand, one way or another. “And hello Darwin,” she offered with another wry grin.
“I don’t know,” Nell began, once again adopting her teasing tone. “I think I’d be pretty excited to find a hellhound in my kitchen. A gift, really. Probably not running around like a madman while yelling about my bits and pieces and then still talking about them once everything had calmed down.” There was a mischievous sparkle in her eye that told of the levity in her words, no actual intent to harm behind them. She didn’t hesitate to follow behind him as he led the way into his dwellings, tilting her head to the side as she took in the practicality of the place. “How long have you lived here?” she questioned, curious as to how she’d missed another spellcaster that worked with demons. After all, they weren’t exactly common. Nell wasn’t entirely sure how to react to Bertrand acting as butler, feeling a little out of place as the demon flitted about. It felt...strange to use a demon as someone to wait on you, but for all appearances it looked as if the demon was enjoying his job, possibly even thriving as he did his work. If Bertrand liked what he did, who was she to question it?
"Hmm?" The question didn't really surprise Darwin, as it would be pretty obvious to both of them that they shared at least an inkling of what the other was. Both of them had their respective demonic "partners", for a lack of a better term, and he just assumed that she, with that tattoo, was like him, if not better. She looked better, was better, because at the very least, she didn't just wake up, only to run away from a hellhound in just her robe. Speaking of robes, he wrapped his own tighter against himself, wary that his bits and pieces would be unintentionally exposed. He wasn't entirely into her, and all women for that matter, but it was still a matter of maintaining decency, the strange man in only a robe thought. "Just like you. Always good to find common ground with someone new..."
Bertrand simply smiled at Nell with an innocent, friendly sort of grin, the kind no one who wasn't well-versed with demons and their ilk would expect from such a creature. Yet so much would catch people by surprise, just by the fact alone that demons were as complex as humans, perhaps even more so. They were an ancient race, after all, and most knowledge about them barely scratched the surface. Type-casting didn't help. Darwin himself couldn't help but smile at her remark, her teasing, finding it a welcomed respite from the loneliness of having little to no other consistent human interaction, from Bertrand always saying yes and yes only to everything and anything. "That's fair. I did grow up with a hellhound. Sally. She was nice." Again, he tightened his robes against his skin. "Not long. We've just moved here." He answered without look back to her, already making his way to the makeshift bar in his living room. Bertrand, like the good and trustworthy self-appointed butler that they were, waited for Nell to get in before following after her and closing the door behind them.
Darwin was already preparing himself a drink when Bertrand appeared completely appalled at the vision of their master doing something for himself, while they were around. The demon wrangler, however, found their instinctive reaction as well as the horrified look on their tiny demon face somewhat amusing, waving Bertrand back to let them know he's fine with doing it himself. He pretty much didn't need Bertrand to wait on him every damn time but it was the demon's strange wish, a really confusing hobby that Darwin himself has yet to fully understand. He owed him his life, though, so he could never deny Bertrand whatever they wanted. Finally settled on a cocktail, a concoction of two different rums, a cherry brandy, a diet Coke, and Maraschino cherries, Darwin turned to Nell from behind the counter, grinning from ear to ear as he took a sip of his glass and offered her her own. "Bertrand doesn't drink." He raised an eyebrow, turning to the demon who grinned back, before continuing with a classic gender-based assumption that he didn’t wholly believe but thought was a pretty decent jumping point. "Tell me about yourself and your...coven. You're a witch, aren't you?"
As Darwin confirmed the fact that he had magical abilities, Nell’s grin grew wider and more genuine, once again filled with hope at the prospect of having found a new spellcaster to take into her life. She had friends, of course. People she loved. And her sisters still knew what it was to wield magic. But to have a friend that was a spellcaster in her life again? That was something she’d missed more than she’d realized. Nell knew she was getting ahead of herself. After all, they’d barely even made one another’s acquaintance, but she couldn’t help the spark of hope that had lighted in her soul, nearly desperate to find someone like her that wouldn’t hate her. Just as quickly as the hope had blossomed, she watched it with a careful eye, trying to dampen it in the next moment as she reminded herself that she still didn’t know if he’d recognize her full name should she ever give, along with the ‘crimes’ attached to it. Still...she couldn’t help the excitement in her voice as she echoed, “Just like me. A Summoner and everything! Do you mostly do Summoning, then?” she asked, already burning with questions.
Nell didn’t hesitate to return Betrand’s smile, and at the mention of a hellhound Scrappy whined from his place at Nell’s feet where he’d finally settled. To have a demon as part of the family in a household? Her mother and coven would have balked at the idea. “Really? All of your family likes demons, then?” It was a novel idea, and a reality she’d never thought to imagine based off most casters’ reactions to demons. “Oh- well, welcome to White Crest,” Nell offered with half the enthusiasm she’d had when asking about the hellhound. “You’ll find it’s...a very unique place the longer you’re here. And pretty fucking dangerous so just- watch you back, I guess.” It was only fair to warn the man what he was getting into.
The witch accepted the drink with a quick, “Thank you” before taking a sip, and then promptly popping one of the cherries into her mouth. “Good for Bertrand,” Nell said with a chuckle. “Very responsible of him.” But the mention of a coven was quick to tense her shoulders along with her mouth. She should have expected it. How many times had she been told that a witch without a coven was barely anything at all? So of course another spellcaster would ask where her’s was. Nell opted to answer the simpler of the two questions first. “That’s me- a witch.” Her former excitement had waned, already dreading where this conversation might go. “And you’re…? Well- what do you call yourself?” Witch was generally thought of as a woman’s word in pop and normie culture, but she’d met plenty of men who went by the title as well. Now for the rest of her answer. “I don’t have a coven.” Anymore. She carefully opted to leave off the end of that reply, unwilling to ostracize herself so quickly. “There’s one in town, though. Mostly fire elementals.” It was her own former coven, and the very same one her mother had banished her from. “What about you? What about your coven?” Maybe she could turn the rides away from herself into his direction instead.
"Yeah, sure, mostly Summoning..." Darwin offered her a warm smile and a wink before taking another sip of his drink. Although he didn't feel like there was something about her that made her a little difficult trust, something suspicious, anything suspicious, the well-traveled demon wrangler had learned from his past experiences to keep unnecessary additional information from newly made acquaintances. At least at this point, he believed it was the right thing to do. "You could say that. We're all in the...business." He unintentionally turned to Bertrand, as if apologizing for the terms he used. Darwin had never wanted to be associated with the Asrani family name again, their savage and brutal business of wrangling demons and twisting them mentally to suit their financial needs, but he had yet to share who they were truly by name and he could still, in his head, pretend that he was from a better version of his own family.
The momentary loss in thought, however, not to mention the more serious expression that possessed his face, might have hinted to the girl that there was more to his story, bits and pieces he'd rather not share for now, but he immediately tried to ensure to keep the conversation moving elsewhere. If it could even be a suitable distraction. "Thank you. So far, it's been, as you say, unique. I'll keep that in mind, though." At the sound of their name, Bertrand grinned before offering Darwin a quick bow and disappearing into the shadows. Truth be told, their makeshift master had no idea where they disappeared to whenever they were out of his sight, but Darwin would trust Bertrand with his life, as Bertrand themselves had been the only one responsible for extending it.
"I fancy myself a demon wrangler. I seek out the more dangerous demons let loose by careless mages, intentionally or otherwise, rounding them up and settling them safely back home, wherever they believe that is." Throughout his explanation, his dark brown eyes maneuvered themselves onto the hellhound with her. Scrappy, wasn't it? The creature didn't seem like it was brought here against its will. In fact, it actually looked like it was enjoying the woman's company. Darwin grinned at that thought. "Well, isn't that another thing we have in common?" Darwin gave her a nod and ushered her towards the living room, sitting at the sofa, the unexpectedly lavish couch that took the middle of the room as its own. With another sip, he gestured for her to sit with him before continuing. "I'm not much of a coven kind of guy. I find them...stifling at times, suffocating even. I highly value my independence, though..." He gestured around himself, around them, emphasizing the loneliness of his place. "...it'd be nice to have some company every once in a while."
For a moment or two, as their eyes met, Darwin considered poking around in Nell's head, wondering if she was hiding certain truths that he needed to know, if he should just take them for herself. It could be easy. She already had a drink in her hands. But then he got bored of pretending he was his damned father. He could never understand how that old bastard would ever think that was a good option, especially on his own son. What a fucking asshole. He heaved a sigh, mustered a weak smile, and took another sip of his drink.
His wink paired with the tone of voice and phrasing he’d used did little to assure Nell that Summoning was the only magic that Darwin did. It seemed that he was more inclined to withhold whatever other magic he was employing, and for a split moment she wondered if it might be blood magic. Perhaps the taboo nature of it was why Darwin was keeping the practice to himself. A year or so ago, Nell would have hesitated to ask, unwilling to reveal that she too was a practitioner of the questionable magic. But the year since then had taught her that if she were going to lose people for things she wouldn’t apologize for- it was easier to do so earlier in a relationship, to be cut loose before she got in too deep and their rejection would sting all the more. Beyond that she’d also learned that the bigger threat someone thought she might pose... the better. Perhaps if she’d been louder about her abilities, half the people that had tried to interfere in her life wouldn’t have done so in the first place. So it was with a straight back and almost daring air about herself that she said, “I also do blood magic.” Nell watched him for a long moment after that, looking for the familiar flicker of distaste of wariness that came over other spellcasters when she mentioned the discipline.
A demon wrangler made sense based off the way he’d spoken of the otherworldly creatures, and the company he kept with Bertrand. Nell had done her own fair share of recollecting demons that were places they shouldn’t be. “That’s good. And trust me there’s plenty of demons to wrangle around here. Just a few months ago some highschoolers accidentally summoned Bloody Mary. Obviously she’s not a demon but- you get the idea.” Nell refrained from mentioning that two of the teens had died in the process of that entire ordeal. No doubt Darwin was well aware of the casualties that were practically guaranteed when inexperienced practitioners tried to Summon. “You don’t have a coven?” Nell asked again, her curiosity once again piqued. “You’re right about the rules, though. The one I mentioned before has banned any sort of demon summoning.” It had been part of the reason she’d been exiled, though only a fraction of it.
Taking another sip of the drink he’d given her, Nell gave a half-grin at the mention of company, hiding the eagerness she was feeling at having found a spellcaster who wasn’t forbidden from speaking to her, and also wasn’t her sister. “Well if you keep making me drinks- I might be able to provide an answer to the occasional company problem you’re running into.” She still had so much to ask Darwin, but a whine from underneath the table told Nell that Scrappy was getting antsy, still not entirely comfortable with being in the presence of a stranger and his demon. “I should go take care of this boy, though,” she said before leaning down to give the hellhound a pat. “He’s not really good with company- which I’m sure you figured out when he was trying to bit your ‘bits and pieces’ off.” Her tease was accompanied by another grin, obviously taking amusement in using the phrase against him. “But maybe I could bring one of the more confident hellhounds by another time.”
Darwin almost choked on his drink when she revealed the other kind of magic she did. Hailing from a family of mental magic practitioners, which really never ends well when shared with a new acquaintance because humans have always been a paranoid lot, the demon wrangler had strangely little to no experience with actual blood magic and its practitioners. There was that one girl he befriended, the young single mother, but it was a disheartening affair, one that proved to be more dangerous to herself and to the ones around her. Right then and there, Darwin wondered if the same could be said for Nell. How lonely it must be then, and how painful, that one's magic can punish a practitioner beyond the rules of equivalent exchange. Then again, it must be the only appropriate rule for something as dangerous and painful as blood magic. Darwin took another sip of his drink to regain his composure. "That's interesting. I knew a girl who did that, too. She was...admirable."
"Bloody Mary? Really? High Schoolers?" Darwin shook his head, distancing his lips from the glass as they twisted into a playful smirk born out of disbelief that such young children could be capable of summoning bloody Bloody Mary but at the same time impressed of the act. He was also young when he started Summoning, though he focused mostly on smaller demons first. Then again, he was around their age, if he recalled correctly, when he first summoned a demon the size of a human, not unlike Bloody Mary herself in terms of height and number of limbs, though his was more fueled by lust than violent murder. That was also actually when he first realized he preferred men over women. "Did any of them survive?" His smile turned into a frown when he remembered the truth of the matter. Just because you can actually Summon, just because you got lucky in actually drawing someone else, something else, from their world to this one, doesn't mean what happens next will be harmless, profitable for you. Often, the novice, the inexperienced, dies from the ordeal or during the aftermath due to lack of assertion or impression. No one enjoys an unscheduled appearance, without their consent, in a lesser world.
Darwin simply shook his head at the question relating to his coven, the thought of his own family being akin to that to him...until his father tried to bend him, his mind, to their twisted capitalist bullshit. "Ah, but of course. Demon summoning and witchcraft don't always go hand in hand. Either often prefer to be focused on, unable to share their practitioners with one another." At this point, he was just blowing wind up his own ass. He didn't actually know if that bit was true, only that it made sense to him to be so. His grin returned at her tease, or at least what he perceived to be a tease, longer than before. Even though Darwin had his own preferences when it came to carnal pleasures, he enjoyed flirting, teasing, the art and science of which, most likely because it helped boost his ego, his confidence, in ways that he never could growing up, alone, without the familial support he subconsciously craved.
"Of course, my love! Feel free to visit any time. Bertrand and I will always enjoy your company and that of your hellhounds." He offered her a grin as he stood, careful not to expose her to his bits and pieces, like the gentleman host that he believed himself to be. Gesturing towards the door, which Bertrand who just appeared from out of nowhere was quick to open, Darwin accompanied his lovely guest on her way out. He could've actually walked her home but it was getting too cold for his bits and pieces, and he was slowly getting too drunk. He did turn to Bertrand, though, and nodded, a gesture that meant the self-appointed butler would follow the witch back to her abode to simply ensure her safety. Not that Darwin believed she couldn't take care of herself, what with the blood magic and the hellhound at her arsenal. It was more like a routine that he half-remembered from his past before he had to escape, flee, a reminder his late mother always told him: Take care of friends and family, even if they never want you to. Well, Darwin was out of family, and Nell was the first friend he'd made in town. Might as well.
Nell waited with a steely gaze for Darwin’s verdict, ready to write off this newfound and tentative friendship here and now if he reacted negatively when it came to her blood magic. She didn’t need anymore people in her life that would leave her down the road, but it seemed that paranoia had been misplaced when he spoke of admiration. “She was?” Nell echoed, as if confirming she’d heard correctly. Obviously she had, and the thought filled her with another spark of tentative hope. “I’m sure she was, then. Admirable, I mean.”
As for the highschoolers…”Just one,” Nell answered grimly, still holding some residual guilt for having been unable to save the entire lot of them. “Two of them died in the process, including the one who had the ability to Summon in the first place. I don’t think he knew, though- that he held the magic. He didn’t make a proper sacrifice and- well- the Summoning decided it wanted more. I’m sure you understand.” None of them were free of the chains of equivalent exchange, and sometimes the jailers demanded entire lives as a means of paying the price.
But as Scrappy whined once again, Nell knew he was reaching his limit of being indoors and stationary, and in the presence of a man he’d chased down the street and was still not entirely certain of. “I really am sorry I have to go- there’s a ton more I wanted to ask. But I’ll probably also just message you once I’m home on the White Crest forum thing, and we can pick up where we left off. But I mean it about the drinks,” she reiterated with a grin, still wishful that this budding friendship might be a lasting one. “So be prepared for me to bother you about that within 2-5 business days.” Gathering up Scrappy, she made her way towards the door, giving Bertrand a nod of goodbye as well, not yet realizing that he’d be trailing her on the way home. “And I’ll see you, as well I hope.” With that she was making her way out of his apartment and onto the street, below, pausing with a small smile on her lips to let herself bask in the potential promise of another spellcaster in her life that didn’t hate her guts. Even though she still wasn’t sure how the demon mixup had occurred, that worry could be kept at bay for the moment being with the knowledge that she’d started something new out of it.
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[📰] K-Pop Rookies P1Harmony Are Writing Their Own Coming of Age Story
By Crystal Bell
K-pop group P1Harmony debuted three months ago with their audacious single "Siren," and member Jiung is already dreaming of the perfect solo vacation. The 19-year-old singer wants to emphasize that this is a trip he'd like to — no, needs to — do alone, when he can safely do so. ("You need to bold the word 'alone,'" leader Keeho adds in English, a knowing glint of mirth in his eyes. "Put it in italics too.") So, more about this excursion: "If possible, I want to go to a foreign country," Jiung tells Teen Vogue from an office in Seoul, South Korea. He doesn't have a specific place in mind, just somewhere new and exciting and, most importantly, a place where he can be alone to freely organize his thoughts without any other responsibilities.
It sounds like a lyric ripped from the pages of his notebook, or the plot of a coming-of-age movie his 17-year-old groupmate Intak would enjoy: a young man on a voyage of self-discovery, chasing a feeling to a faraway land to escape his adolescent ennui. For now, however, it's just a lofty resolution for the new year.
"I also want to travel alone because I've never done it before," youngest member Jongseob, who recently turned 15, enthusiastically offers in Korean. Jiung, always one to help the younger sort out his feelings, is quick to quash the teenage rapper's theoretical plans. "That's not very realistic," he says. "You're too young to travel alone." Undeterred, Jongseob carries on: "Then my goal this year is to drink more milk."
"He wants to grow taller, but I don't think milk helps that much," Keeho comments, shaking his head while his teal quiff stays firmly in place. "I heard that's a myth."
Technically, they're not wrong. Unaccompanied minors can't travel internationally without a parent's formal consent in South Korea, and there's no proven scientific correlation between dairy and height. But spoken aloud, this interaction sounds more like playful goading among good friends. It's a testament to Keeho, Theo, Jiung, Intak, Soul, and Jongseob's comfortable dynamic as a group that the copper-haired youngest just earnestly smiles through the minor sting of his hopes being swiftly dashed.
For all of the training that goes into a K-pop artist's career, perhaps the most vital lesson is learning how to symbiotically coexist in close quarters with someone who is unfamiliar to you. Like most things, it is a process. Harmony isn't achieved overnight, especially among six teenage boys who have differing definitions of the word "clean." Cultural differences present unique challenges, too. When Keeho left his home in Canada to pursue his musical dreams as a trainee at FNC Entertainment in Seoul, he didn't have much trouble fitting in. Or so he thought. "He was funny," Jiung says in retrospect. "But I don't think we were able to communicate well." It wasn't that they couldn't understand what Keeho was saying — the soulful singer grew up speaking Korean with his family — but rather they couldn't understand him.
"Everyone would be stressed out, and I would be like, 'Guys, relax. Why are you stressing out over this?'" Keeho says animatedly with his hands. "They couldn't understand why I was so relaxed. How could I not care about anything? And I couldn't understand why they were always so stressed about things. It took a while to get on the same page."
That's where communication comes in. "The key is being honest," Jiung explains. "We have a lot of talks." These regular conversations allow the members to resolve potential issues before they spiral into larger, more disharmonious problems. Keeho is refreshingly open about this. "We're always stuck together," he adds. "We live together. We see each other 24 hours a day. Seeing anyone 24 hours a day, you'll eventually be, like, ugh, get away from me, but because we communicate so much, that [feeling] is reduced." Establishing rules and boundaries also helps. "We have a basic rule that you clean up the mess you've made," Jongseob says from where he's perched behind Jiung. (This rule is especially important to methodical Jiung.) And then there's vocalist Theo, the eldest member who also takes on the role of the group's even-keeled mediator because he's a good listener, and he likes giving advice.
"I'm not very opinionated," the blonde says. At 19, he's a few months older than Keeho but harder to read. He's both lighthearted and enigmatic. "I'm not good at expressing my feelings," Theo explains. "But the members are really good at expressing themselves and their emotions, so I'm learning how to open up because of them." According to Keeho, Theo is "bad at being serious," adding, "We'll have to have a serious talk, and he won't be able to take it. He's always trying to lighten the mood. He's the comedic relief."
Keeho makes a habit of describing the members' various idiosyncrasies in fervent detail. It's a very leaderly thing to do, to make sure that everyone feels understood. Occasionally, he also jumps in to help interpret their answers into English, or to encourage others to speak. Soul, who is half-Korean but was raised in Japan, could be described as a quiet person: an introvert who wears a lot of black, listens to metal, and has a particular obsession with massive skull rings and accessories. But he's also acutely perceptive. He'd rather listen and observe than be an active participant in the conversation. "I like when the rest of the members are discussing an idea," he says quietly in Korean (he's still learning the language). "I like watching them talk." It's not that he's not involved, but as Keeho puts it, "He's always supporting us silently and observing us." For Soul, it's more fun to sit and watch.
You can get a sense of these dynamics as they unfold on the last track of the group's debut EP, Disharmony: Stand Out. It's a skit, or audio recording of the members — then, just trainees — as they talk candidly about their dreams to perform and contemplate the implications of such aspirations. "I work hard here for the debut, but when I go to school, I wonder, 'What am I doing here?'" Intak says on tape, recalling how strange it feels to not have the same priorities as his classmates who are all preparing for their college admissions. Theo quells his concerns, telling him how lucky he is to already be working toward his dream. "That's a cool thing," Keeho adds, as Soul silently listens in the background.
While his peers prepared for their academic futures, Intak was spending his evenings dancing, rapping, singing, and writing lyrics, while also stunt training alongside his groupmates and preparing to become a… movie star. A few weeks before the release of their album, P1H: A New World Begins hit theaters across South Korea in early October. The first K-pop origin story to hit the big screen, the feature film introduced P1Harmony and their sci-fi lore to the masses. Long story short: After a deadly virus spreads chaos and violence around the globe, six boys with extraordinary gifts are humanity's only hope for survival. The filming experience was invaluable for the artists, who until that point had only ever studied music and performance. "Acting training really helped with my facial expressions," Intak says. "I learned how to portray my emotions on stage." Keeho agrees, adding, "We got very friendly with the camera."
Singers who rap, rappers who sing, dancers who act — the boys of P1Harmony forgo clearly defined roles in favor of being versatile and, well, good at everything.
As for their music, Disharmony: Stand Out is a snapshot of Gen Z unrest, simmering with angst ("Siren") and bucking wildly, vibrantly against convention ("Nemonade"). Teenage turmoil has been fueling the K-pop industry since the very beginning, and there's a certain nostalgia to P1Harmony's no-holds-barred approach. Members Soul and Jongseob both credit B.A.P and their hard-hitting style with inspiring them to become artists, with Zelo influencing Jongseob to pursue rap in elementary school. You can hear those more aggressive, hip-hop-tinged influences on Disharmony, as well as softer, more lyrical R&B flourishes ("Butterfly").
"We wanted to convey feelings and situations that are not harmonious," Jongseob says. "We want to say don't be afraid to stand out and to say what you want to say — speak your truth, and do it with courage and confidence." Despite his age, the young rapper carries himself like a veteran. By all accounts, he's earned the title, having won the competition series K-pop Star 6 at age 12 in 2017 and competed in YG Treasure Box less than two years later. These experiences, he says, helped him feel more comfortable performing. By the time he came to FNC, he was already a prodigy with the confidence and flow of a performer twice his age.
"There are so many people, our age especially, who aren't always able to speak courageously and confidently," Keeho adds. "So we wanted to encourage everyone, especially ourselves, to never be afraid to say what you want to say."
And they practice what they preach. All of the members are credited lyricists on the album, with all six collaborating on the roaring hip-hop track "That's It." Part cypher, part vibes, "That's It" is teeming with boyish swagger and possibility. "Even though it was the first time all six of us worked on a song together, surprisingly we were all on the same page from the very first meeting, and it came together quickly," Jiung recounts, adding that each member wrote their own verse. "It was fun," Keeho chirps.
That creative energy is also channeled into their performances. "Because we do take part in a lot of the songwriting, we also want to convey that in our dance," Intak explains. Though he's part of the group's rap line, his first love was dance. He started taking lessons as a child. "My mom is a dancer, so she's where I got my love of dancing," he says. As such, he's well-versed in conveying emotion through motion. "We always have an idea of how we want to portray these emotions with our bodies," he says. The members choreograph their own center gestures. These movements are a small but significant part of any performance, because this is where their charisma and individuality shine brightest.
"I wanted to become a singer because I wanted to perform onstage," Theo says. "So being able to be on music programs performing on real stages, surrounded by bright LED lights and visual backdrops, I feel like a main character. When all of the lights are on me, I feel like a star."
Unsurprisingly, even when he's offstage, he's still singing. He even likes to call his friends and take song requests. "I like to sing to my friends through the phone," he says. "I'll sing anything they want. I play piano for them, too. They're very open to listening to me." Next to him, Keeho adds, "My friends would not want me to sing to them." (The internet respectfully disagrees.) Meanwhile, Jongseob turns to making music and writing lyrics in his downtime. It's a great way to relieve stress, he says. These days, Intak turns to animated films to ease his mind. He's a fan of Studio Ghibli films, and he really likes the Japanese manga characters Doraemon and Shin Chan.
"I watch a lot of coming-of-age stories about these innocent kids who are in the process of becoming adults," he explains. "I get inspired by watching them. I don't want to lose that innocence, so watching those animations make me feel youthful." It's hard to imagine Intak without his boyish sensibility. It's seeped into every social media post and YouTube vlog (or, #PLOG). Yet, as an artist, as a teenager, it's an unusual phenomenon to be perceived by thousands of fans before having the clarity to perceive yourself. It's something no amount of Miyazaki or training prepares you for.
Initially, Theo had a hard time opening up on camera. The mere thought of it made him nervous, but the more he did it, the easier it was for him to parse his own feelings. "I'm not very good at expressing emotions like thank you and I love you," he says. "But it's a lot easier to express those feelings now because I feel them so sincerely. I can say thank you for loving me [to fans] because I truly mean it."
"There are people from all around the world who leave me messages, and that makes me so happy," Intak says. "It drives me to do more and to give more to them."
And there will be more to give. Disharmony: Stand Out was just the beginning, and Keeho already has some very big goals for 2021. At the top of the list? "Rookie of the Year, come on!" he says spiritedly of the K-pop industry's coveted award. "It's definitely possible. I'm manifesting it right now." He also wants to make more music, maybe release more covers. "We want to come back a lot," he smiles. "I'm thinking [of] at least three releases next year."
Then there are more personal goals, like Jiung's solo travels. "I want to take better care of my mental health," he adds, noting that it starts with a more positive mindset. "I want to be a better person overall." Intak wants to, for the first time in his young life, maintain a consistent routine for a healthier lifestyle. That includes getting enough sleep when there aren't any schedules. ("He could sleep, but he chooses not to," Keeho jokes.) After monitoring his fancams, Theo has decided that he wants to build more muscle. And Soul hopes to go home to Japan to see his dog, a Frenchie named Mochi.
As for Keeho, in true Libra fashion, he wants to maintain a sense of balance: "I want to stay true to myself," he says. "I don't want to be like, oh, the fame is getting to me. I don't want to change. I want to stay grounded and stay thankful and be grateful, always. I also want to make some more money." He laughs, then adds, "I can't lie!"
No, he can't. Honesty is the key to harmony, after all.
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oooh for the i love you prompts can you do buddie + 12 ?
So sorry this is late, love <3 This was...well, I hope you like it.
I Love You Prompt List
12. Brings an extra coat/scarf because they know you never check the temperature before going out
When We’re Old and Grey
Admittedly, their morning routine had already been a little disrupted when it came time to kiss his boyfriend goodbye. A power outage had killed their alarm, and Christopher had to wake them up with his most innocent ‘If we sleep past the first bell, do I have to go to school today?’; which had both of them bolting out of bed with the speed that came from years of emergency responses.
There was no time for breakfast – thank god for the ability to preorder drive thru (one day of egg sandwiches and apple juice eaten in the car, would not be the end of the world. Probably) – let alone double check that Christopher had actually packed his bag last night like he promised.
“It’s your fault we didn’t get to bed until 3am.” Eddie grumbled, shoving off the pants around his ankles so he could toss them to their rightful owner.
“I think it’s the apartment fire’s fault.” Buck caught the offending cotton, and pulled Eddie’s shirt from the pile on the floor to throw in his face. “We can go back to sleep once Christopher’s at school” he promised.
Eddie rolled his eyes. “You wanted to go for a run today. So we’re going for a run after we drop him off.”
If Buck’s grumble made him smile, it was a testament to their years of familiarity – not because he thought his boyfriend was cute when he was grumpy and bedraggled. Not that they were given much of an opportunity to comment further, as the object of their affection was calling down the hallway that he would be late for school.
Eddie pulled the nearest pants over his hips (definitely still Buck’s, but now was not the time for caring about things like property) pushing his sock-less partner out the door.
“You don’t need socks to sit in the passenger seat” he informed him, poking his head into his son’s room to do one final check before they headed towards the door.
“Alright everyone, did we pack our homework?” Eddie clapped his hands while Christopher pulled on his shoes.
“Did we brush our teeth?”
“No.” Buck swiped his tongue with a grumble, but a look from Eddie had him ducking his head.
“Did we remember our free reading book on the night stand?”
Christopher bolted up in a panic, steadied by an instinctual hand from Buck. Eddie shook his head at the pair, producing the book from behind his back for the boy to put into his bag.
“Did we pack a sweater for going to Abuela’s tonight?”
With Christopher packed and ready to go, Eddie shot one last look at his boyfriend as he slipped on his sandals.
“Did we remember our wallet and phone on the dresser?”
Buck froze. The only way his eyes could grow wider would be if they fell out of their sockets – and they nearly did, for the panic that settled on his face. Though Christopher was still preoccupied with zipping his bag, he clearly heard Buck’s misstep because he giggled wildly while opening the front door. Eddie still hadn’t said anything (which, even Eddie knew, was a bad sign).
His initial reaction at Buck’s words was to tangle the squeezing hand around his heart that reminded him that he was old, and demeaning his boyfriend and eventually, Buck would get sick of him. His second reaction was to laugh at the man’s exhausted mind that had just parroted whatever Christopher was saying. His third reaction, was the startling realization that none of this mattered at the moment.
With a long sigh, Eddie shooed his two favourite people out the door and unlocked the truck for them while he closed up.
He could deal with their little slipup later – when he actually had the mental capacity to process what had happened and how he felt about it.
See, Eddie knew he was older than Buck (some would say more mature – including Eddie), though five years wasn’t a significant difference. They’d learned quickly to intensely avoid talking about significant moments in their childhood, but other than that, age didn’t matter to them. Considering Buck’s last serious relationship... well, Eddie had never put much thought into their slight difference in age.
Until Buck had decided to call him ‘dad’. And then a few thoughts swirled around his mind as they made their way towards the school. He knew that the moment Christopher was out the door, Buck would bring it up – trying to apologize profusely – and Eddie would have to decide how to react to it.
He had a big decision to make.
True to form, Buck waved the kid goodbye and as soon as they’d pulled out of the parking lot, he turned to his boyfriend with nervous panic.
“Eddie, about this morning: I am so sorry.”
His boyfriend looked so genuinely apologetic, he almost felt bad.
“What was that, sonny?” He croaked, leaning his ear closer to the man. “I didn’t hear yo-” Eddie dissolved into laughter before he could even finish his sentence, doubling over the steering wheel in amusement.
Buck joined in a moment later, though decidedly less enthusiastically. “Okay, okay, I get it. I called you old.” He slid his had over Eddie’s, resting on the gearshift. “I am sorry though.”
“It’s fine, Buck.” He smiled at him once they reached the stoplight. “I know I kind of went into ‘dad mode’ this morning. It was a slip of the tongue.”
“I’ll show you a slip of the tongue” Buck muttered – though loud enough for Eddie to hear (as was always his way when he was flirting), prompting a flush to cover his chest even as he rolled his eyes.
“I am driving young man,” he scolded, a twinkle in his eye. “Just wait until I get you home.”
Buck finally relaxed against his seat, never looking away from his adoring boyfriend. “I thought we were going for a run.”
“Oh, I’ll get your heart racing alright.”
What? Eddie loved a little obviously flirting as much as the next man – especially when they were both still in that giddy phase of their relationship after living together for seven months. Besides, it would be an excellent opportunity to show Buck just how young and enthusiastic he still was.
And that should have been the end of it. The two of them would go home for a little mid-morning romp (‘romp, Eddie? Now you’re just begging me to mock you’) before heading out on their run and continuing on in semi-domestic bliss – one of them was bound to propose sooner or later, they just hadn’t decided who. Buck’s little one-off remark would be totally forgotten.
Until Eddie lay in bed a few nights later, and he got a horrible, ridiculous, completely juvenile idea. Buck would be so proud of him.
It started out innocently enough.
Buck ran out of toothpaste – he really should have been paying attention more – but he definitely had a spare bottle underneath the sink. Probably. He squatted down to inspect the shared storage space and did, indeed, find a small travel tube of toothpaste.
That didn’t matter, however, because he found something much more interesting.
“Eddie, why is there a box of grey coverup hair dye under the sink?” He had a sneaking suspicion, but he also had no recollection of Eddie mentioning or buying it.
There was his boyfriend – his lovely, oblivious boyfriend – sitting on the couch, reading the latest science fiction novel that Buck had finally convinced him to read, all wide-eyed and curious.
“I have no idea why anyone in this house would need to cover up their grey hairs, Buck.”
Really? So he was just going to pretend as if he didn’t know anything? Fine.
“Is it Christopher’s, then? I knew that kid’s colour wasn’t natural.” He shook his head when he caught sight of the smallest hint of a smile. But then, he paused to watch Eddie refocus on the book in his hands. Maybe he was starting to go a little grey on top; his life hadn’t exactly been stress-free. It could be that he just wasn’t ready to talk about it, though. That was fine. He’d love Eddie if his hair fell out overnight. It would be a huge adjustment, considering how much he liked to run his fingers through those delicious locks, but he’d figure it out. If his boyfriend was feeling insecure about something, there really was only one solution.
Eddie lifted the book when Buck plopped into his lap but didn’t take his eyes off the page, letting him scratch his nails through Eddie’s scalp. He really was so giving; anything Buck wanted to do to him (cuddle, or talk for hours about his latest interest, or just sit in his lap in the middle of the day), Eddie would accept within reason. Just as Buck did the same (holding Eddie in the middle of the night, listening to him rant about one of the PTA moms harassing him, or carrying him across the room when Eddie decided he wanted to cling to him like a koala bear instead of walk his tired-ass to the bedroom). It was a mutual bothering, which worked for both of them.
Which is why Eddie let Buck sit in his lap and massage his scalp for a minute or two before Buck mutter soft and low: “I kind of like the bits of grey, it makes you look distinguished.”
“What bits of grey?” Eddie shot up so fast, Buck nearly toppled off the couch but he caught himself on the back cushion. Just as quickly, Eddie settled back into his place, taking a deep breath. “Oh, right. Yeah. Thanks.” When he blushed, Buck had no choice but to kiss it away. It was mandatory.
Buck was ashamed to admit that he didn’t notice it at first. He spent so long memorizing ever feature on Eddie’s face and it took him nearly an hour to realize that something was different. And then when he realized, he couldn’t stop realizing and frankly, it was kind of hot.
He only wore them when they were in the bedroom – likely a little hesitant to admit that he needed them, but Buck liked to think of it as a secret he chose to share with Buck because of how much he trusted him. It was nice.
And did he mention hot?
It took him less than a week to finally break (what? He was only human).
Buck stopped in the doorway, glass of water gripped tightly in his hand lest he drop it at the mere sight of his boyfriend. Eddie never looked up from his book – and why should he? Tonight was just like any other night.
Except this was the fifth night in a row that Buck had walked into their bedroom and found Eddie, shirtless in bed with a pair of black-rimmed glasses perched on his nose.
How was he not supposed to pounce on that?
Pounce wasn’t the right word, exactly, more of a slither. Buck was about as graceful as Bambi on Ice, but when it came to slowly crossing a room to climb on top of his boyfriend, he was Johnny Weir (yes, he knew about figure skating – Bobby’s reveal had prompted a little research spiral).
“Hello.” Eddie smiled in surprise, dropping the book to his chest so his arms were free to stroke up Buck’s arms. “Is there something I can help you with?”
Without losing eye contact, Buck gently tucked the bookmark into the appropriate page and placed the book on the nightstand, out of harm’s way. No matter what, there was a great respect for books in their house (plus, if Buck tossed the thing across the room like he wanted to, Eddie’s mind wouldn’t be focused on the task at hand).
“I think you can help me” he whispered without a hint of suspense. Eddie knew exactly what he wanted.
He reached for the glasses, no doubt thinking they would get in the way, but Buck grabbed his wrist before he could even get close.
“Leave the glasses on.”
Eddie mumbled in surprise but didn’t deny his request, reaching for the lamp as Buck dove in for a kiss.
Okay, even if it was a little strange, it was still a really thoughtful gift.
Buck hated admitting when he was in pain. Yes, he’d learned his lesson after the whole ‘pulmonary embolism’ fiasco and was starting to speak up whenever things got too bad (especially with his leg); that didn’t mean he enjoyed it.
So, taking Bobby aside to tell him that his leg was cramping so badly, he thought it best to be ‘man behind’ for the rest of the shift, made him nearly cry with frustration. But he did it; and he spent the rest of the shift doing choirs, and icing his leg and generally doing what was best for his overall health.
The problem was, his leg almost always hurt just a little. Yes, he was back to full strength – and fitter than ever, thank you very much – but sometimes, he’d wake up in the middle of the night and need to walk a few laps around the living room before he could settle back into bed. Or, Eddie would catch him limping a little and a tub of Tiger Balm would suspiciously find its way into his work bag.
One day, he came home and found a cane next to the door. It was simple, brown with a curled handle, but it was the perfect height to help him walk around the house. Even if every iota of his being was screaming that using a cane was a sign of weakness, he saw the gift from Eddie as a show of love and concern, and so used it as an aide while he moved around the kitchen, waiting for Eddie to come home with Christopher.
That little boy was the most adorable mix of excited and concerned when he walked through the door and saw what Buck was doing.
“You remember when my leg got hurt? Well sometimes, it hurts again and it’s hard to move around without a little help. My cane is not nearly as cool as your crutches, though; it doesn’t even have an arm holder.”
The discussion had been a little longer, but the explanation seemed to satisfy him enough to drop the subject while he started on his homework.
Eddie had been suspiciously silent. Not suspicious, per se, but he hadn’t looked Buck in the eye through his entire interaction with Christopher.
As soon as the boy was seated at the dinner table, Buck pulled him in for a gentle kiss.
“Thank you” he pressed into his mouth again, gratefully. “I didn’t realize I needed this until you gave it to me. I appreciate you taking care of me.”
Eddie still hadn’t said a word, his eyes darting to the cane every few seconds as if deciding whether or not it actually existed. When he spoke, his voice was far away.
“I didn’t” he cleared his throat. “You’re welcome.”
Satisfied, Buck turned away in time to hear Eddie mutter “unbelievable” under his breath.
“Eddie, and I don’t want to offend you, but” Buck carefully entered the bedroom at the end of their nighttime routine. “Are your teeth real?”
Eddie should have looked more offended (Eddie, with his sexy librarian glasses and no shirt because ‘it’s too damn hot for clothing’) but instead, he tried to brush it off.
“Why would you ask me that?”
“Because I found denture cream in place of toothpaste.” He held up the small yellow tube as evidence. “Did you misread the label or something?”
Again, Eddie simply shrugged rather than engage in their conversation. “Nope.”
What did that mean? He’d meant to buy denture cream? Buck rolled the bottle in his hands, standing lost in the middle of the room – another thing for which Eddie usually teased him, but still nothing. Something had been going on with him lately. First the hair dye, and then the reading glasses, and now the denture cream…it was like he was preparing for old age or something.
Maybe Eddie had taken to heart the little joke Buck had made about him getting old. He hadn’t even called him old, he’d called him ‘dad’ – he was a dad – but then Eddie had followed up with his little ‘old geezer’ routine. Could it be, that Buck had actually hurt his feels or sent him down some spiral? It wouldn’t be the first time (they still had the small collection of Beanie Babies in the hall closet from the time Eddie got drunkenly nostalgic), but this time he wondered if he could do something to help (instead of drunkenly encouraging him to get same-day shipping).
“Eddie” Buck cautiously approached the bed, tube still in hand. “Are you okay?”
The man looked up at him through his glasses as Buck took a seat beside him, staring at him with genuine confusion – not the façade he’d been putting on lately. “I’m fine, Buck” he promised. “What’s up?”
“Did I mess up when I called you ‘dad’ the other day?”
Even when he was taking his glasses off slowly, with concern and love in his eyes, Buck had a hard time not feeling attracted to his boyfriend. The way he cared…it was a lot.
“You didn’t mess up; I thought it as funny. What’s this about?”
Reluctantly, Buck revealed the tube still clutched in his fist as if that would explain everything. The way Eddie threw his head back in laughter, eventually flopping onto his pillow, told him that it must have.
“You ruin all my fun, you know that?”
Well that was…not what he was expecting Eddie to say.
“All I wanted was a little laugh at your expense and you have been nothing but sweet and supportive” he grumbled against the pillow. “It’s been very annoying, you know that?”
Ignoring the bit of hurt that rose in his chest, Buck pulled apart Eddie’s words, trying to decipher some semblance of meaning from them. The more he stared in confusion and horror, the more Eddie seemed to laugh in his face.
Before he could think to pout and beg for an explanation, Eddie reached out to grab his face and pull him down to his level. Buck just barely caught himself on the edge of the bed as Eddie muttered fondly “you are a good man, Evan Buckley, but you can be so…” don’t say dumb, please don’t say dumb “innocent, sometimes.”
It was Buck’s turn to fall forward with the force of his incredulous laughter, trapping Eddie between himself and the bunched up pillows, leaving the tube of denture cream lost to the chaos of their floor. Even as the laughter subsided, Buck rested his chin against his boyfriend’s chest as he spoke.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
Eddie rolled his eyes, arms resting under his head like he had nowhere he’d rather be in that moment. “I thought I was being so clever hiding everything around the house. First the hair dye – I thought it might be a little subtle but you were so nice about reassuring me. And then the reading glasses…” he smirked at the memory of the last time he’d worn them. “That was an unexpected bonus. And then the cane”
“What about the cane?”
His expression softened. “It was meant as a joke but you seemed to really need it so I wasn’t about to take it away from you.”
Buck recoiled but didn’t leave his favourite position, curled on top of his – very perplexing – boyfriend. “You were making fun of me by giving me that cane?” It had never occurred to him that it would be anything more than a well-meaning gift; but Eddie had been mocking him? That didn’t make any sense.
“No!” Eddie sighed. “The cane was for me.”
He was up and straddling Eddie’s knees before he’d even finished his sentence, carefully inspecting every inch of the man he loved for signs of trauma. “What? Why? What happened? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“See, this is what I mean; you’re so nice, I can’t pull a prank on you” Eddie exclaimed, rising to his elbows.
Buck slowly turned to meet Eddie’s eyes – playful and patient. “A prank?”
“A prank” he confirmed with a smile.
“What was the prank?”
Eddie snorted, eyes falling to the floor. “Grey hair remover, reading glasses, a cane, and denture cream – plus I got, like, four other things.”
He left Buck to connect the dots, which produced a groan from the man, falling back over top. “You weren’t mad about me calling you old, you were being a dick about it” he concluded.
“Not a dick” Eddie protested, “a well-crafted prank that apparently flew over your head.”
“Well what now? Do you want the cane back?” He’d been an idiot, just picking up the thing and assuming it was for him. It seemed like something Eddie would do – and maybe he would have if his mind weren’t on other matters – but Buck should have asked. Idiot.
“I meant it: if it helps you, it’s yours to keep. The rest of it, though…” Eddie’s eyes wandered back to the tube on the floor. “I have no idea what to do with it all now that the prank is sufficiently ruined.”
“It’s not my fault that you were too subtle.” Buck squawked when Eddie threw him to his own side of the bed.
Standing, the man looked over his shoulder on his way to the bedroom closet. “Not all of us can be as subtle as ‘Eddie, if someone you were friends with wanted to ask you out, what would you say?’”
Admittedly, not his most sophisticated moment. “It worked, didn’t?” Over a year later and they were happier than ever.
“True.” Eddie retrieved a plastic grocery bag from the back of the closet, returning to sit on the bed. “But that might be more an indictment on my weakness for puppies.”
In response, Buck licked up the side of his jaw, planting a kiss behind his ear as he snuggled in close for show and tell.
“Gross” Eddie half-heartedly batted him away. “Want to see what I had planned next?”
“Yes please.” Buck bounced beside him, surreptitiously peaking over his shoulder to look into the bag. The very first item had him snorting and ducking under Eddie’s shoulder blade.
“Aren’t Medical Alert Buttons, super expensive?”
Eddie showed off the bright red plastic attached to a black string, hanging it off his finger. “Not the discount one from Wal-Mart. It’s not registered or anything – I wouldn’t go that far. Probably.”
Buck caught the object when Eddie tossed it to him, shaking his head. “I probably would have taken it as a joke about how many times I get injured.”
“It can have multiple uses” he conceded, already looking into the bag for the next gift. “We can keep that one if you want.”
“I’ll think about it.” Buck had no intention of using it, but it might be a cute little thing to hang on his jeep mirror as a reminder of the man he loved. He really did love Eddie. Who else would go through all this for a stupid prank and kiss him when he missed the joke? He imagined smiling fondly at the red button on his way to work during those rare shifts they wouldn’t spend together. He tucked it under his pillow for safe keeping.
“This one was kind of a two-fold.”
Buck stared down at the square packaging in his hands. “A deck of cards isn’t exactly an ‘elderly’ thing.”
“But Bridge with my Abuela and her card shark friends is definitely a thing. I was going to drag you out on a Saturday to hang out with friends and make you sit and watch us play.”
He rolled his eyes. “Jokes on you, then, because I love playing Bridge.”
Eddie raised a dubious eyebrow. “Since when?”
“Since my grandmother taught me to play when I was eight.” He didn’t add that the only reason she had time to teach him was because he spent every weeknight at her house from age 6-15 while his parents worked or otherwise went out. The second he got his license, he got out of that routine; but there were still some fond memories attached to Nana’s house. “I would have kicked your ass.”
“Now we may never know.” Eddie grabbed the deck out of his hand and shoved it in the bedside drawer. “The last one would hopefully have been obvious.”
Buck nearly woke Christopher with his laughter – silenced quickly by Eddie throwing a pillow in his face – as he held the bag of adult diapers.
He loved Eddie so damn much, it hurt to breathe (although the wheezing laughter couldn’t have been helping his cause much). Once he was confident enough to remove the pillow, he examined the product with tears in his eyes.
“You got the overnight protection, that’s very astute. I might have eventually clued in that something was wrong.” He tossed the bag back to Eddie who was smiling at him with an odd look of pride. “This is a lot of effort for a one-off comment, Eddie.”
The man shrugged, reaching down to put the denture cream and diapers back into the bag to take to the donation bin later. “I don’t think it was.”
“What was the last one?” he asked, a lightness filling his voice from the sheer giddiness of being together.
In lieu of an answer, Eddie blushed and looked away. “Nothing.” That definitely meant it was something, Buck decided. There really was only one way to get Eddie to talk when he didn’t want to. Long, calloused fingers found his ribs and danced over his skin, leaving him curled over top of Buck, squirming and laughing. The day he’d discovered that Eddie was ticklish was probably one of the best days of his entire life. It meant he now how a surefire way to get his boyfriend to laugh whenever he wanted. It was a power he used sparingly, but he loved having a switch to turn on his favourite sound at will.
“Alright, stop, stop, I’ll tell you.”
Even as Buck released him, Eddie didn’t move from his place against Buck’s stomach, both breathing heavily and smiling at each other, wide and bright. The air grew still between them as Eddie regained his senses, the grin falling from his face – though his eyes were still warm and loving.
“I booked us a tour” he whispered his confession.
“A tour for where?” As funny as it would have been, they couldn’t exactly try to take advantage of a senior’s discount anywhere.
Eddie licked his lips, his earnest heart pulling the last of the humor away. “At a retirement village.”
The realization came a moment later. “You wanted to look at a retirement home together?” Saying the words out loud felt strange on his tongue. Stringing those syllables together in that order was not a possibility he ever thought to consider for himself.
Suddenly it was all he wanted.
“It was for the prank” Eddie gave a half-hearted shrug, still not releasing his breath entirely. “But I figured we could put our name on the waiting list if we liked it anyways.”
Buck joined him in his breathlessness, unable to think beyond the buzzing in his ears screaming ‘I love you, I love you, I love you.’ The world around him seemed fuzzy but Eddie’s face was crystal clear in his eyes.
“You’re planning your retirement with me?” Knowing them, that time wouldn’t come for another forty or fifty years, and yet Eddie wanted to put their names on a waiting list together. Like they were a sure thing.
“I did it as a joke” Eddie mumbled his concession, breath warming his skin. Buck watched his muscles dance underneath him, shivering with hope and excitement. “but it felt right to write down Mr. and Mr. Diaz.”
“I love you.” Those were the only words Buck could think to express every emotion in his being. There was too much at once to process and it swirled through his body, igniting every nerve ending on its way down to his toes. His mouth opened of its own accord and completely ran away from him. “I’ll love you when we’re old a grey, and you need all of those things you spent too much money on.” Eddie opened his mouth to protest but he continued. “I’ll love you when we fight – and when we think it’s the end for us, I’ll keep loving you. I want to hold your hand and die peacefully in our sleep in a retirement home we picked out when we were in our thirties. I want all of that, Eddie.”
He hadn’t thought seriously about marriage but the second it left his mouth…Eddie was right.
It just felt right.
The scariest request he’d ever made, didn’t seem so terrifying when he was staring down at the man he wanted to spend his life with, who kissed his stomach and smiled up at him with shining eyes.
“Our appointment is next Sunday.”
It was as close to an acceptance as they could muster in the moment, but the least he could do was pull Eddie up to kiss him properly. Buck released him for just a moment, smiling up at his fiancé to whisper:
Before diving in for another kiss.
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"I called you at 2am because I need you" for... is it too indulgent to ask for Dorian x Anders?
never too much! Decided on a straight sequel to the last one, so here’s modern au resident!Anders and politician!Dorian after a long shift.
He had three hours left in his shift when he got the text from Barb. He looked suspiciously down at his phone when it buzzed. Barb’s contact was in his phone with a little butterfly next to her name, to match the tattoo on her ankle and the bright and fluttery nature of her personality. He liked Barb, but she was almost definitely asking him to cover her shift, and he debated opening the message for several minutes before doing so with a reluctant sigh. Barb was going through some things; messy divorce, two little kids to look after all on her own, the pay they made here and the stress that came with it.
“Can’t find a sitter, can you take a shift?” read the first text, Anders was going to say yes anyway, but then two more came in, buzzing in quick succession. “unless you want to babysit? I’d give you my pay!” bright, chipper texting tone, accompanied by several hopeful looking emojis, “and brownies! 🍫” Barb did make really excellent brownies. He considered taking her up on the second offer, but he really wasn’t sure he had the energy for kids who weren’t bed-ridden or in need of medical care. He could turn on Fun Doctor Mode like a lightswitch for the kids down in pediatrics, but kids who wanted to refuse bedtime and stay up watching TV they weren’t mature enough to handle? He shook his head, half smiling over the offer of brownies, half frowning over the decision he’d made before he even opened the first message. Barb deserved to get the time with her kids, anyway.
“I’ve got you covered.” Kissy face cat emoji, knife and fork emoji.
“Lifesaver!!!!!” every single colour of heart.
He pencilled his name in on the clipboard for the next rotation, and began to regret the fact that he’d so quickly stuffed down the pastry Dorian had brought him earlier as he tried to remember if he had enough coins in the pockets of his coat for both a bag of pretzels from the vending machine and the bus home. He didn’t, but he’d have more luck charming the bus driver into a free ride than the vending machine into giving up its snacks, so he went to his locker and fished out the last of his bus money.
The rest of his shift went by in a blur of activity, up and down halls as his white-soled shoes squeaked and squawked along the linoleum floors, up and down stairs that were faster than waiting for elevators, thankless pages from doctors all across the sprawling hospital, avoiding his shift supervisor in case she asked about Barb. Then Barb’s shift was much the same, for the four and a half hours after that. It was nearing two am when he finally staggered out to the bus stop, and well past it by the time he arrived home — on foot, because the bus driver had not, in fact, let him ride for free. Just what he got for putting hope into the kindness of strangers. One kind act was, apparently, the extent of his daily karma allotment. Fair enough — he could still almost taste the honey of that pastry on his lips; either an uncommonly good morsel, or he was just drastically underfed. The latter, but the pastry-giver was certainly more than he deserved.
Shit. Dorian. He’d asked him to call. Anders looked blearily at the clock on his stove as he kicked off his shoes and plodded over to the cabinet to dish out some kibble for Ser Pounce. The cold tile floor was a welcome relief on his worn out feet, though the fact that he could feel it at all was a testament to the grave state of his socks. Ser Pounce pounced down from his perch above the cabinets to give some love and a swath of shedding cat hair to Anders’ legs, then nibbled at his food while Anders opened his fridge to try to figure something out for himself. He sniffed at the milk, decided it was probably still fine, and then poured it over a heaping bowl of sugary cereal. Yeah, he’d have made a pretty shit babysitter.
Anders took his bowl with him to his bed, flopping down on the lumpy mattress with a sigh that fully emptied his lungs, and pulled out his phone. He opened his message history and pulled up the conversation with Dorian. Not much there, but what there was made him smile. Mostly short, friendly messages. No emojis except for the one he’d stuck next to Dorian’s name in the contact page — a snake, not his first choice, but he’d embarassed himself by asking the man which one he’d like when he first scored his number, and snake was what he’d picked. Anders would have gone with the diamond, or the little tophat, or maybe the cat with hearts for eyes…
Anyway, then it had turned out that Dorian was a very formal texter. Proper punctuation and fully articulated words and all that. Anders had spent far too many minutes in their text-based conversations together fretting over how immature it would come off to use an abbreviation for laughter versus spelling out the words “haha”, or if even that was too juvenile. But he and Dorian were both all sarcastic humour and chastising bits of flirtation, and he also fretted about the tone of that without it.
“you up?” he wrote, then hovered his thumb over the send button for thirty or so seconds before deciding that it was worth the shot. Worse came to worst, Dorian would reply with a friendly apology and an offer to chat the next morning. He was dependable like that.
“Depends, is this a booty call?” came the almost instant reply. Alone in his room, Anders blushed.
Blushing emoji, monkey covering his eyes emoji, sweat-smile emoji… delete, delete, delete. “No, just miss you,” DELETE, definitely delete. He tried typing some other things. “Just got in, but thinking of you…” no. “You wish lol” haha? Neither. He erased the message and began again, but then the phone screen lit up with “Dorian🐍”, buzzing as it rang.
“The little dots were driving me mad. Did you just get in?” His voice was like honey, too.
“Yeah, covered for Barb.”
Anders leaned back against his pillow, closing his eyes as Dorian’s concern blanketed over him. “She couldn’t find a sitter.”
“You’re too nice for your own good.” Dorian scolded him gently through the phone, and it probably said something unhealthy about Anders that hearing Dorian admiringly call him nice made the whole last five hours of life-draining overtime and bitter walk home worth it.
“She offered me brownies,” he shrugged the compliment off, “what can I say? I’m a sucker for chocolate.”
“I’ll remember that.” Dorian purred, causing Anders to almost second guess his response to the idea of a booty call, exhausted or not. “So, not a booty call then?” Anders groaned inwardly, wishing it were, but no. Not unless Dorian wanted to talk to him on the phone the whole way over to keep him from falling asleep before he arrived, and even then.
“I just — uh…” he was going to say something about the book, but he hadn’t actually had time yet to look at it. His heart rate quickened with panic, he needed to find something to keep Dorian on the phone. “Thanks for the visit today.” Yes, because that warranted a phone call at three in the morning. “Sorry if I woke you…”
“Nonsense. I’m always awake at this hour. It’s a terrible habit of mine.” Dorian did indeed sound very wakeful. Probably also very disappointed in the grogginess of Anders’ own voice.
“Mm,” Anders muttered, his eyes closing under the warmth of Dorian’s voice through the phone again.
“But you sound awful.”
“Ran out of bus fare,” Anders explained, “had to walk… long day.” On a better night, Dorian might listen to his work gossip and share some rants of his own; they made quite a pair, both always seeming too short on time and too packed with stress to get out much, both always angry with their bosses — though Dorian was frustrated by beaurocracy constantly getting in the way of his efforts at world-saving, while Anders’ patients gave him fulfilment enough, it was just that his pockets were perpetually empty and all his managers were slave drivers.
“Why don’t you have a bus pass?” Dorian sighed at him. A bus pass was a hundred bucks up front at the beginning of the month, and with payday always landing two weeks after but every other bill needing to paid right then too… but he didn’t really want to explain that particular predicament to Dorian, who had a flashy suit for every day of the week and a car that cost about as much as Anders was worth in medical school debt. “Well, you can call me next time. I’d give you a ride.” he purred on that note too, having fun with his double entendres. Anders chuckled.
“I’ll keep you in mind,” he promised. Though the thought of begging his quasi-boyfriend for a ride at two am made him shudder. Still, not quite a lie; he always seemed to have Dorian on his mind at the end of a long shift.
“Since I have you, dinner?” The inflection of the question was a little high. Anders crunched on a mouthful of cereal with his eyes still closed and mumbled something unintelligable. “You’re off Friday, aren’t you? Do me a favour and don’t pick up any more shifts. I have a place in mind I think you’ll like.”
“Mm?” He thought about the kind of places Dorian would think were good spots for a dinner date, and was very glad that he couldn’t see the blue-tinted milk running down his chin.
“It’s a surprise.” Back to low purring, that nervousness or whatever it had been apparently gone again. Anders liked the warm flirtatious tone, but the little breaks into uncertainty were what kept him coming back for more. So much in common. “I’ll pick you up at seven?”
Anders “mm”’d through his mouthful of cereal in the affirmative.
“Amatus?” Even his pet names were classy. Anders would go with “love” if it weren’t so close to an unthinkable state of being, or “babe” if it weren’t for the fact that Dorian outshone that by a mile with amatus. His thoughts were all cat-with-heart-eyes emoji at the sound, and not much else.
Anders swallowed. “Yeah?”
“Get some sleep.”
“Mm.” Anders moved the bowl from his lap to the cluttered chair at his bedside, and leaned deeper into his pillow. “See you Friday, Dor” Dor, was that really the best he could do?
He heard Dorian hum contentedly on the other side of the line, “looking forward to it.” he said.
“Night, love.” Anders muttered, then very very quickly he hit end call, and shut his eyes tight.
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The sixth in a series of drabbles exploring my Blood Mage!Dorian.
“Careful with him-” Dorian grunted, shifting Lavellan's weight to a new pair of arms. “He's lighter than he looks- but his stature is still rather cumbersome.”
Noting his advice, the healers were cautious with their new patient, trying their best not to leave any limbs dragging. Dorian had carried him through the fort and now deposited his lifeless form at whatever passed for a surgeon's station. Hopefully their abilities surpassed the low expectation he had of this Southern, backwater hovel.
Released from his charge, he collapsed in exhaustion, back-against-wall, vaguely overhearing scraps of dialogue from within. Not even a gasp was allowed before his insides wrenched painfully, as if a small inferno struggled for escape.
Dorian jerked forward with a hiss and Desire sprung from it's host, swaying and dizzied.
“For-the love-of-!” Though he squinted in displeasure, his shadow barely offered a glance before slipping through the door- after Lavellan.
With a groan he slouched into brick, not having the stamina to protest.
Paw-pads echoed softly through the hall- Lunis' dropped into his lap a second later.
“Oof!” Sighing wearily, he pet the dog. “Yes, yes, that's a good boy...”
For a short time he sat and lamented the whole blasted affair. Not that there was anything to do for it- even if he could convince his Desire to abandon it's attraction, Thedas would be in disarray without its Herald. Then how would Dorian continue his much-favoured lifestyle of roaming, drinking and pleasuring?
Still- he was irritated. Drained of energy and lacking immediate options- Lavellan was in no shape to sustain him in any manner. If he couldn't locate a butcher for some meat or blood or some such, he'd be reduced to hunting vermin in the cellars. Not a favoured meal by any stretch.
“I SAID- NO!!” A familiar voice barked out, brimming with panic- “DO NOT TOUCH ME!- THE BLOOD MAGE! I SAID- FETCH- THE- BLOOD MAGE!!”
Jostling practically out of his robes, Dorian and Lunis swerved to face the door in tandem. It flew ajar, revealing a servant who had led them into the property, pale-faced and obviously shaken.
“L-Lord-um?” He struggled to address, a whirl of smashed glass and incoherent Dalish warring behind.
“Y-yes, ah, Lord Pavus- the Herald, he- no one can get near him! He's asking for you...”
For a second he didn't think he heard right- why would Lavellan ask for him? Just some hours prior the man had been undecided on whether or not to gut him like a 'Tevinter pig'!
Back on his feet, Dorian sprinted inside, where he was met by a trio of petrified healers, recoiling from the Herald. With radiant blade unleashed he stood in a corner, a cot toppled near him, along with a mess of fractured potions and poultices.
If the healers looked scared- Lavellan looked more-so; in his wide-eyed, snarling terror he'd chosen 'fight' over 'flight', the feral warping of his face ensuring to all that he would strike them down without hesitation.
“Herald- I'm here!” Dorian situated himself between the healers and Lavellan, arms outstretched. “You can put that down! No one's going to touch you!”
Wordlessly, that rabid gaze flit between Dorian and the servants over his shoulder. Following the motion, he understood.
One of the healers looked dreadfully familiar- though last they'd met, his features had been significantly bloodied.
Granted- in the future they'd visited, that man had likely been corrupted in some manner, enslaved by Venatori. Obviously Lavellan couldn't be expected to digest such a nuance, not with his wounds- the physical and mental- so sorely fresh.
Dorian recognised immediately that everyone in that room would have to leave.
“OUT!” He bellowed, whirling upon them. “All of you OUT!”
They hurried to obey, door slamming at their departure.
Lavellan bucked against the thrown cot, swearing in garbled Dalish as his weapon clattered, whatever adrenaline had willed his muscles to grip now absent.
“I'm going to need to take a look at your arm.” Dorian said slowly, not yet approaching. “Will you allow me, my dear Herald?”
He was briefly sized up but soon offered a nod and Dorian was permitted to close the space between them. First he righted the cot, gently guiding Lavellan to relax upon it. All the while he was stiff as tree-bark, despite yielding to hands that steadied him.
“...You know...” He decided to mention, thinking it might help. “Those men in the future- they were enthralled, influenced by the Venatori...”
“I do not care.” Lavellan answered solidly, glowering at the floor.
“...You've never been through any sort of torture before, have you?”
To this no reply was given- which said enough. It occurred to Dorian that as intimidating and firm as the Herald might appear, he'd probably lived an uneventful, idyllic life before coming into his namesake. That would fit in with what little of his upbringing he'd shared previously.
The poor fool was likely terrorised out of his wits. It was miraculous that he could speak in full sentences at all, or could come to such simplistic reasoning as 'Blood Mage saved me, therefore safe'.
A testament to how hardy he was under all that blood and matted hair, Dorian thought. Discarding such admiration for now, he honed in on the Herald's injuries. Asides from his anchor-bearing arm, he seemed only scraped and bruised- if not awfully malnourished.
“Alright, just hold still...” He cooed, unwinding bandages from the mutilated limb. “I'll try to be gentle...”
Muscles flinched but didn't recoil, Lavellan remaining in stony quiet. With the wrappings cast aside Dorian was able to properly inspect the damage; flesh terribly scarred, covered in stitches, marred by old stitches that had been removed, then replaced anew. Incisions on top of incisions on top of incisions, malformed dents and whirls creating a mess that barely resembled a shoulder-blade anymore.
It occurred to Dorian with some dismay and horror that they'd simply begun yanking out muscles and ligaments when nothing else bore fruit. It was no wonder Lavellan could hardly move his arm- it was a wonder he could at all, let alone to threaten healers with a magical blade.
“...You're actually missing pieces of your arm and shoulder, I assume you're aware?”
Lavellan merely issued a grunt.
“...Alright, well, just sit tight.”
Turning away from his patient, Dorian perused what alchemical resources had been unharmed by the minor Dalish rampage. A well-mixed regenerative potion could regrow the vacant flesh overtime, though his arm would never work as well as it used to. With some of Dorian's own abilities to manipulate the process, there would be a better chance at adequate recovery- and a speedier one, which he imagined was important.
He began picking out chemicals and mingling them together, explaining as he did;
“...I'm mixing a potion for you. It should numb most of the pain and eventually mend some damage- but I must inform you, my Herald...the destruction is severe. The best I- or anyone can do...is to prevent you from being crippled entirely...”
He noted that Lavellan's mouth twitched- the mildest of spasms. Asides from that the elf said nothing and made no eye contact, his expression a wooden mask.
With a tired exhale Dorian sat before him, potion in one hand while the other raised, curling to poise against a ring he always wore.
“Do you trust me?” He inquired meaningfully, eyes pinning to the elf's face until he found it in himself to meet Dorian's gaze.
Mutely, Lavellan nodded.
“Then trust me when I say this is for your own good, and won't benefit me in anyway.” It would, in fact, only add to his weariness, after such a long day with nothing to 'eat'.
The Herald continued to view him in expectant silence.
Tugging at a concealed hinge, Dorian pulled it apart from his ring and swiped the blade along his fingers, red instantly oozing from the slit. An old trick he'd acquired if he ever needed to utilise blood and no one else's was handy. Today, his blood in specific was precisely what he required.
Lavellan did not cease his observation but nor did he react- merely watching.
Dorian proceeded to dribble his life-force into the potion, squeezing until minor injuries clotted. He then swirled the bottle, allowing his vital liquids to assimilate with other ingredients, until the contents were dyed pinkish.
“Drink up, Herald.” He held out the end result and was a little alarmed by how it was simply removed from his hand and sipped, barely afforded a second look.
“You need to drink the whole thing.” He directed.
“It tastes metallic.” Lavellan pointed out, flat.
“Well, yes,” Dorian snorted. “That's because there's blood in it.”
Shrugging with his able shoulder, Lavellan gulped down the rest, wincing slightly at what had to be a peculiar and sharp taste.
“It should stop hurting so much soon- and you might start feeling more relaxed.”
Though his chin bobbed in acknowledgement, still the elf had nothing to add.
“Well...let's have them bring a tub in here, hrm? I'm sure you'd like to attend to your hygiene, after being stuck in a kennel for Maker-knows how long.”
Not waiting for a verbal response- there had been few thus far- he strode off to the exit and was thankful to spot that same servant, idling for any sort of command.
“Have a tub filled and brought here, will you? Just because we're in Ferelden doesn't mean he should go about smelling of dog- and have one filled for me too! Elsewhere, wherever.”
When he turned back towards the room, Lavellan was regarding him strangely.
“...Something the matter?”
“You are leaving?” The elf mumbled, the strangeness of his gaze increasing.
“Well- for a few moments...we both need a bath- and you're already caked in enough dirt for two.”
Lavellan appeared to battle with something internally, shoulders hunching, teeth gnawing a lip.
Eventually, he found his voice- as small as it was.
“I do not trust the people here.”
“I...” Dorian faltered, not predicting this. “Well, they're your people, my Herald...”
“Are they?” He mumbled sourly, withdrawing further into himself.
“...Alright, wait just a moment-” Sticking his head passed the door-frame, Dorian called. “Lunis! Where in the void did you-”
Feet scampered by, the loyal wolf almost shoving him aside in its haste to enter and pounce upon its master, who snorted with a hint of cheer, embracing the overgrown pup to his chest.
“There you go! See, Lunis will look after you.”
The creature snarled in agreement, wriggling merrily in Lavellan's grasp.
“Very well...” He said into Lunis' fur, very quietly. “...You may go.”
“Why, thank you so much for the permission!” Dorian chuckled, rolling his eyes as he departed to locate wherever his own tub was being prepared.
On his way he felt Desire glaring at him as they walked- and needn't wonder why.
“Yes, yes, I'm being terribly decent- I know you can't stand it.” He huffed, trying to dismiss his shadow. “But he's just so...pathetic right now. It's not especially attractive!”
Desire glared harder.
“I know it's attractive to you- but that's because there's something wrong with you- more than usual!”
Waving the demon off, he tried to ignore how several bystanders were oddly spectating what appeared to be signs of madness.
Washing up swiftly, Dorian meandered to the kitchens, searching for anything that might sustain him in the meantime- blood, bits of fresh meat, anything. He did manage to come about a few scraps and was then prepared to watch over Lavellan.
He was surprised to catch sounds of laughter on his approach- subdued as they were. Sauntering into the room he found Lavellan sitting in a tub- with the bloody dog, of course! Southerners and their bloody dogs! Dorian was beginning to regret and resent his own gift, watching as a nude Herald covered the beast in suds and cackled as it flailed about, spraying bubbles everywhere.
“...You know, the whole point of the bath was for you to smell less of dog...”
Lavellan blinked at that, Lunis panting contently alongside.
“What is wrong with the smell of dog...?”
“...You're certainly Ferelden, I'll give you that.” Eye-rolling along with his snark, he picked a towel that had been laid out with a fresh set of clothes, waving it to gain the Herald's attention. Obliging him, Lavellan clambered out and stumbled into the fabric, allowing Dorian to fold it around his wet frame.
He couldn't help but notice that even in his tumultuous state, the elf's body-heat sky-rocketed at any brief touch. Leashing himself was a trial- fairly sure that if his hand or mouth happened to slip, Lavellan would be more than receptive to the comfort.
Which was exactly the problem- he couldn't have recovered much of his sense yet. Dorian found he loathed the idea of adding more stimulation to what had to be frazzled, overworked nerves.
They should at least get one nights rest before he started thinking of anything like that...
“Here...” He said awkwardly, patting through the towel. “Do you need help getting dressed?”
“I think I can manage.” Cheeks blushed, the elf slipped passed to reach his clothes and Dorian faced the sodden wolf, submerged happily in soapy water.
“...I'm not drying you,” He pouted, still juggling his resentment. “The bath wasn't meant for you anyway!”
With a mournful howl Lunis leapt from the tub, scrambling to brush soaked fur onto Dorian's robes.
“What?! Stop that! Bad dog!!” He near-wailed, feeling truly assaulted while stumbling around the room, wolf at his heels and Lavellan snickering.
“Now we all smell of dog, so there is no reason to complain.” He quipped, voice muffled by the shirt he was wrestling onto his torso.
“Ugh!” Completely disagreeable, Dorian stormed for the other end of the room and flopped onto a mattress.
Soon Lavellan climbed onto the one opposite, accompanied by trotting paw-pads. Lunis hopped onto his same cot, curling against the Herald's chest, who appeared soothed by utilising the beast as a large, rumbling pillow.
Dorian again underwent a pang of envy- then annoyance, as he considered how ludicrous it was that he now longed for the placement of a dog.
He imagined Desire echoed the sentiment; his last memory before slumber was of a dark silhouette perched by the Herald's bed, staring intently.
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4 🥺🥺 they have that very serious discussion when both Athena and bobby arrive to take care of the puppies and everyone has to decide what to do with them both 😭
Hen is still pissed. He can feel the tension in her body, but at least it’s because her arms are around him, holding him practically in her lap. It’s nice and depressing at the same time. Hen isn’t usually physically affectionate with him, so it’s a testament to just how much he’s broken her heart and scared her.
“It’s okay,” she whispers when there’s another knock on the door and she feels him tense up, “it’s okay, they’re here to help.”
Yeah, he doesn’t really want help, but at least Athena is there to help Maddie.
He hates the look that Bobby is giving him.
Grief stricken and anxious and disappointed, but when he speaks, his tone is calm.
“Why did you lie about why you were at the bridge the first time?”
He just shrugs.
“Chimney, you have to talk to us.”
“Alright, Buckette,” Athena cuts in when it becomes clear that Chimney is just going to remain silent, “do you want to explain why you kept it a secret that your ex-husband was in town and stalking you? I’m an officer of the law, and I thought you and I were friends.”
“We are I just... I know how the story ends. Everything else that we might try is just... delaying the inevitable. Rather die a quick death than have him torture me before he finally kills me.”
It’s blunt as hell and everyone flinches.
“Don’t say that, you’re not going to die,” Buck shakes his head furiously, tears spilling over onto his cheeks, “you’re my big sister, you can’t die.”
“We’ll keep her safe,” Athena nods, before turning to Chimney with a stern look in her eye, “and this one. Care to explain why this is the second time you were going to try and end your life in under a month?”
He shakes his head and still stays quiet. He’s overwhelmed, there are too many people here, and he doesn’t even know how to begin to explain it.
“I’m sorry,” Bobby says, and Chimney’s head snaps over to look at him in surprise, “we talked a couple of weeks ago, it was after the first time you... found Maddie at the bridge. You were so upset, so lost... I should have put it together. I should have known. You were asking me for help and I should have been able to read between the lines.”
“Bobby... no,” he speaks, not willing to let his friend and captain blame himself, “no, it’s not your fault, I-I... I hid it. I didn’t say. You couldn’t have possibly known from one conversation that I was thinking about... that.”
“Wait, what?” Hen asks gently, squeezing Chimney a bit tighter as she looks at Bobby a bit desperately, “you two... what did you talk about? He asked you for help?”
“Well, sort of,” Bobby sighs, “he was upset after we lost that patient, the one at the escalator who was proposing... God, I should have known, Hen. I’m so sorry. He told me he... he told me he felt like he died the night of his car accident and I didn’t even realize what he was trying to say.”
“Bobby, no, I wasn’t trying to say anything. I didn’t want you to know.”
“You never told me that,” Hen says quietly, and he hates that he can hear the tears in her voice, “y-you never told me that you felt that way, Chimney.”
“I-I’m sorry,” he whimpers, and he knows it’s not good enough, hiding his face in her shoulder so he doesn’t have to look at her.
He can feel her body shaking as she cries, and it’s then when the horrifically heavy guilt settles into the pit of his stomach. He never meant to hurt Hen, never. Logically, on some level he knew she would be sad if he wasn’t there, but... he never meant to hurt her. And there she is, clutching at him like he’ll disappear if she doesn’t and crying because he hadn’t told her that he was hurting.
“H-hate Tatianna,” she whispers.
“It’s not her fault.”
“Don’t care. S-still hate her.”
“We should consider taking him to the hospital,” Athena says after a moment, pretending like both him and Maddie aren’t in the room, “and she was in the hospital, but that didn’t help her very much, CLEARLY. Presumably because she didn’t tell them the real problem, or any of us. Took finding Chimney at the same fucking bridge a second time to get the truth to come out. Lucky in the darkest, worst way possible.”
“I-I don’t want to go the hospital,” Chimney murmurs.
“You made me go,” Maddie huffs.
“I wasn’t talking to you. Either of you,” Athena says sternly, shaking her head, “and Chimney, I don’t really care about what you want or don’t want right now. I care about keeping you safe.”
“It’s late,” he tries, “at least, not tonight, please?”
“...We can talk more about that and make that decision in the morning,” Bobby concedes after a moment, waiting for Hen to nod in agreement before she continues, “we’ll put off that decision until then. But no one is leaving you alone until then. Everywhere you go, Hen goes. I’m sure your bed is big enough for two people.”
“That’s right,” Hen agrees, tucking Chimney’s head underneath her chin, “I hope you like me a whole lot, because I’m going to be glued to your side as long as you’re here and not in a hospital. Not going anywhere or doing anything without me.”
“And same goes for you with me,” Buck says seriously, looking directly into his sister’s eyes, “I’m your new best friend. Neither of you are getting any alone time anytime soon.”
“C-can I sleep now?” Chimney whimpers, far too anxious to sleep but there are two many people looking at him and judging him, and he’d rather have just Hen at the moment.
“Fine,” Bobby says, but his eyes are full of uncertainty, “but Hen goes with you and I’m staying here on your couch tonight.”
“And I’ll go home with Buckaroo and Buckette and discuss our legal options,” Athena sighs, “I don’t want any trouble from you tonight, Maddie-- no funny business. And Chimney, I expect the same from you. No trying anything with Hen or Bobby, okay?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he grumbles, feeling more embarrassed and vulnerable than he’s ever felt in his life.
“Come on,” Hen whispers, pulling him up from the couch, “it’s sleepover time, Chimney.”
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The Shape of My Heart
Warnings: Violence, Threesome, Smut, Angst, Explicit Sexual Content, Jealousy, Polyamory, Blow Jobs, Oral Sex, Double Penetration, Anal Sex, Voyeurism, Stucky, Spanking
A/N: One of my resolutions in 2020 is to finish this story. It’s on AO3 but I thought I’d bring it here to pull me back into it. I’ll be posting new chapters when I get to that point on both platforms.
This is not a dark fic and there’s an OC instead of a reader.
I do not consent to have my work hosted on any third party app or site. If you are seeing this fanfiction anywhere but archiveofourown, tumblr or fanfiction.net, it has been reposted without my permission.
Just smut... Stucky and then a threesome.
While Chris was on the phone with Aunt Jenny…
Bucky's grin was absolutely wicked. Steve's hand squeezed his thigh and his beautiful blue eyes darkened.
"Yeah?" Steve pressed.
"I'm yours whenever you want me, Pal," Bucky assured him, grabbing Steve by the back of the neck and pulling him in for a rough kiss. He put everything he knew Steve liked into that kiss, warming him up.
Steve didn't disappoint. His hand clamped down on his thigh, while his other hand captured Bucky's hair, his fingers sinking into it. The moan that rumbled in Steve's chest had him hard in seconds.
"Bedroom," Steve ordered in something a lot like his Captain's voice.
Bucky just nodded.
Chris sounded joyful talking to her aunt and Bucky knew she wouldn't mind. It was a good thing because Steve hauled him up from the couch and literally dragged him out of their living room and into their bedroom, closing the door behind him before pushing Bucky backward onto the bed.
Steve took Bucky's breath away with hot kisses meant to dominate, to possess. His mouth scorched a path across the scruff on Bucky's jaw, down the column of his throat. That combined with Steve's weight on him, he loved that, had his heart hammering furiously in his chest as he ground his hips up against his blond lover.
Bucky was seeing Steve's dominant side coming out more and more, even with Chris, and it reminded him of so many years ago. So many good memories and more broke through every day. Bucky wanted to see more of that dominance but he knew Steve worried about Chris.
Their Chris wasn't a shrinking violet, he knew she wouldn't be. He'd seen how blissed out their girl had been when Steve had taken control of the situation when they'd returned for Thanksgiving. He had the feeling he wasn't alone in wanting to see more of this side of Steve.
Bucky loved his blondes.
"You came up here and got a shower without me, Buck," Steve's words were muffled against the tender spot where his shoulder met his neck.
Bucky's hands slid over the powerful expanse of Steve's back, down to clutch the globes of that beautiful ass.
"Yeah?" he gasped out.
"Thought about you all day, Buck." Steve nearly ripped off the t-shirt he wore in his haste to get it off him. Steve's kisses chained over his collarbone, down to one of his nipples that he immediately began to tease with his mouth while Bucky clutched at his blond head. "Thought about getting my mouth on you. Being inside you."
"Just me?" Bucky teased.
Steve lifted his head and smirked. "You know better. I think about our girl too. You're both mine after all. All mine."
Oh, he loved possessive Stevie.
Back in the old days when Steve had been small, Bucky had always been fascinated with Steve's eagerness to dominate Bucky as much as Bucky had dominated him. At first, he thought maybe Steve didn't want to be treated – as he saw it – as one of Bucky's dames. Over time, he came to realize that just because he'd been smaller physically than Bucky didn't mean he couldn't be as dominant. Stevie back in those days had taught Bucky many things about himself.
Yeah, Bucky liked the dominant role. Did he like being dominated?
Only by his Stevie.
And damn did Steve manhandle him. He loved every minute of it.
Steve ripped open his jeans, humming in content that the jeans were the only things he had to yank off Bucky. And he did. Steve had his mouth on him a beat later, swallowing him down and working him with a passion that had Bucky hanging on, pulling at Steve's hair.
Steve groaned when he pulled particularly hard and the vibrations lit Bucky's body up, the orgasm sneaking up on him, making him cry out with the force of it. Steve swallowed everything before pressing wet, messy kisses over Bucky's thighs, taking his time about it.
Bucky was just struggling to breathe.
Steve whipped off his own shirt before flipping Bucky roughly onto his stomach and dragging him up the bed, dropping his weight over him as he continued to recover from his first release.
"You okay there, old man?" Steve's voice was low and enticing by his ear.
"Yeah," Bucky said with a laugh. "Winded."
"I'm disappointed, Buck," Steve's hand slid up into his hair before clutching there and pulling his head back with care. "I was hoping we could go a few rounds. If we stay at this long enough, our girl will wander back here, and we can play with her too."
Bucky panted, feeling his cock twitch beneath him in interest.
"Or maybe," Steve whispered. "Maybe she can just watch me fuck you. You know she loves that."
Bucky groaned as Steve pressed his hard, jean-covered length up against his ass.
"Or maybe she can help me pay you back," Steve went on, grinding on Bucky now. "I still haven't repaid you for our first night together, the three of us. You remember that?"
"Hell yeah, I remember that," Bucky replied. "That was a good night."
"Good, huh?" Steve continued to grind on him, teasing the shell of his ear with his tongue now. "You remember how you enjoyed making me watch you take our girl apart while I was chained to your bed? Leaving me hard and aching?"
"We took care of you, didn't we Stevie?" Bucky shot back at him.
"She did," Steve told him. "But I still owe you."
He got the first cuff on Bucky's metal wrist, using his weight to hold him down as he fastened the cuff to the headboard - had Steve installed a hook there and he didn't know it? – and caught his flesh hand to secure it too.
"What if Chris decides to try and rescue me?" Bucky teased him, trying to fight him a little because honestly, Steve loved when he did.
"She won't." Steve sounded so confident as he sat up, his weight resting lightly on Bucky's ass. "Besides, she should get a turn one day."
"A turn?" Bucky was getting more turned on by the minute.
"Tell me you wouldn't love tying her to the bed so we could drive her insane," Steve challenged him. "With our mouths…"
That was a mental image that had him fully hard again. He sucked in a breath when Steve's weight lifted, and he heard him digging in the bedside table.
It was going to be so good.
Steve was efficient as he applied lube to Bucky and his hand and began to work the first finger in. Bucky gasped as Steve rained hot, wet kisses to his back and his ass as he worked him open. By the time he had three fingers worked into him, Bucky was hard as a rock, grinding himself into the mattress beneath him.
All at once those fingers left and a sharp smack across his left cheek stung. "Up."
Steve made him dig his knees in so he could raise up, sticking his ass in the air.
"You look so good, baby," Steve said with a groan. He'd gotten rid of his jeans and Bucky caught him working that beautiful cock in his peripheral vision. And it was all his. "So good chained down and waiting for me to fuck you."
He felt Steve come up behind him, thighs pressing to the backs of his and the head of that huge cock pressing against his entrance. Bucky was just about to drool he wanted it so badly.
"You ready for me?" Steve's voice was almost gentle.
"Yes," Bucky got out. "God, yes. Please… give it to me."
And he did. Steve slid carefully into him, the stretch feeling so good. While he let Bucky adjust, he draped himself over him, nipping at his earlobe with his teeth as he grabbed Bucky by the hair in a tight grip.
"You feel so good," Steve whispered hotly. "So good wrapped around me."
Bucky released a low groan when Steve began thrusting, gently at first. Teasing. It felt so good, all of it. Bucky didn't care. It was his best guy and he felt amazing even though his own cock was painfully hard and leaking, swinging between his own thighs. There was nothing he could do about it right now.
"You're so good," Steve told him. "So fucking good for me."
He lifted off Bucky to grab him by the hips and began thrusting in earnest behind him, making Bucky cry out. He held on to the top of the mattress as much as he could with the designer cuffs, loving the slight edge of pain as Steve's thrusts grew harder.
"Too much?" Steve asked, his breathing strained.
"No," Bucky told him. "More…"
Steve growled, a deep sexy sound and his hips really began to thrust into him hard. It was good. So good and Bucky held on, loving every second of it.
Reaching up, Steve clutched his hair again, pulling his head back. "You don't come until I give you permission."
Oh, God, there it was. Steve had just busted out his Captain's voice and Bucky had to really fight not to go off like a rocket then and there.
"Do you understand?" A hard smack landed on his thigh, the sting eased away by the gentle caress that followed.
"Yes, I… understand," Bucky struggled to speak. Steve was fucking the hell out of him, greedy about it.
"Please," Bucky begged him, painfully hard now. "Please, let me…"
"Think I should let him come, Sweetheart?"
Bucky stiffened at the question. How long had their girl been watching? It was a real testament to Stevie's prowess that he hadn't picked up her presence at all.
"Hmmm, not yet," her soft voice came from behind both of them. "I want to help."
"Hear that?" Steve gave particularly hard thrust, hitting that spot within him that almost had him seeing stars.
"Yes," Bucky growled out, fighting to hold on now. He had Stevie being dominant and fucking him so good and Chris was watching, wanted to play? Could this get better?
"Can you flip him over?" Chris asked sweetly.
Bucky's world blurred, and his wrists burned as Steve literally flipped him onto his back. There was just enough give in the cuffs to keep from truly hurting him and Steve knew he would say something if it truly hurt.
Worse, Steve slowed his thrusts way down, keeping his movements damn near gentle and easy now as he watched Chris climb on the bed. She stopped next to Bucky and the look of pure mischief on her face had him intrigued. He was so hard it hurt but he had a feeling she had something good in mind so he held on.
She did. First, she slowly unbuttoned her pajama top, treating him to more of her creamy smooth flesh with each button she loosed. Finally, she pulled it open, she was bare beneath, and Chris smiled as his gaze went straight for her breasts. Playfully, she pulled the bottoms down, panties with them, and then tossed them off the side, one slim hand sliding down her body to tease her clit.
"Oh, doll, play with it," Bucky told her, pretty much drooling now. "Just like that."
Chris winked at him. "I need something more… Hmm…"
They both watched her rise to stand on the bed, stepping over Bucky's midsection and facing Steve. Placing her hands on his broad shoulders, she widened her stance putting that juicy center of hers within reach of Steve's face.
"Captain, could you help a girl out?" she asked sweetly.
Steve's chuckle was a genuinely dirty sound. Bucky was honestly impressed.
He was impressed with the way the punk could multi-task too. Keeping a hand on Bucky's hip as he continued to thrust into him slow and easy, he grabbed the back of their girl's thigh to anchor her. Steve leaned forward to tease her with his mouth and Chris had to have known the view of it Bucky would have. The sound of her breathy little cries combined with watching Steve's tongue and lower lip work that sweet flesh had him back on the edge, fighting off his release.
He wanted to taste her, to make her release those sounds.
With what looked like reluctance, their girl glanced back over her shoulder at him, her gray eyes smoldering, and pulled away from Steve. She sank back onto her knees on the bed, now facing Bucky, and straddled him, lining him up and sinking down on his cock slowly as Steve made room for her, never ceasing his movements.
With one hand on Bucky's hip and one on hers, Stevie smirked at him over Chris's shoulder. "Work him, Sweetheart," Steve whispered near her.
Planting her slender hands on his chest, her pussy like a heated vice around his cock now, she did just as her Captain ordered. Chris started riding him as hard as she could, it was the sweetest torture, and then Steve got back to thrusting in earnest.
Bucky was out of his head. He heard himself cry out as everything began to white out around him. His cock was buried in his girl's tight wet heat while Steve's huge cock was driving into his ass, hitting that spot inside of him with each thrust. He thought Chris was whispering encouragement to him. The last things he saw were Steve's fingers working her clit while he caught her chin in the other hand and captured her lips in a filthy kiss, all the while fucking Bucky hard…
Slowly Bucky came around. The gentle weight of Chris draped over him, her head lay on his chest and she was trying to catch her breath. Steve loomed over both of them with a shit-eating grin on his face.
"There he is," Steve's tone was teasing. "I really wasn't looking forward to having to call medical."
"Punk," Bucky managed, trying to breathe himself. Chris wasn't hurting his efforts, but she was still. "Did you kill our girl?"
Steve pressed a kiss to her temple. "Sweetheart?"
"M'okay," she mumbled.
Bucky and Steve exchanged a grin. When Chris got to that point, she was done for the night.
Steve climbed over them to release the cuffs from Bucky's wrists, his right wrist was a little sore but it was totally worth it. Steve caught his wrist before he could look at it himself.
"Sorry," he said, truly remorseful. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
Bucky's heart shifted in his chest. "S'nothing, Stevie. I love you."
Steve kissed him them, tasting like their girl and Steve and Bucky moaned at the fire in it. Every day he was so damned grateful to have his guy back. So grateful.
Bucky rolled Chris to his side, she had dozed off, and was able to sit up. He knew he didn't misread the usual jealousy he got from Steve. Whenever they'd worn their girl out and needed to get ready for bed, it usually went the same way. Bucky took off with Chris, bathing her and getting her into something to sleep like the doll baby he called her while Steve changed out the bed. Bucky didn't realize for a while that Steve was jealous of that.
Bucky had always felt that Steve was his to take care of from his asthma attacks back in the day to the battlefield now. He was a caretaker for the people he loved. It was what he did.
Now that Chris was pregnant, Steve wanted to be there for her too. It had been so obvious the morning he'd made her that ridiculously huge breakfast that she'd loved. The huge dopey grin he wore for an hour after that got Bucky to thinking.
"Why don't you run our girl a bath, Stevie," Bucky scooped her up and loaded her into Steve's waiting arms. "I'll get everything changed out in here."
Steve nodded, and Bucky caught just a flash of the little eager guy his Stevie used to be. His heart clenched in his chest, watching how carefully Steve moved them off the bed and headed for the bathroom.
Once he had the bedding changed, Bucky headed for the bathroom, peaking in to see their girl in the tub with Steve, her back to his front and chatting happily with a shit ton of bubbles everywhere. He couldn't help but laugh at the happy scene.
"Rude to linger outside, jerk," Steve's tone was easy.
Bucky had pulled on his sweats and he stopped in the doorway, just loving the sight of them.
Chris told them all about her phone call with her aunt, so happy for the opportunity to do so. She couldn't tell her aunt where she was or who she was with, and that was okay. Her aunt was safe and had a much better job and apartment. And Chris got to touch base with her.
By the time they all piled into bed, Steve channel surfing, Chris snuggled up to his side, laying her head on his good shoulder. She was asleep in seconds.
Once he found some documentary on the Korean War, Steve grinned at them, sliding an arm across Bucky's pillow and snuggling to up Chris on the other side.
Bucky fell asleep with Steve's fingers in his hair, just like he used to before the war and he was so happy to have that memory back too.
@what-is-your-plan-today @jennmurawski13 @badassbaker @caffiend-queen @disneylovingal @jeremyrennerfanxxxx123
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the love definition - Chapter 5
We’re almost at the end guys!! I can’t believe it!
@hearteyesforbuck looked over this chapter me, so thank you very much <3
Christopher is 24 in this chapter :D This is also the chapter that has a POV that’s not Christopher’s so...xD
Also, there are 2-3 swear words, be wary of that!
[Chapter 5 AO3 Link]
Word Count: 5106 words
Entire chapter below the cut:
Work was grueling.
Between the job at the firm, and the hours he and his team put in overtime for their project, Christopher was exhausted more often than not by the time he got home. Which, these days, was never before eight o’clock.
They’d been working on a project to open a community center for at-risk kids with disabilities, because in all of LA, they hadn’t been able to find a single center that was completely accessible for children using assistive devices or children with invisible disabilities.
The center had been Denny, Anabiya and Christopher’s idea, one random night in college. They wanted to build a place for kids with disabilities to get access to resources they needed to transition into adulthood.
The goal was for people to use the center to help themselves with whatever they needed to live the same lives able-bodied people lived - things like tutoring, financial support, job readiness, preparing for interviews, navigating travels alone, exercising or anything like that. The point was to encourage them to not think of the label ‘disabled’ as something wrong, the way Christopher had about his CP or Anabiya had about her dyslexia.
He’d spent months learning that he didn’t have to keep referring to himself as “someone with a disability.” He didn’t need to dumb it down for anyone; being disabled was part of his identity, but it didn’t stop him from living his best life. They were all hoping that kids would grow up proud of themselves, too, would come to realize that doing things differently wasn't a bad thing.
Not that they were going to close off to adults; they wanted to make it accessible for adults further down the line, but children were their top priority right now. That also included helping parents of disabled kids get the proper care they need, something Carla was helping them out with a lot.
Denny and Anabiya, both part of the business world, were working on the financial funding aspect, because they wanted to make the entire organization non-profit. That would leave them with only donations and investments to gather money from, and possibly from philanthropists or corporates.
Christopher and a few other people were working on locking down possible locations for the center, planning out all the activities and a few other formalities before they started going around asking for community support.
Perhaps he could ask his dads if they could possibly spread the word around first responders, for people who’d like to volunteer, or at least sign a petition about. Chimney probably could help them.
That thought in mind, Christopher carefully climbed the steps to the front door, letting himself in. His parents were home from work by now, evident from their cars in the driveway.
He was just about to yell out about his presence when he heard muffled arguing from their room. Christopher’s eyebrows shot all the way up as a sliver of dread settled in his chest.
Dad and Papa very rarely argued, if at all.
He padded quietly into the house, slipping off his shoes carefully and leaning his crutches against the front wall. His parents’ door was closed but Chris could hear their words crystal clear even from where he stood at the couch.
“Eddie, come on. Talk to me, babe.”
“What do you want me to say?” Dad sounded curt.
“Just...talk to me.”
“I can’t even think straight right now.”
There was a pause before Buck spoke, words more heated than before. “You can’t be mad at me for doing my job!”
“What do you mean I can’t? You’re my husband, the father of our kid who’s about to get married. I can’t lose you, Evan.” Dad’s voice cracked around the words. The use of Papa’s first name told Chris that whatever had happened was very serious indeed. “We’ve been doing this for years, working side-by-side like always and I don’t understand how you can still be so reckless? I don’t understand how I don’t see it coming every time. How can you still not give a shit that you have a family to get back to?”
Christopher winced as he heard it. Dad hadn’t yelled but the words were said in a fit of rage anyway, and even where he was standing, he could feel his papa’s stricken expression.
There was a beat of silence, filled with Papa’s hurt. Chris felt guilty for eavesdropping on his parents but couldn’t bring himself to move.
Dad’s regret practically seeped through the supernaturally-still house. “Buck, I-”
“We promised we weren't going to do this, Eddie,” he said quietly. “We both knew how the job was going to be, we both knew that it was going to be a struggle to watch each other throw ourselves into dangerous situations. The only reason we’ve been firefighters for the past seventeen or eighteen years is because we’re good at it, damn it!”
“Just because we’re good at it doesn’t mean we’re invincible!”
Buck heaved out a breath, his words getting angrier by the second. “I never said we were, and you know damn well that there isn’t a chance in hell I would put our family at risk. I knew what I was doing, and sometimes, I can’t believe you don’t trust that, even after all these years. I wasn’t trying to be reckless, but I couldn’t leave that man there, dead or not. And you, of all people, should know that.”
Christopher could feel Dad’s hurt as clear as day, too, but he thought back to what Buck had said - an ode to Dad’s army days.
Chris had only gotten the full story out of him a few years ago, the topic having buried itself after fourth grade show-and-tell. He’d learned that Dad had pulled his squad out from a helicopter, hours after a crash landing, including a man that Dad knew was as good as dead.
His first hero had always been his dad, but hearing of his courage had only cemented it; Christopher’s chest had puffed out with pride. There was a dignity that came with doing something risky like that, an honor and a privilege granted to someone that probably won’t have even known. But Christopher remembered thinking that Greggs’ family had to have been grateful to Dad, for bringing their loved one back to him.
“It wasn’t the Silver Star that was the real reward. It was seeing his wife and children grateful that they’d have someone to bury. To give respect to their husband and father’s soul. These bullet wounds are reminders of it; these are the real rewards. The medal, the whole ‘decorated war-hero’ thing...all of that will always be secondary to the gratitude of Gregg’s family.”
It seemed that Buck had just done the same thing.
It wasn’t that Christopher had never seen Dad and Papa argue before. There’d been a fair share of fights but they’d never really lasted long. Hell, he couldn’t remember the last time an argument lasted more than a day or two.
But most of the time Chris had seen them argue had been over trivial things, filled with more laughter and less ire. Maybe forgetting to write something on the grocery list, or not sorting the recycling properly, or putting empty containers back into the fridge.
It was never something like this.
"I don't want a fucking medal with your name on it! I want you in our space in one piece, not pulling someone who's dead out of a burning building. Why does that mean more than our family?" Dad’s voice was just as heated, but somehow still breaking.
“I’m not gonna hash this out with you right now. Not when you won’t even look at me, not when you want to throw those words in my face, and definitely not when you’re going to question my commitment to this family.”
When Buck left the room, he didn’t even notice Christopher standing there, which was a solid testament for how bad the argument really was.
He peeked into the room to see Dad sitting on the bed, head in his hands. The faint sound of sniffles echoed through the too-quiet house, tugging at Christopher’s heart. He wanted to go and see if he could help comfort them, but this was probably something he couldn’t fix no matter what. It would have to be Papa and Dad.
Deciding to give both of them a moment to cool down, Chris headed to his room to get changed into comfier clothes. He spared a moment to look at his engagement ring as he tugged on pajamas.
He’d popped the question two months ago, right before Anabiya’s birthday party. She’d finished her internship by then, and had moved right back to LA, and Christopher was ready to just marry her.
They weren’t in any way ready for that with new jobs and especially with the work on the community center project, so Christopher had settled for simply proposing. They’d talked over it and decided that a longer engagement would work out in their favour.
Tonight had been one of those evenings that Anabiya and Christopher were almost grateful that they hadn’t decided to add a huge wedding to their plate. For now, they were simply happy with being engaged.
Anabiya’s culture, though, had definitely meant a formal engagement party that took place a few days later. The picture on his desk only served to remind him of it; Anabiya and Christopher were seated in a center sofa, her clad in traditional South Asian attire and him in a button-down shirt and slacks. Dad and Papa had taken the seats next to him and Biya’s parents were sitting next to her.
He remembered the moment his best friend slid the ring on his finger, a tradition he wasn’t familiar with but wasn’t complaining at all about. He liked the feel of it on his hand, a tangible reminder of him deserving the same things as able-bodied people whenever his insecurities got the better of him.
All of them looked so happy, and Christopher truly couldn’t remember a time where he was so content. But at the same time, walking into his parents’ argument had an uneasy feeling shifting through him.
Just as quick as the thought came, he dismissed it. His parents had one of the strongest relationships he had ever seen. One argument wasn’t going to make or break them, and Chris wouldn’t let it happen to him and his fiancée either.
Satisfied with being comfortable, he decided to get himself something to eat. Before he reached the kitchen, he noticed Papa’s figure sitting outside on the back porch. He shouldn’t have been noticeable for how tucked in the back door was, and for a moment, Christopher wondered if he should even disturb whatever Papa was thinking about.
Concern winning out, he stepped through the open door silently.
He was sitting with a steaming mug of tea, staring up at the sky. His eyes were dimmer than normal, shaded in red, and Christopher could see faint tear tracks on his face. Papa smiled at him anyway, patting the porch next to him.
“Hey, kiddo. How was your meeting?”
Christopher lowered himself next to his father, wincing a little as his exhausted muscles stretched. The meeting had run all of them ragged, but it was worth it. “Good, we got a lot of things sorted out. We want to check out locations in the next two weeks, so we shortlisted a few options, set up viewings. Denny managed to score a funding meeting with a tech company, so he and Anabiya are going to pitch the idea forward with them next week.”
“Are you still looking for fundraising?” Papa asked, tapping an absent finger on the side of his mug as he swiped at his face.
Christopher nodded. “Yeah. We just haven’t worked out those details yet, because to hold that fundraiser, we need to advertise our project first. We were going to see if Chimney would let us hold something at the firehouse.”
Papa hummed in agreement to the plan of action. Chimney was the captain of the 118 now, taking the mantle after Bobby retired. He’d confided in Christopher that he was thinking of making Buck the captain after he retired, unbeknownst to the whole team.
It was wild to see how much their family had changed over the past fifteen years, all of them still as close as always. At 24 now, Christopher almost couldn’t believe how his and Dad’s little adventure had ended up with more family than they’d come from.
“We’re proud of you guys, though. The whole team but especially you, Denny and Anabiya.” The ‘our kids’ went unspoken, making him smile. “The project is great, and I know it’ll mean a lot to a lot of people.”
Christopher leaned into his father’s side as they watched the night sky. The collective use of “we” didn’t go unnoticed by him either, and he pondered upon it as the two fell into a companionable silence.
Out of the corner of his eye, he observed Papa. His face seemed older with the creases on his forehead, no sign of his quick laughter. He still stood tall and straight, shoulders still hunched when he was trying to hide away from something, completely familiar to Christopher after the past seventeen years despite how much all three of them had changed.
Papa’s hair was graying slightly at the temples, almost unnoticeable because of his pale skin. It was a running joke that he looked more and more like Bobby as he got older. Dad, on the other hand, had silver weaved into his dark hair that pretty much stood out. It wasn’t as bad as other men his age, even if his stubble was dotted with white patches by now.
The first time Christopher saw a gray strand on his head, he’d nearly seized up with an irrational panic, not liking the idea of his dad growing old. The only thought that made it merely placable was that his dad wasn’t growing old alone, and that made seeing gray hairs on Buck’s head bearable, too.
It was that thought that gave him the push to ask his papa a burning question.
“Do you ever regret it?”
“Regret what?” Papa turned to him, raising an eyebrow.
“I don’t know...this? Marriage? Or rather…marrying someone in the same field as you?”
Papa blinked at him a couple of times, before giving him a familiar narrowed look. “I’m going to assume this has everything to do with Anabiya and absolutely nothing to do with your eavesdropping on our fight.”
“You got me there. I’m sorry for eavesdropping, though,” Christopher laughed, slightly embarrassed at having been caught. “This isn’t about Anabiya, I just don’t think I worded my question right. I meant...do you regret marrying someone whose job is just as dangerous as yours?”
They sat in silence for a while before Buck spoke. “I could never regret marrying your dad, ever. He is literally my better half, inspires me to be the best version of myself every single day. You both do. The job is really just a coincidence, something that brought us closer.
“We’ve worked together as a team from the very first day, and while some couples probably feel the pressure of watching someone they love willingly fall into danger, Eddie and I feel better having each other’s backs. I feel uneasy when he’s not there with me, because a part of me is always screaming at me to look over my shoulder. I practically hear him in my head,” Buck laughed lightly, setting the mug down to lean back on his palms.
Trust...another thing to add to The Love Definition.
Now in a steady relationship of his own, Christopher knew that trust and communication were practically foundations of a healthy relationship. Without them, everything crumbled. He could hear Papa’s love for his husband clear in his voice, tangible in his approach.
Papa sighed. “Yeah, we do have these arguments sometimes but today, he was partially right. I took a huge risk on that call. There was a five-second window for me to grab that patient, and we all knew he was dead, but I couldn’t leave him there. The floor cracked under me but thankfully didn’t break. Those few seconds were enough to scare him.
“When we started dating, we knew this was going to be a bone of contention between us. It’s hard watching the love of your life run into burning buildings or go through underground tunnels that could collapse any second, even if you’re the one at his back. And we’re usually good about not letting it interfere with our home life, even if it gets to be a little too much on days like this.”
Christopher thought over this. “Then how do you deal with it? Knowing your life partner could…”
“Trust,” Buck said simply, thankfully not making him say the words. “I trust your dad to do his job and fight to come home to me, to our family. And he does the same. Because at the end of the day, if something happens, it’s the people left behind that will hurt the most. Sometimes that pressure crushes us, and we lash out like this.”
Him and Biya would never really experience that. Papa and Dad put their lives on the line every day, and while they were important parts of Christopher’s life too, losing one wouldn’t bode well for the other.
“But I will also say this...sometimes, arguments are necessary to show you the things you need to work on. My recklessness, even if it stems from good intentions, has always been something I’ve tried to reign in. The need to help...sometimes, I’m still that same twenty-six year old who just...doesn’t think. Now, instead of driving Bobby up the wall, I’m driving both Eddie and Chim. Today was one of those days.”
“Why’d you go back for him though?”
Christopher thought Papa wouldn’t answer when he looked away, past the fence at where overdue holiday decorations still hung, but he was surprised. “I thought I saw him move, even though I knew it was a long-shot from the amount of blood he’d lost. It would’ve been on my conscience forever if I hadn’t gone back, if there was even a half-percent possibility for him to make it through.”
“But Dad’s not blameless, is he?”
“It’s not about the blame game. A lot of people get caught up in it, but that's not Eddie and I. We both said hurtful things, and we need a bit to cool down, is all,” Papa shrugged, sipping his tea. “That’s important to remember; it’s about going through the rougher times together. Especially because your significant other sees a side of you that you don’t show others. Yeah, there are always going to be some things we can’t change, like the job, and sometimes, we can’t help but regret those things. But ultimately, it’s about what’s worth it - fighting for what’s important to you. When you and Anabiya fight, you handle things together, right?”
They hadn’t really had any huge arguments like that yet, outside of that very first one. That day, Dad had given him the exact same advice - them two against the argument.
The ones they did have were usually for the strain long distance had put on them, but they were never very big arguments. Christopher shrugged non-committedly, letting Papa’s voice roll over him, silently slipping each piece of advice into his mental notebook.
“Eddie and I just have our own way of getting through things. But there hasn’t been a single moment in the past fifteen years that I’ve regretted anything with him. Like I said, he’s my other half - the better part of me.”
Buck thought about the advice he gave Christopher long after his son went back inside.
He hadn’t lied at all. In fact, he was actually pretty proud of the teachings he’d given his kid, who was now on the brink of forming his own bond with someone.
Still, he’d hidden just how much Eddie’s words had hurt.
They echoed in his mind as he sat in the chilled night air, goosebumps dotting his skin even with the warmth of the ceramic mug seeping through numb fingers. The cold wind took the edge off his anger and let him think more clearly.
There had been a lot of ugly words that had flared up inside him, thankfully only a few slipping past his tongue. Words about how hypocritical Eddie was being, because his legacy had also nearly ended with a medal, too. Shannon and Christopher could’ve easily gotten a box with his name on it for going back for a dead soldier, instead of their husband and father.
That would’ve crossed more lines that Buck would ever be willing to cross. Those words would’ve shattered his husband, and he was glad he hadn’t said them - even as they’d hung unspoken between them while they fought.
It wasn’t just the argument that laid heavy on him. It was also the loss of that life, the person who would’ve bled out in his hands if he hadn’t already been dead.
Even after nearly twenty years with the LAFD, Buck never really managed to get past the people they lost; he remembered every single one of them. It wasn’t often that they lost someone, thankfully, but it happened from time to time.
Those days weighed heavier, until he thought he’d never get up again. Those were the days Eddie would gently take him home, let him fall apart and then carefully put the pieces back together.
Buck had no doubt in his mind that Eddie would’ve done the same today, but he had come very close to plummeting five stories. And Eddie was forced to watch, because Buck hadn’t given anyone a heads-up before lunging for the patient.
Days like this, he remembered his own helplessness the day Eddie cut his line to get Hayden out of the pipe. He remembered taking Eddie back home, pressing kisses onto his skin until there was no doubt that he had people to fight to come back for. He remembered waking up in a flurry of tears and harsh breathing, blindly reaching for his partner’s pulse. He remembered Eddie whispering “I’m here, I’m here, I’m here” over and over as they curled tightly together, the words meant to comfort both of them.
His husband still struggled with things spiraling out of his control, and Buck understood that. He’d scared him, backed him into a corner, and his anger only stemmed because of how much he loved him.
That didn’t justify his actions though. Eddie had let his fear overshadow his trust in Buck, had let his anger get the better of him again. He’d lashed out again, but so had Buck.
They’d done so much better about their respective flaws in the years they’d been together, but sometimes, it got too overwhelming.
A blanket draped over his shoulders, immediately alerting Buck to his husband’s presence. Another one of Eddie’s little ways to show love - he knew how cold Buck got. Still feeling petty and a little crestfallen, he tugged the ends of the blanket to him tightly, ignoring Eddie sitting down next to him. The three inches separating them felt like miles.
“I’m sorry,” Eddie whispered. “I shouldn’t have said those words, shouldn’t have gotten so mad.”
Buck hummed but didn’t give him an inch, letting him speak.
“Buck, will you look at me?” he urged. Buck shook his head, turning his head to the opposite side to look at the few tendrils of steam rising from the mug, blocking his face from Eddie’s view as he rolled his bottom lip into his mouth to keep from crying. He could already feel his eyes become watery, and it just made him feel pathetic.
Not because Eddie would judge him for crying, but because he’d wanted to hold onto his anger for a little while longer.
There was a loaded beat of silence, then his husband continued. “Okay, but can I have the chance to explain?”
“Yeah,” Buck croaked, clearing his throat and tightening his grip on the blanket.
“When I heard the floor give under you, and this entire thing sounds kind of stupid given that it was you that was in danger, but I swear to you that my life flashed before me. Because God forbid, if that floor had cracked, you would’ve gone straight down. And there wouldn’t have been anything I could’ve done.
“I know I let my anger get the better of me, because it was a rough call and we didn’t need to argue tonight, but I’m sorry, Buck. Even if you were reckless, I know you’d have done anything you could. I know you’d do anything to come back to me,” Eddie pleaded.
Finally, Buck turned to look at him, his heart squeezing at the sight of his husband’s haggard expression. He could tell that Eddie had already cried, but even now, tears glimmered in his eyes, too.
The stress of the day finally got to them both, and Buck let go of his anger with a sigh, just as Eddie had when he came out here.
“I’m sorry, too. I know I should’ve been careful about it. I thought I saw him move, and that’s all I registered before I lunged for him. I just kept thinking, what if he was alive, and we’d left him to die?”
“I figured it had to be something like that. I will always trust you to do your job, sweetheart, and I did a horrible job of showing that tonight. I’m sorry,” Eddie reached forward tentatively, cupping his face to swipe a thumb under his eye. “I love you, and I don’t want you to think I don’t trust you, or don’t trust your commitment to this family.”
“I was just mad,” Buck whispered. “I didn’t mean it.”
“I know. I didn’t mean anything I said either,” Eddie smiled faintly before retreating, taking his warmth with him. Buck almost followed his hand before he realized he was the one wrapped in a blanket.
But before that, he had to ask Eddie something that pushed at both of them as they got older. They may be fit and healthy for their respective ages, but it was still a vivid possibility in such a physically-demanding job. “Eddie...what if…”
He’d been about to ask what if one of them did come home in a box one day, but couldn’t make his mouth form the words. The thought of losing Eddie was far too painful to even fathom, even though it flashed through his mind every single time they went on call. His heart hammered at the mere possibility, throat closing up.
“Not today,” Eddie closed his eyes, shaking his head as if in pain. He opened them to look at Buck with anguished eyes. “I came way too close to living that possibility today, don’t make me do it again, please.”
He wanted to kiss him so badly, wanted to reassure him that he wasn’t going anywhere if he could help it.
Silently, he held an arm out, opening the blanket up for Eddie. A small grin took hold of his expression in place of the pained one as he scooted closer, curling into Buck’s chest. His ear was positioned right over Buck’s heart, mirroring all those days Buck needed to make sure Eddie’s heart was still pounding steadily.
He knew his husband was still shaken, and tried to put all his love into holding him close, as much as they could from this position. In turn, the tension from the day eased out of his own shoulders.
“Did you think we’d end up here?” Buck asked into Eddie’s hair. It was a common question over the course of their marriage, and he could feel his husband shaking with laughter at being asked again.
“I think I was too scared to let myself believe I could have something so good. I mean...look at us - nearly fifteen years under our belt. Our kid is thriving with his job, he’s working on the community center to help other people like him, and he’s grown up to be so independent. And he’s about to marry a great girl who loves him just as much as I love you,” Eddie listed, leaning up to kiss him sweetly. Buck held him close, not letting him pull away.
It was a slow kiss, pressing their adoration of one another into each other’s skin.
“I love you,” Buck murmured against his lips, feeling them curve up.
Somehow, even after fifteen years of togetherness, every kiss felt just like the first one, familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. Familiar for the press of Eddie’s lips against his own, and unfamiliar because each kiss still felt new. He still got that thrill at the base of his spine just at Eddie’s proximity, though God knew that neither of them were young, hopping men anymore.
The excitement that had initially hit him when he saw Eddie’s ring on his finger or his ring on Eddie’s didn’t really go away over the years - and Buck hoped to hell that it never did. It was still so novel to him that this brilliant man with the amazing son pulled him so deeply into their fold, that he got to call them his.
“I’m too young to get nostalgic about you,” Buck told his husband, who only laughed, shifting so he was nestled between Buck’s legs. Eddie was two years out from turning fifty, but Buck was still forty-three. In his mind, that made all the difference.
“Maybe,” he allowed, “but you love me anyway.”
Buck only adjusted his grip wordlessly so both of them were fully wrapped in their blanket, his front against Eddie’s back. This way, he could bracket Eddie with his whole body, could bask in holding his world in his arms.
It had been a rough day, but they’d gotten past it. In a few minutes, they’d go back in to check on their son before curling into bed together. Tomorrow, they’d spend their day off mapping their love into each other’s skin. And on their next shift together, they’d fall right back into their normal sync.
For now, Buck was more than happy to hold his partner close, both of them blissfully unaware of Christopher watching them with a smile from the window.
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first light of dawn
Yvon has read more words than many have spoken in their lifetime. In several languages, too. He carries a book in his belongings even when they take up too much room, John Milton immortalised by sheets of paper. The works of poets and scholars can live on without a single utterance, their words and stories carried onward by black ink.
Even so, when he reads, he reads out loud, so that he can taste the weight of them on his tongue, and hear them ride on the backs of breezes so that it carries forth, as if Paradise Lost is a pebble dropped in a still lake, and it ripples forward until it reaches the ocean. After all, the hemlock trees and the riverbank pebbles have no eyes to read; he does not tell anyone this, but he reads poetry from his little black book so that the forests can listen along, until they all can recite the stanzas nearly from memory.
Hamish finds this politely exasperating.
“Does it have to be Milton?” he says.
Yvon does not look up from his book.
“Have you got anything better?” he says.
“I prefer Bradstreet,” says Hamish. “She isn’t quite as long-winded.”
Yvon turns a page, but he permits himself a smile.
“That sounds like a personal problem,” he says.
His companion scowls, but saves the rest of his protesting for later. Yvon defends Milton not out of favour. Milton is a master of the English language, naturally, and he retells ancient stories with fresh blood--a practise that Yvon finds familiar, even if the story itself is not. Milton puts into lilting verse the dark beasts in each man, and Yvon finds comfort in their company.
But no matter how many stanzas of the fall of Lucifer that Yvon can memorise, Milton is a lease more than a gift--the English have given Milton to him in exchange for gratitude and devotion. They think that the fact that he can read and write English is a testament to the victory of their presence in this land. Never mind that Yvon can speak about three different languages from his mother’s side, and has learned English and French on his own before attending Harvard. Sometimes, as he quotes, “Neither man nor angel can discern hypocrisy, the only evil that walks invisible except to God alone”--he hears the English pat themselves on the back, and the thoughtful words taste bitter.
No, Yvon defends Milton simply because it irritates Hamish, and he finds that amusing.
“Tell a story that I haven’t heard before instead,” says Hamish.
The request makes Yvon laugh. Hamish has likely seen fewer winters than some of the bears wading in the river. There are thousands of stories he has not yet heard. Yvon closes his book, as he does not need it.
“Then let me tell you about Wenebojo,” he says, and Hamish listens.
When Yvon first met Hamish Goames, he expected to underestimate him. Hamish was young, barely past twenty-seven years of age, and he had that perpetual sullenness about him that only emphasised his youth. Yvon heard in passing that Hamish’s brother-in-law also worked for the Hudson Bay Company, which gave Yvon an amusing impression of a little boy tagging along with his older brother’s gang.
“Hamish Goames,” he had said with the sort of tone one would reserve for a funeral. “At your service.”
He had pale grey eyes, like the sky after a heavy storm had already passed, and his lips were constantly fixed in a worried line. He looked not the type that would last here. He seemed like someone who cared too much, and the Company wanted little to do with those sort.
“Yvon Fitzpatrick,” Yvon said. “At the Company’s, or whoever is putting the coin in my purse.”
There was a hint of cautious curiosity in Hamish’s eyes as he tried to affix the French name to Yvon’s face. Yvon smiled in spite of himself.
“It is not my only name,” he said, “if that is what you were wondering.”
Hamish had the right mind to look humbled.
“What other names are yours, then?” he said.
“I have given you one already,” Yvon said. “Don’t be too greedy.”
Their colleagues of the Company laughed at Hamish. Don’t mind Yvon, they said. You won’t find it easy to understand him. He speaks in riddles.
But Hamish shook his head. No, he said. Yvon had spoken very plainly. You just don’t like to understand when you’ve been refused.
Hamish was earnest, and honest men do not survive Turtle Island when they live among the English and the French. Yvon knew not to get too attached, but he already knew he would be sad to see Hamish go.
Some of the Company do not hide their distaste of the Iroquois. Savages, heathens, uncivilised--white men come up with many dramatic synonyms just to declare someone different.
“Skin crawls at the sight of them,” one Company man says, with a shudder. “Always feel their eyes on the back of my head when I go out. Can’t even take a piss without feeling watched.”
“I wouldn’t flatter yourself like that,” Yvon says. “There isn’t much to see.”
Only Hamish hears him. Yvon knows this because he sees Hamish choke on his drink.
“Their lot wear nothing but skins,” says another. “And usually, just their own. Bloody mad.”
Yvon resists to comment, because that is obviously bullshit. Especially in the dead of winter. The company he keeps do not resist to pitch in their two cents, because men will hallucinate rumours when they apparently have nothing better to do.
“Oi, Richards,” says another. His eyes dart sheepishly towards Yvon with a semblance of discomfort.
“Who, Fitzpatrick?” says the one named Richards. “He’s different, isn’t he? Wearing britches and a proper hat, like a proper Christian man.”
The man nibbles on their supper, satisfied with the answer. Yvon finds himself surprisingly disappointed.
“And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed,” Yvon recites.
The men’s heads turn to Yvon, as if only just now comprehending that he can hear them. Yvon regards their attention with a slight smile.
“In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him,” recites Yvon. “Buck naked, too.”
Now all conversation has been silenced. Yvon is unbothered. Normally, he would carefully consider preserving the peace of the community, but that is apparently Anishinaabe priorities--which, according to the English, is not applicable to them. So Yvon does not give a shit.
“It’s been a while since I studied all of your books,” he said. “But I think I remember correctly that it wasn’t until the devil got a hold of man did man start wearing underwear.” He shrugs and takes a bite of an apple. “But what do I know?”
“You are a sensible man, Fitzpatrick,” says Richards. “Now that you’ve come to live in our world, would you ever truly want to go back into the dark?”
Yvon crunches through his apple methodically.
“Does that mean that you think you turn into the devil’s spawn every time you strip to take a bath?” he says. He rubs his nose for good measure. “That would explain much.”
Someone snorts with amusement. Everyone’s head turns to see who it was, but whoever it is covers themselves quickly. Yvon has a sneaking suspicion he knows who it is, because when he excuses himself to walk along the creek, Hamish leaves the group and follows him.
Hamish is naturally inquisitive. Behind the glower and the monotone is a young man in a new world who wants to know everything about the rivers, the mist in the mountains, the incense of a burning hemlock. It turns out that Yvon is the only one who has the patience to temper that curiosity.
“How can you tell it is a hemlock?” he asks, and Yvon shows him the hair-thin white stripes on the back of its pines, and the tough mushrooms that sprout from the jagged bark.
“What are your stars’ stories?” he asks, and Yvon tells him of Biboonkeonini, and the coming frost ahead. When the mornings grow colder, and Hamish has to blow into his hands to feel his fingertips, Yvon hears him mutter complaints of the Wintermaker. It makes Yvon snort.
“Do you have a family?” he asks, and Yvon says, That’s enough questions for today. He spoons an extra heap of beans into Hamish’s bowl, and it shuts him up, for now.
Yvon still dreams of his mother. She looks the way he last saw her, before he left for Harvard. She is cooking soup of wild rice for him, even though he is grown and can look after himself. I do not know when will be the next time I can share a meal with you, she says.
He is no longer dressed in coats and stiff boots. He sits cross-legged beside her; there is no book of Englishmen’s words in his bag, no musket around his shoulder. He speaks in his mother’s language, and in his dreams he never stumbles over his words.
In his dreams, she is just about the same age as he is now. She had departed at least twenty-five years ago. The fires have died down, the tobacco reduced to ash, the grief internalised. And yet his mother returns, and brushes the hair behind his ears as if he is small again.
I’ve gone too far, haven’t I? he asks her.
She smiles. She calls him by the name the elders gave him. It is only in dreams now when anyone calls him such. He holds his breath for the morning when he will wake up and forget what it is.
How far can you possibly go, she says, before you can never come westward? My son, you can never go far enough that you cannot come to me one day. Follow the setting sun, and you will.
Before her hand can touch his head, he wakes up, twenty years older, in white men’s clothes with a white man’s name.
Yvon is reminded of his mother by the snowfall, when he presses a handful of the freshly fallen winter against his cheek. Hamish remembers his mother through his sister.
He carries the miniature of his sister’s face wherever he goes. Yvon initially assumed her to be his wife, and when he made a passing comment with that belief, Hamish narrowed his eyes and protectively shifted the miniature away. Alice is my sister, he said mulishly. Although any man would be lucky to have her. Which makes Randall an idiot.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” Hamish would say when he showed Yvon the miniature. And Yvon would agree to be polite.
From what Yvon gathers, Hamish’s mother had passed not long after he was born. Alice was his close companion as together they navigated a childhood coloured by London fires, tumultuous revolutions, and an imposing father. Yvon risks to ask, and Hamish pretends he does not hear. Yvon does not push. Neither of them want to speak of their fathers.
“It’s strange to think,” Hamish says once, in a rare moment of honesty, “that with an ocean between us, she and I do not share the same sunrise or sunset.”
The simple longing makes him seem childlike, which Yvon does not tell him this because Hamish becomes defensive easily.
“Well,” Yvon says. “It’s still the same sun, isn’t it? Or do you English believe we don’t even share that?”
Hamish smiles wryly. He does not protest.
“Waaseyaa,” his mother calls him, in his dreams.
He wakes at the first light of dawn, and so he remembers.
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Lemon and Lime
Who: Jason Todd and Roy Harper ( @ibroughtanarsenal )
When: After Roy’s relapse/detox
What: Dealing with the aftermath of Dick’s injury and Roy’s relapse, Jason has a rare sentimental moment.
After Roy’s text about Josh, Jason had just operated on faith that Bruce would contact him and make it happen. He felt like an idiot for not remembering the guy himself. Dick had talked about him and he’d already helped Damian. He hadn’t been thinking straight, though. Not even close. Between everything that had been happening with Roy and then arriving in that alley to the scene that had been waiting for him, he’d done well to keep talking to Dick while they waited and then to string together explaining what little he’d seen happen to Bruce and the others. They’d never had such a ready, thorough solution on hand. He wasn’t used to someone like Josh being an option, but he damn sure wasn’t going to forget the gold kid again. If Dick had died because he hadn’t fucking remembered...But he hadn’t. He hadn’t and Jason had been struggling to accept that and try to just move past it.
When he got the text that he was okay, from Dick himself and not some third party, a tiny fraction of the guilt eased. Not much. It felt like so much of what had been going wrong the last few months was on him, was because of something he’d screwed up or forgotten or just bucked against only to fuck it up worse. It was getting too heavy to shrug off completely. It didn’t help that he had no outlet (also his fault), that there was nothing for him to do but go between Roy’s place and the safehouse. He had nowhere to lay anything down, no one to give it to. Not that he would have anyway.
Still, he wasn’t going to make it worse by making all that obvious. He had a bag packed with a couple of nights’ worth of clothes when he got back to Roy’s. He’d already showered and shaved and made himself look more human in some bid for normalcy. “Dick’s alright,” he told him as he dropped the bag by the door. “Thanks for that. I don’t know how fucking long it would have taken us to remember that guy.”
The last couple months had been... a lot. Roy understood why it might be a good idea to extend the time he was taking off work, but for him it wasn't the best option. He needed something to distract him and work was a good distraction. Without it, he was just left alone with his thoughts. It was enough that his mind kept him awake at night. He didn't need to get lost in his head right now. Jason being involved gave him that thing to focus on, even if he tried not to make that too obvious, and it gave him a different purpose. Dick was one of his best friends, but he was Jason's brother. Even if he didn't show it, Roy knew better than to think this was rolling right off his back.
He remembered Josh randomly, when he'd been changing his shirt and saw the leathery scar the bullet had made in his shoulder. Everyone had their powers back. If Josh did half of what Dick said he could, there was no reason why he couldn't do something for Dick. That was the thought he had when he texted Jason. Roy had no idea if Josh had limitations or what, but he figured it didn't hurt to find out. Dick had woken up from the coma coherent enough, Roy even had plans to go see him later, but that didn't mean he hadn't been damaged in ways they couldn't detect yet.
"So he showed up? I was about to head over to the hospital." He wasn't sure how things were going to go down, or if Josh would have been able to do anything, but he was relieved it hadn't amounted to nothing. "Good. I wasn't sure if he could heal something that serious. I don't know much about him, but he tried to help me in the park. You know, before everyone lost their powers."
Dick had sent him a picture in front of the Play Place at McDonald's, which was a stark contrast to the last way he'd seen him. It was testament enough that he'd be alright. "I guess he can. Dick said he was feeling a little out of it, but he left the hospital." That wouldn't have been an option for weeks (Jason didn't even know how long, really) otherwise. When Jason had visited him after he'd woken up, Dick's memory had seemed fine, but he hadn't done a lot to test the theory. Moreover, none of them had a clue what his balance and coordination would really be like. Weeks of being bedridden would've affected it even more. Josh had saved him a hell of a long road forward.
Jason combed a hand back through his hair and walked to the kitchen to get a drink just so he had something to do with his hands. He'd been sort of toying with new gear at the safehouse here and there, just for a few minutes at a time. Just to let his mind go somewhere else. Now that he was with Roy though, he put his full focus there again. Maybe the trash couple of months they'd had were finally over.
"How are you feeling?" He had no doubt that Roy was tired of him asking him that question. Especially coming from him. He wasn't exactly the hovering, nurturing type, but he couldn't stomach the idea of coming across like he didn't give a fuck right then.
"Surprised they let him leave." As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Roy felt stupid. Of course they let Dick leave. He was the son of Bruce Wayne. Money went pretty far even in a city like this, especially now that the same wealth was connected to one of the most infamous vigilantes in the country. He was relieved that it wasn't going to be as fraction of as bad as he imagined. Gunshot wounds weren't a walk in the park. That was something he knew firsthand. And gunshot wounds to the head came with dozens of complications. "That guy's useful to keep around as long as the inhibitors stay off."
Leaning against the couch's armrest, he peeled off his jacket and tossed it over a nearby chair. He made the effort to eat more now that his appetite was coming back. "Hungry. How do you feel about pizza?" Already he was pulling up the app and scanning the places nearby. Usually they went for Thai, but he was in the mood for something different tonight. "I know my neighborhood has shit choices, but at least they deliver." It wasn't like they could ever get delivery at Jason's safe house.
“Yeah...not used to having an ace in the hole like that. Could’ve used him about a dozen other times.” They’d all had the hell beat out of them and worse. Way worse. He assumed Josh had plenty of other things to do than keep their family alive, but it wasn’t like Bruce couldn’t offer him a handsome reward. How much was it worth to save his kids? Jason almost wanted to ask out of morbid curiosity.
He walked over to stand behind Roy, still clutching a bottle of water in one hand, and peered over his shoulder. “Get one with everything but pineapple.” Not that he wouldn’t also eat the pineapple, probably, but it was a wrench in the line-up. Jason kept hovering as he ordered and ended up setting he bottle down. He hated the weird buzz of nervous energy he kept having. He wasn’t used to it, it felt all out of place.
Once the pizza was on its way and he saw the little tracker pop up on the app, he reached to put his hand on Roy’s hip and turn him. “The neighborhood isn’t that bad. At least you don’t live in the fucking suburbs.”
"I wouldn't have remembered him if it weren't for the whole..." Roy gestured to his shoulder, even though it was healed by now. Every now and then he had small shooting pains in it, but he figured that would go away eventually. It wasn't as if he knew how Josh's powers worked anyway. Maybe that wasn't even something he could do anything about it. "Bruce might as well contract him out at this rate. Just bring him along on missions." Poor guy. He was now another honorary member of the batfam, whether he wanted to be or not.
He smirked and hit the order button. "Too late. Three pineapple pizzas coming up." Maybe he wasn't as detail-oriented as most people, but one thing he could remember was a pizza order. Jason's, at least.
Tossing his phone on the couch, he was prepared to say a comment about suburban life, but then hesitated once they were actually facing each other. Jason's strange energy didn't go unnoticed, but he didn't even know how to pinpoint where it might be coming from. There were too many possibilities. It hadn't been an easy month. "What, Red Hood doesn't dream about buying a little house with a white picket fence? Welcoming me home with a martini? I could get on board with the suburbs."
“Pretty sure he already pays for the kid’s clinic thing.” Jason didn’t really know the details. Dick had told him a few things about Josh, some of which he was pretty sure had been a half-assed attempt to bond with him, but he hadn’t asked a lot of questions. They’d all owed him for helping Damian, though, and now that was doubled. He definitely wouldn’t be forgetting about him again.
He immediately scoffed. “You act like I wouldn’t eat three pineapple pizzas.” He would without hesitation, but even Jason wasn’t really thrilled by the idea of it hanging out beside some anchovies. Just because he’d eat practically anything didn’t mean he wanted to spend money on something that shouldn’t reasonably exist.
“Sure, I’ll get down on one knee right now. We’ll have a tasteful wedding. You’ll join the housing association, I’ll barbecue for the neighborhood. We can get a couple of those...” he opened one hand, “fucking French bulldogs or something. Call them something stupid like Lemon and Lime.”
Roy snorted. "So he basically paid for medical care and then didn't use it." Bruce had looked pretty strung out at the hospital, shell-shocked, like they all were, but it was still a bit amazing that he hadn't remembered Josh existed. He knew Jason was upset by the whole thing, so it was difficult to maintain any level of frustration about it. "I didn't think about it until my arm cramped up. It's like you said, we're used to taking care of ourselves."
Even though he was more than willing to try anything, pineapple pizza wasn't something he wanted to try twice. Pizza was one of those things Roy liked to be plain. "The cheese is the best part. Don't see why people like covering it up with all the other flavors."
"Tasteful wedding my ass. I'm marrying one of Bruce Wayne's kids, that shit should be bougie." Lemon and Lime. He laughed. "It's like you read my mind. Except golden retrievers. I don't fuck with dogs I can step on."
“Bruce doesn’t know where half his money is at any given time, of course he didn’t.” That wasn’t really true in a macro sense, probably. There was no way Bruce was actually unaware of what Wayne Enterprises was doing. But on a ground level? Jason had charged all kinds of weird shit to him over the years. He waffled between wanting nothing at all to do with his money and then going hard in the other direction with moments of I’m his son whether he wants me or not. It was usually more of the former. Jason had always been self sufficient in every way it was possible to be.
“Because it’s a vessel. Pizza is like a dough plate you put other stuff on. If all I wanted to eat was cheese I’d just eat fucking cheese.” Which he’d done several times at three in the morning, standing in front of the refrigerator with his hand shoved in a bag of fiesta blend shredded cheese.
Jason snorted, but didn’t really agree or disagree. Instead, he kept his grip on Roy’s hip and pulled him closer again until they were flush together. “What’s bougie enough for one of Bruce Wayne’s kids?” he bowed his head a fraction as he asked, letting his lips make a short trail over the side of Roy’s jaw.
"Bruce and Ollie have a lot more in common than I thought." Oliver had a stupid amount of money. As a kid, Roy didn't really have a concept of what it was like to be rich. Even though Oliver had adopted him, took him in as his own kid, sometimes he acted more like a big brother. There were plenty of times when he'd fallen short of what Roy wanted. Or needed. It was nowhere close to what Jason had experienced with Bruce, but he understood the complex dynamics more than most people would.
Jason's pizza theory just made him snort derisively. "Insane. The cheese and the dough is the whole experience, at least if it's good pizza." He'd never been the kind of person to leave the crust behind. Those people had something wrong with them.
He pretended to think about it even though he was quickly getting distracted. "I'm thinking a cruise. Just rent out the whole boat and whoever we want to put up with. Unless there's a couple you'd want to throw overboard." Smirking faintly, he caught Jason's mouth with his own before he had the chance to respond.
“You don’t have to tell me.” Roy and Jason didn’t have the same experiences with the men who’d been father figures for them, but it was close e-damn-nough. It was one of the things that made Roy easy for him to be around, easy for him to talk to even if he didn’t actually do much talking (about that particular thing). Neither of them exactly had to stretch to see the same perspective and know what it felt like.
“Not worried about good pizza, I’m worried about a lot of pizza.” Let it collapse under the weight of itself. Jason could’ve easily afforded those two things to be one in the same right then, good pizza and a lot of it, but...old habits and all.
The distraction was welcome. He wanted one, to just pour the weird energy he had into something physical, but even Jason didn’t lack so much self awareness as to think that’s what he needed to do. Still, he killed a minute or two. The kiss got deeper, more hungry, and Jason’s grip tightened enough on his hip to be just shy of hurting. When he made himself pull away, it wasn’t very far. He still had his eyes closed and let his forehead rest against Roy’s. “I wanted to tell you...” he started, hesitated, and made himself finish it before it started to sound too stupid to say, “I’m proud of you.”
Although Roy had never directly compared his experiences with Jason, he could relate to him in a lot of ways. It didn't even completely have to do with Bruce and Oliver. There was also the aspect of living up to an impossible standard. He'd felt deficient enough being on the same team as Dick and that was just because they'd both been sidekicks to big name heroes. It was easier to accept his role as the bad sidekick than it was to compete with him. He couldn't imagine what it was like for Jason to follow in his footsteps, especially with Bruce as a mentor. "Did I ever tell you Bruce told Ollie I was a bad influence on Dick? At the time I thought he was probably right, but in retrospect it's fucking hilarious."
He rolled his eyes. "I got plenty of pizza." Even as he said it, Roy found himself second-guessing his own confidence. How many inches were the large? He hadn't looked. Oh well. They could always order more.
It surprised him when Jason pulled back like that. He was used to both of them giving way to distraction, which wasn't something he typically had a problem with. That was usually better than whatever serious subject might need discussing. The last few weeks had been a lot to handle; he wasn't exactly eager to push for deep revelations. What Jason did say, however, wasn't anything like he'd expected. Roy stared at him for a moment even within that small space between them, but then lifted his hand, his thumb slowly tracing the bone in his jaw. "Yeah?" It was touching in a way he couldn't really hide, so he also closed his eyes. "Thanks, Jaybird."
That got a laugh out of him. “Can’t say I’m surprised. On paper, you do look like the red headed stepchild.” As he said so, he reached up and pushed one hand back through Roy’s hair, catching it lightly between his fingers. “Nobody stacks up against the golden boy, anyway. Been there, done that.” Of course, he’d recently gotten a break. Learned a little. Dick cracking the surface didn’t immediately undo all the years Jason had spent feeling like he needed to try to catch up to him, always failing to actually do it, but it took some of the sharper edge off.
Jason let go of the other’s hip and raised that hand to curl his fingers around Roy’s wrist when he touched him. He kept the grip tight for a few seconds. “Yeah,” came the quiet confirmation. He was proud of him. There were a lot of people in the world who couldn’t pick themselves back up the way that Roy did. Even if they wanted to. Hell, there’d been other people in his life who hadn’t been able to do it. Jason turned his head enough to press his lips against Roy’s palm. “I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.”
"On paper," Roy stressed, rolling his eyes. "In real life I'm a lot more impressive." Maybe not, but of all the people Dick hung around with, it was ridiculous to think that he'd be the one to worry about. Shaking his head, he reached up to catch Jason's hand in his hair, pressing his fingers. "Have you wrote the book?" It was impossible for him to compare Jason with anyone, but he figured all the Robins had to be somewhat competitive with each other if they'd all taken on the role at one point or another. "You stack up just fine on your own."
That was definitely true. Jason wasn't the type to blow smoke up anyone's ass, least of all his, and everything he said was significant. Roy's face felt a little warm and he bit the tip of his tongue. The tips of his fingers lingered against the side of Jason's face for another few seconds, but then he leaned in and kissed him softly. It was either that, thank him again like an idiot, or make a joke. For once, he wasn't eager to ruin the moment.
“Maybe a little more impressive,” he corrected. But that was bullshit. Plenty of people had written Roy off and they’d been wrong. Ollie might have fucked up a lot along the way, but at least he’d seen the potential in him in the beginning enough to take him in. Jason, too, had found plenty of unexpected things in Roy Harper - ones he’d never counted on when he made the snap decision to go interfere with that execution. For all intents and purposes, he’d saved him because he didn’t deserve to die, but it hadn’t gone past that. He’d certainly never expected to count on him, much less...love him. “Yeah, it’s a bestseller.” He let out an audible breath through his nose at that comment, both not really buying it but not wanting to stand there and launch into some self deprecating spiel either. Whether he stacked up fine or not, Roy seemed alright with it.
Jason accepted the kiss, adding a little more pressure, and eventually dropped both his arms down to wind the around Roy’s waist and pull him flush against his body. He was fine not doing the emotional thing. He’d said what he wanted to say, what he wanted Roy to know, and meant it.
Even though Roy believed that he no longer determined his worth by what Oliver did or didn't do, he couldn't deny that he was an important figure in his life. It had taken some time for them to mend their relationship, but things were better now than they were years ago. That said something. He didn't know how Oliver would react to his relapse, it wasn't something he was eager to talk to him about, but he figured they'd cross that bridge when they reached it. For the time being, he was perfectly happy with small talk. "Remind me to get your autograph later." He smirked, his hand sliding into the side of Jason's hair.
Roy wasn't as adverse to emotions as Jason was. It was easier for him to talk about things and show some vulnerability, but it often took a great deal of pressure and frustration before it happened. Positive emotions were something different. Neither of them seemed particularly comfortable with expressing those. It had taken forever for the word love to even enter the picture. He was sure they still had more ground to cover, even though he wasn't 100% sure what it was.
When he pulled him closer, his hands dropped to his sides, fingers twisting in Jason's shirt. When he did pull back it was only far enough to speak, "When did you get so sentimental?"
“I dunno man, it’s pretty valuable, I’m not sure you’ve earned an autograph.” He closed his eyes just briefly as he felt Roy’s hand in his hair, catching just enough in the curls for Jason to feel the tug. He needed to cut it, probably, but it was hard to care when he’d been laying low for months already.
He’d never found it easy to be vulnerable with people. There had been too many times where he’d been taught that getting attached was a bad idea, that feeling something for someone was dangerous. It was even worse if they knew it was happening. It left him too exposed. More than that, though, part of him just believed that people should...know. If he was with them, if he stayed or helped or just made himself present because he wanted to, the real time demonstration should’ve been enough without the words or some kind of admission. He valued action over talk, without fail. If someone said something and didn’t follow through, the words were meaningless. Jason followed through. It didn’t always occur to him that that wasn’t enough.
The question made him roll his eyes. “Oh, are we done already? I can pack it back up and have you face down on the bed in just a second.” Maybe he’d do that anyway, but he’d been trying a different tactic.
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Balm for the Broken, Ch. XII
Summary: Cheery young aide Elle Andersen has a natural propensity for care and comfort, making her an ideal compatriot for Captain America, Sergeant James “Bucky” Barnes, and the rest of the ineffable Howling Commandos.
Warning(s): Language, war-related violence
Word Count: Approx. 7400
Chapter XII: Testament
Elle hit the mat with a thud that seemed, somehow to ring of “the last straw.” She clawed her way to a sitting position, shot Agent Novak a contemptuous glare that sent an actual shiver of trepidation down Peggy’s spine, and then crossed her arms with all the petulance of a spoiled child. “Enough,” she said firmly. “I’m finished.”
Novak glanced over her shoulder to where Peggy stood observing from the doorway, cup of tea in hand. She nodded her assent. “Fine, then. We’ll end for the day.”
“For eternity.” Peggy bit back a smile, admiring Novak’s ability to coolly ignore the venom laced in Elle’s muttered words. Like a housecat going paw-to-paw with a lioness, she thought with amusement. Exhaustion and disenchantment had brought out an infrequent acidic fierceness in Elle these past two weeks, as she had been attending lengthy physical training sessions with the experienced agent. When she had a few spare moments, Peggy stopped by to check on the progress of her newest recruit. Steve -- Captain Rogers, she thought, with a note of sourness she had not quite managed to rid the title of since that unfortunate incident in the office -- had been requesting a formal rundown of Elle’s development thus far. The first mission was fast approaching; the Howling Commandos would ship out in four days’ time.
She watched with a sigh as Elle stalked her way to the changing room to remove the sweaty romper in which she was required to spend most of her days. The girl was making some progress, but not a lot. Capable of dodging a few blows, but those were from Novak, just a few inches taller than her. The girl’s height would be an advantage, of course, in most situations, though if she were to encounter an opponent looking down at her from half a foot or more, combined with more weight and skill -- well, the Captain would do well to ensure his communications liaison was kept well away from the fray.
Peggy took a final sip of her tea and nodded at the agent still awaiting orders. Pearl Novak may have been nearly a decade her senior, but she was outranked here, and as such, had to wait for Peggy’s dismissal. “Thank you, Novak; that will be all.”
“Ma’am.” Novak made no move to exit the gym, though she was due her tea break. “May I...I have some concerns. May I speak freely?”
Elle was progressing, she explained, but very slowly. “She’s eager to learn, for the most part, and I think with plenty more training, perhaps with a greater diversity of instructors, she could show some real improvement. But she is not, ma’am, fully prepared for the responsibilities and risks of a full mission. In my opinion.” She stiffened. Resolute. “As her instructor, of course. Ma’am.”
“I see.” Peggy set down her cup on the table pushed up against the wall, wanting to sit down but knowing she could not. “But she is improving? Even a small amount?”
Novak hesitated, and in that brief space Peggy came to understand that this was not a conversation the agent wanted to have, just as much as it was not one that Peggy wanted to hear. Elle’s appointment was unconventional to say the least -- a volunteer aide with limited medical training, no firearms capability, and no espionage experience whatsoever. Phillips was against it, but needed Captain Rogers too keenly to say anything against the hiring. In fact, Peggy suspected that Phillips had simply contented himself with the inevitability of this sort of recommendation, so that the girl wouldn’t be put in harm’s way and he would not have to be the one to order or suggest her termination.
“She can deflect a few of my strikes, ma’am, which she couldn’t do at all ten days ago. And I’ve noticed her physical stamina is getting better,” Novak acknowledged. “But two weeks is simply not enough time to get her completely ready for the field. Furthermore, she has absolutely no weapons training. Ma’am, and I mean no disrespect when I ask this, but why is she even being permitted to join the team?”
Ah, there it was. Peggy had asked herself the same question more than once since the order had first come down. At first, she’d been mildly thrilled at the notion. She liked Elle Andersen plenty, had five minutes into their first conversation. The girl managed to unite humility and empathy in equal measure; before Elle had even actually spoken, Peggy had felt instantly at ease in her company, a feeling which had nothing to do with the official dynamics between them, and everything to do with the girl’s gentle movements, kind voice; the way her lips curved around her own compassion for her erstwhile cellmates made Peggy feel that things really were going to be just fine, things could be better.
Yes, Peggy thought, thanking and dismissing Agent Novak with a tight smile. Yes, she liked Elle Andersen, and the girl was certainly trying, but she was now wondering how wise Captain Rogers’ request really had been. His desire to have Elle as part of the team appeared to be rooted more in sentiment than practicality, and though Peggy wanted to see the girl do well, she was naturally reluctant endanger her life in the proving of her own capability.
With a sigh, she raised her hand to knock lightly on the door of the changing room, hoping to have an opportunity for a private chat. The debriefing session was scheduled for four o’clock, with all Commandos present; on the table was a hammering-out of the final details for the French mission, as well as a rundown of the expectations of as a newly-developed team. Perhaps if she could just catch a moment alone with Elle, she could gauge the girl’s own feelings about her current situation, open up the conversation to the possibility of some modifications, or delays. Peggy was not eager to dissuade or discourage Elle -- far from it. The girl had potential, everyone knew that, but Novak was right: time was not on her side.
Before she had the chance to formulate these thoughts into any firm sort of plan of action -- or indeed, actually knock on the door -- Elle had wrenched it open, clad in the navy shirtwaist dress she’d taken to wearing most days, it being the most professional-looking item she’d been able to purchase. Peggy had a uniform coming for her; there was some disagreement over her actual status. Technically, she was to be an adjunct member of the SSR, but she was not a qualified agent, and had no rank outside of that, like the other Commandos. The simplest solution would have been to just give her something, anything, but Colonel Phillips disapproved of giving out promotions willy-nilly, and he felt that Elle had not done anything substantial to prove herself capable of being an official servicewoman. To this end, she remained firmly “Miss Andersen” to all concerned, and tried her best to just blend into her surroundings -- hence the plain frocks and shoes.
Looking at her there -- weary and sodden, having likely just finished finagling herself into a girdle and stockings, all after a bone-shaking training session -- Peggy experienced a rush of stubborn affection, akin to something she’d felt not long ago for another, back in America. Elle was determined, bless her. She could see it in the set of the girl’s jaw, the squaring of her shoulders. She knew the doubts, the conversations taking place behind closed doors. And damn them all if she wasn’t going to show them. With a smile as wide as her swelling heart, Peggy Carter ushered Elle forward, commending her on such hard work, outlining the upcoming debriefing with enthusiasm. Peggy was so bloody excited, she failed to notice the streaks of old tears down Elle’s face, or the slight trembling of her hands.
“You can’t be serious.”
Elle’s eyes shot to Bucky, to the abject disbelief painted on his face. “Come on, she’s an aide. She’s got no real training. She can’t go with us. You can’t be serious.”
“Buck…” said Steve, through gritted teeth, with an anxious look at Colonel Phillips and Agent Carter, down the length of the table. His oldest friend was treading dangerously close to insubordination.
One glance around encouraged Bucky to even out his tone, and after a deep breath, he continued, much calmer this time, but no less insistent. “No, Steve. This has gone on long enough. I never thought we were serious about her actually going out on the mission. She’ll be a risk and a liability out there. To herself and to all of us.”
Falsworth started; he had seen Elle’s face before she fixed her gaze firmly on her lap. “Now, just a moment, let’s be…”
“Look,” Bucky interjected. “Sure, it’s nice enough that you all want her to be a part of the team. I get that. She can do our reports and that sort of thing, but she can do it from London. She cannot be out in the field. She’s a civilian.”
An awkward silence had descended over the room. At the head of the table, Phillips appeared to be intensely engrossed in a glass paperweight; Peggy was visibly seething. But no one interrupted. No one forcefully disagreed. Even Steve was at a loss for words, torn between his own good intentions and the advice of the man he’d always looked to for guidance. Bucky was trying to be earnest, not cruel, he knew that. And he was not backing down. “I don’t mean any disrespect to anyone here,” he said firmly. “I’ve just got to state my piece. And that is that Miss Andersen should not go with us to France. She should not be deployed on any overseas missions.”
Face flaming, Elle pushed away from the table, trying to prevent her hands from shaking too obviously. She could not bear anymore. The disgust and disdain she supposed were dripping from his lips were just too much. “Excuse me, please,” she muttered, scarcely noticing that all of the Commandos -- him included -- struggled to their feet in a last show of respect. She fairly burst out into the corridor beyond, leaving a stunned quiet in her wake. Bucky throat clenched, parched from the purging of all of that frustration, building up over the past two weeks.
“I...I just don’t want her getting hurt,” he finished lamely, speaking to the closed door.
“She held her own at the prison,” Steve pointed out. There were a few murmurs of assent. Dugan in particular recalled the stoic little nod of agreement she’d given him when he’d suggested loosening a few of her stitches to cause the initial distraction the day Lohmer had been killed. She hadn’t blinked.
“Steve,” Bucky said with a sigh. “You showed up on the last night. Yeah, she did her best, but she relied on us a hell of a lot. She shouldn’t go out. She’ll get hurt, or worse. She can do most of the job you promised her right here.”
In one way, it surprised him that Phillips and Carter were permitting him to go on like this. He’d tossed in a few “sirs” and “ma’ams” here and there, tried to keep his tone as steady and as far from churlish as possible, but he couldn’t help but feel strongly about this. God, she was brave and he admired the hell out of that -- the fact of the matter remained that she couldn’t shoot, couldn’t strategize, and they couldn’t afford to have a squad member like that. They just plain couldn’t. It was nothing personal, he told himself.
“She’s a tough old thing,” James offered. Dugan and Gabe nodded in agreement, but Bucky just shook his head.
“All due respect, she’s a well-meaning young thing. Two weeks of training won’t prepare her fully for this, France.”
“Same age as you,” Gabe fairly snapped. He was done. If Elle wanted to go, he’d accept it; do his damnedest to protect her, teach her. He actually was struggling to believe that Bucky was putting up such a protest here; sure, things had iced over between the pair, but Gabe and the others had simply assumed that the vocal tiff in Italy had simply been the product of some growing pains in a new relationship. “Hell, she’s a year older than me.”
“That’s not the point,” Bucky argued. “You know what I mean, Gabe. She’s just inexperienced. Unprepared.”
Carter’s voice was clipped, terse. “We’ve got soldiers, Sergeant Barnes. Look around. Miss Andersen can offer something to the Howling Commandos that you all will be in sore need of during the upcoming missions.”
“Like what?” Phillips asked, finally breaking his spontaneous vow of silence. “Barnes has got a point, Agent Carter. Now, I’m happy to leave this in your hands, no doubt about that, but Agent, can you reassure me that you’ve fully and entirely considered the implications of appointing a civilian to a special task force? What can Miss Andersen provide for this team that no other individual could?”
Carter bristled. “Support. Five languages. Morale. Compassion.”
Bucky smacked a hand down on the table. “Then get us a damn mascot!”
There was the line, far in his rearview mirror. Bucky closed his eyes against the inevitable discipline, but it never came, save for that cold remonstrance. Instead, there was Steve’s voice, low in his ear -- not private, but quiet. He relaxed into the logic, eyes opening to blue earnestness: “She led me through that place to find you. She could’ve given me directions, run away, not bothered at all, but she didn’t. She risked her life running through the prison to find you, and at the end, she stayed with us. The door was right there; she didn’t even question it.”
Her hand on his chest, unflinching and tender; “No, not without you;” it tears from his throat, he can’t leave, he won’t leave, he just found him again. She anchors him there, gives him permission to hope.
“All that means is she’s got no sense of risk assessment and doesn’t follow orders.” He could still see her face in that tent, that unaccountable anger he still could not comprehend. Maybe he’d pushed her too hard; maybe he’d put too much upon her. The kiss and the admission of love? Yeah, that had been a bit over the top, but there was a war on, she was a pretty dame who made his heart do a funny little beat-and-a-half every time she spoke...he had been in love. Now? Now he just wanted to keep her safe.
“Or, that she’s incredibly brave and willing to make sacrifices for the people she cares about,” Peggy interjected coolly. “Sergeant, I understand your concerns, really, I do. I fact, I share some of them. But we are doing our best to train and prepare Miss Andersen for what lies ahead. It is fully understood that a few weeks of boxing and medical training will not be enough to consider her a soldier or an agent, but it should be enough to keep her fairly safe. And,” she added, in a ringing tone, “if you haven’t noticed, she’s quite an intelligent woman and fully aware of the risks she’s taking.”
“Hear, hear,” Falsworth agreed.
Bucky stiffened in response. Why was she putting so much emphasis on the word “woman?” It wasn’t as though he was treating Elle like a child, after all. But the thought of her out there, bullets flying, unsure of where to run, him unable to do a damn thing -- that raked at him. Burned him. He closed his eyes again, briefly, just to escape, as he remembered the way Lohmer had looked at her, the pretty thing he’d wanted to shatter.
Around him, he observed, the others were looking down at the table, or staring at one of the maps or message boards lining the walls. He knew he was treading on damn thin ice; in the regular service, he probably would’ve been scrubbing the corridor with a toothbrush right about now, based on the tone he was using in the presence of three superiors. But it mattered more to that that woman, he thought bitterly, was safe and sound. He’d scrub every inch of the SSR headquarters with a kid’s toothbrush if he could be assured of that.
He was so lost in thought, in fear, in confusion, that he failed to notice Captain America slip from the room.
Steve found her on a bench near the mess, cigarette smouldering in hand, eyes far off in the past or maybe the future, he couldn’t be sure. “Didn’t know you smoked,” he said quietly, settling down next to her, ensuring he kept a respectful distance apart. He still hadn’t quite forgotten the incident with Lorraine.
Elle looked down with some surprise at the thin curl of smoke from between her fingertips. “I don’t. Only I...rather bolted from the room and Agent Stark offered me hers. Said I looked like I needed it.” Uncertainly, she brought the cigarette to her lips, took a too-long drag, and then gave a rather violent cough, one convincing enough to cause her to stretch out her hand as though she were suddenly in possession of a rather unpleasant creature. “Goodness, now I remember why I don’t smoke.”
Taking the cigarette from her hand, Steve reached over to the communal ash-tray stand on his right. He stubbed it out and then turned to her with what he had been assured was his most winning (and persuasive) smile. “Elle --”
“He’s right, you know,” she said, as though he had not spoken. “Sergeant Barnes. You and Agent Carter are being very, very generous, but I should not be going with you all to France. What can I provide?”
“What can any of us do?” he asked with a deep sigh. “None of us knew this was coming, or that we’d ever be asked to do this in our lifetime. Fight. Defend our country -- hell, our world -- against this...these…”
He nodded. “Yeah, monsters. Bullies of the worst kind. You know what they are and what they’re capable of. And what do we bring to fight them?”
She glanced up uncertainly, as though answering an exam question she had not studied for: “Guns…?”
Steve smiled. “Yeah, guns. And tanks and planes and grenades. But we also bring what we already have in us. That’s the thing: everyone who’s been trained, who’s been made to run up a hill in full kit or run a bayonet through a sack of seed; anyone who’s had to practice and rehearse for the worst days of their life; who just heard the news and decided to pitch in however they could -- they’re all bringing something different with them to the field. It could be something as straightforward as Bucky, with his boxing and his brains. Gabe, with all his languages.”
“You,” Elle added shyly. “You brought your courage.”
He started at that: not “muscles,” not “brawn,” not “righteousness” or “patriotism.” Courage. Plain and simple. That she had focused so quickly, so kindly, on that simple notion -- that he was a brave man -- warmed Steve in a way he could not explain. It was praise of the highest sort: unadorned and genuine. He wanted to hug her, suddenly understood, clear as a day, why Bucky had fallen so swiftly.
“And you,” he said gently, “Elle, you brought your compassion. I’ve felt it. You care so much. And that’s amazing, it’s wonderful. We need it.” Steve glanced back down the corridor; the door of the debriefing room was still closed. “All of us do.”
“But I can’t shoot a gun,” she said quietly, looking down at her feet, as though that were something to be ashamed of.
“Neither could I until recently,” Steve nudged her shoulder slightly, in what he hoped she construed as an encouraging gesture. “Look, we can teach you. We can continue your training. You already know a whole hell of a lot more than you did about medicine two weeks ago. And I heard them say they’ve never heard anybody catch on to the communications lingo as quick as you did, for a rookie.”
His smile was earnest, but Elle could tell he was exaggerating. It was a kind lie, though, and he meant well, so she allowed it. She gave him a rueful look in return. “I won’t be any use. And what if I become a risk? A liability, like Sergeant Barnes said?”
It bothered him that she kept referring to Bucky by his rank and surname; it seemed far too formal for their previous relationship -- at least, how Steve had understood it to be. He recalled the faint flash of amusement he’d experienced at hearing “There’s my girl,” in the midst of that awful lab. Trust Bucky to snag a sweetheart in the middle of a warzone. No, something had happened that afternoon in the medical tent; Steve had heard her shrill cries, saw Bucky bolt from the tent, red-faced and visibly distraught. No more “Bucky;” no more “my girl.”
But now was not the time to question her. She was lost in thought, waiting for his reply or some reassurance, but Steve wasn’t quite sure what to give her. She did seem young, though, as he looked at her; that may have had to do with her civilian clothes in this military context. Steve wondered what she’d done before all of this, who she had been. Almost as though he’d asked aloud, she murmured, “My mother wanted something like this for me, you know. Before she died. She wanted me to have a purpose in my life always, to do something with the gifts I’d been given.” A slight accent of bitterness anointed the word.
“I gave moments of calm to men without it, Steve, that’s all. Some flowers, stories, jokes, songs. Foolishness, really. I couldn’t sew them up or carve out bullets. I couldn’t save them.”
Steve cleared his throat. “I’m not asking you to save the Commandos, Elle. I’m asking you to be one of them. This work...what we’re being asked to do...it’s gonna be hard. We’ve got dozens of facilities to knock out, and we’ll find even more, I’m sure.”
“I’m not a soldier, Steve,” she interjected passionately, turning to him with shining eyes.
They’d told him he’d never be a soldier, either. How many rejections had he gotten; how many attempts had he made? Each time, showing up at the recruitment offices with a different address and his hands heavy with the surprising burden of his own slim hopes, offering everything he had to the cause he was absolutely blazing for -- and they’d turned him down. Asthmatic, skinny, sickly, “you’ll thank me for this, son.”
And then he’d been pumped full of miracles and emerged from that cradle a new man, a better man, so they’d said. At first, Steve had assumed it was just the brawn they all wanted, the ideal of an American soldier; that he would be little more than an aspirational fairytale. Tall, strong, and dauntless. But Doctor Erskine had promised him, made sure he understood the truth: that everything he now possessed had always been within him; the serum had only brought it all to the fore, enhancing everything, making it stand out brighter and bolder than before
He could not, though, give Elle any super-soldier serum, and he would not have wanted to, either. She just needed something like it, a pure and powerful substance to dash away this fear. A few weeks ago, he could’ve invoked Bucky’s name, and whatever they had between them, and that might have been enough to sway her, but now he was not so sure.
“I wasn’t either,” he admitted, deciding that this was the best he could offer for the time being: mere mutual affliction. “I was this scrawny 4F who just wanted to do his part. Now, I could’ve gone to work in a factory or taken a desk job somewhere, selling war bonds door to door. There’s no shame in that, if that’s what you can do.” He leaned forward slightly, hands steepled between his knees as he recalled the day Bucky had been called up, how the June air had seemed to compress and freeze around him when Steve had looked up and seen the crisp uniform; his visor cap set at a disarmingly cheery angle. Pride and jealousy don’t sit well together at the best of times, and his stomach had turned with them both in those first moments. “But I wanted to fight, be on the beach or in the field with the rest of them. And so when the offer...the serum...well, it gave me a chance.”
A chance, thought Steve bitterly. A chance and a renaissance born in blood and cyanide, when he’d felt the rush of pavement beneath his feet, the world giving way to his will. The keen, biting awareness of accomplishing something, anything. The utter freedom of simply running without having to stop. It had been intoxicating, his new life, but nothing compared to the feeling he had now, each and every morning -- in the rather cramped safe house bedroom he and Bucky had elected to share, when he would roll over as the sun flooded the floor and alighted on that familiar face. Bucky was alive, safe and sound, and Steve had been a part of making that come about. His first mission -- his first true one -- grasped firm and fast, had been a blessed success. If nothing else, Erskine’s serum and Stark’s Vita-Rays had given him that.
He straightened, aware that he had said much more to Elle of his true feelings than he had to anyone else in a long, long time, and briefly wondered why had been able to do so. What was it about this woman that made her so...open? Receptive? Such things went far beyond a sense of politeness or charity; deep within her, Steve guessed, there was a profound and inimitable instinct to help, in any way that she could. She’d been damn fearless to go with him in the factory; brave to stay with him and Bucky when even hope had left them both. And in poor recompense for all of that, Steve wanted to help her now, even just a little. A new question sprang to life in her eyes, and when she asked it, it was trimmed by a brilliant smile: “Are they giving out more serum?”
“Not for a while yet,” he chuckled, glad that the growing tension sitting between them on the bench had finally dissipated, as she visibly relaxed next to him. Humour did wonders to ease such unpleasantries. “Look, Doctor Erskine -- the man who did this to me -- he told me that the serum just kind of...enhances whatever’s already inside a person. Good or bad. And you’ve got a lot of good in you, Elle. You’re a great person, and people like you, a lot. People who seem to take a while to warm up to others. You make them feel peaceful, calm. You...you…” He struggled there; he’d known her for a while, but not well enough, it seemed, to fully articulate the true extent of what she provided. And then he recalled the forest, in the moments after their flight from the factory, when Bucky had taken her hand in his and pressed a kiss to the back of it; the look in his eyes in that moment, Steve had seen it plenty of times before. Not lust, not unbridled desire, no -- it was something a little more innocent. “Home,” he said softly, when it had finally hit him. “You’re like a piece of home, for everyone. When I talk to you, I think about my mom, and I’m home, and things are okay for a little while.”
As his words washed over her, Elle tightened her grip upon the edge of the bench, swallowing hard around that awful lump growing in her throat. Home. What a lovely word. “What...what use is that in battle?” she choked, determined not to actually shed tears. She had done such a lot of crying these past several days.
“First off -- and let’s get this straight -- I’ve got no intention of taking you into an actual fight. I would never do that, put you at risk in that way.” Steve shook his head, ears still ringing with the rather brutal melody of Dugan’s threats from a few nights before. “Pretty sure they’d all kill me if I even suggested it. All of this training is just a precaution.
“Secondly, your compassion will be a hell of a lot of use, Elle. You help keep things calm and help people relax. You can keep up our morale. Falsworth told me the only reason he didn’t lose his mind back in Austria was thinking about you. Gabe said the same thing. And Bucky…”
Beside him, Elle stiffened, and Steve knew a rush of guilt. “Think about it, please.” He stood, sensing that perhaps solitude -- with his words ringing in her ears -- might be more persuasive than a continued lecture, however well-meaning. “Any questions, ask ‘em. Just...just don’t say ‘no’ because you think others want you to, okay? We’re going to need you out there.” Steve paused, waiting for a small nod, some sign she’d heard him, the slightest promise of agreement.
She took her time, avoiding his eye and focusing instead upon her own hands as they lay in her lap. Steve watched as she turned the right palm over; traced a finger down the length of the jagged scar, a memory from HYDRA she would have to hold forever. “I read your file, you know,” Elle said softly, finally. Steve stilled, momentarily bewildered -- had she read it here? Had Agent Carter given it to her? “Before I met you. When I was working for Zola, he had me in the lab, and I found an American folder. Project Rebirth, it said. Things didn’t quite come together until recently.” She looked up; Steve knew the capture of her hazel eyes, the warmth emanating from them. “Do you believe that, that you were reborn?”
He’d always hated that codename.
Steve didn’t consider what had happened to him a genuine “rebirth.” After all, he was still himself in the ways that mattered the most. He was still Sarah’s son, Bucky’s best friend. An artist. An American. But something new had crept through his veins with Project Rebirth, and whatever it was had rendered him changed in small and significant ways. Beyond the stamina and the muscles, there was a different edge to his determination he had never felt before: the knowledge that he could physically accomplish whatever it was he needed to do. But a “rebirth?” No. He may have been Captain America to many, but he would always be Steve Rogers.
“No,” he said slowly. “I think... I was remade.” Elle’s face softened, compressing into a tender half-smile as she stood. The fresh scent of soap summoned a deep, hallowed memory, and he felt every muscle in his body -- snapped taut by the tension of the meeting, by his worries for Bucky and Elle -- sink into the plush embrace of her comfort and touch, so gentle that if he had not watched her hand move to his arm, Steve wasn’t sure if he would have noticed at all.
“Sometimes I feel like I’ve been remade too many times,” she said quietly, eyes wide and earnest. He knew then that she was sharing a secret of her own, and that knowledge was somehow gratifying. “So many changes. What’s one more?”
She still didn’t seem to understand. Aware that he was taking a risk for both of them, Steve stepped closer; that she did not cringe away seemed a good sign. “That’s the thing, Elle,” he said earnestly. “ No one is asking you to change. We need you. Just you.” A door creaked in the distance, and he took a step backwards, hoping he had not been too forward.
“Just me?” Hope kindled between her words.
“Just you.” He breathed that hope to full, flourishing life.
The next days passed in a whirlwind of oversteeped tea and paperwork; Elle felt as though she had scarcely had a moment to herself since the few minutes in the corridor before Steve had turned everything on its head. His confidence in her had worked in combination with his gentle words, and she was utterly bewitched. Buoyed by his faith, she had begun to take in hand the various tasks and requirements necessary to be deployed on the official mission to France. On the day before they were to depart, Elle was called to Agent Carter’s office just after a tea break with James and Gabe. At the mention of it, her right hand began to smart; so many signatures in the past few days had irritated the old scar.
“Bit of grim business, I’m afraid, Miss Andersen.” Indeed, it must have been grim, if Peggy was going to call her by her surname, even though they were alone in the office. She’d swept in on a tide of busyness, slapping down a few folders and a rolled-up map before giving Elle the once over. “Yes, that’ll do,” she said, nodding at the new outfit.
Just that morning, Elle had been supplied, courtesy of Agents Stark and Edwards -- who now insisted on Janie and Lila -- with a veritable treasure trove of necessities in accordance with her new position. Most exciting of all had been the SSR’s answer to an official uniform for the unranked communications liaison of the Howling Commandos: the charcoal slacks were practical, wide-belted and rendered somehow militaristic by virtue of the nautical-inspired buttons; likewise, the crisp white blouse made her feel both capable and comfortable -- her favourite combination.
Once they were both seated, on opposite sides of the desk, of course, Peggy reached down to pull a stack of papers from a drawer Elle could not see. “Final induction papers, another release form, and you’ll also need to draft a will.”
“Oh?” Elle’s head shot up. “Is that really necessary?”
Peggy looked at her with some amount of disbelief. “Yes,” she said gently. “It’s standard procedure for all SSR recruits, no matter the, er, department. You’ll need to ensure that this is prepared before you can go out on the mission. Actually, we were surprised to see you hadn’t prepared one earlier, with your work with the VAD.
“In any case, it’s my fault for leaving this all to the end,” she continued, standing and heading over to the door to press a small black button near the edge of the frame. “Mr. Dromgoole can see you right through it, and I’ll act as a witness. He’s reassured me he can fast-track it. Best to keep it simple.”
“Right,” Elle agreed, thumbing through the papers. They all appeared terribly official: typed and stamped and tattooed with the signatures of high-ranking strangers; as she read through, she felt as though she were eavesdropping on dozens of conversation not for her ears, though they chronicled the various risks and rewards posed by her new professional endeavour, as well as several ways in which she might perish in the serving of it. At the word “torture,” she closed the file. “Yes, well, just show me where to sign.”
Mr. Dromgoole (although sounding delightfully like a Dickens character) proved to be a rather amiable and rotund barrister who found the two women most impressive. He spoke to Peggy deferentially, commended Elle frequently on her service -- though, Peggy explained to her later, he had no real idea what that service actually was. “Phillips was somewhat hesitant to hire outside for some of these services, but he was persuaded that having a civilian lawyer oversee and curate them will make the process easier, down the line.”
She put her pen to the page, and she began to weave the pattern of a well-known story. Her will was drafted simply, bequeathing a small number of worldly possessions and precisely no property to the people she thought would treasure them most. If she was to become a mere memory, she decided, signing swiftly on the dotted line, then she would want to be remembered by them. No matter what.
Sensing that some tension had joined them in the room following Dromgoole and the “rather grim business,” Peggy slipped off her heels and made a pot of tea. “I think I may have some biccies down here,” she said, rummaging about in a lower drawer until she had emerged with a battered tin of bourbon creams.
“Aren’t these well-rationed?” Elle asked, biting into the treat with relish. “Lovely, though.”
“Perhaps loveli-er, for the rationing,” Peggy suggested, dunking hers most unceremoniously into her mug. “‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder,’ and all that. Does that work for biscuits?”
“I think so,” Elle laughed. She would miss this the most during missions. For the most part, Peggy would have to remain at Headquarters, and though there was always the hope that between missions, during leaves, perhaps, the two would be able to snatch some time together, Elle had also prepared herself for the shelving of this particular friendship -- for the time being, of course. She enjoyed Peggy’s company too much to let it fall entirely by the wayside.
“Elle, is there anything you would like to see before departing?” Peggy asked after a moment of companionable silence, punctuated only by subsequent dunkings and nibbles. “Anyone you would like to visit?”
No. She could not. She dare not. He would disapprove, she knew; summon her well and truly home. Against her mother’s wishes? He’d do that gladly. Ye gods, but she could hear him now. “Oh, darling,” he’d whisper, in that cool, crisp way of his. “Off to play soldier?”
“Because,” Peggy said slowly, a slight trace of guilt playing in her eyes as she held out the tin once more. “And I’m sorry, Elle -- truly -- but I must ask you not to contact any friends or neighbours while you’re here. We’ve kept you here so far, asked you to keep your training quiet, and you’ve done very well with that. But this next part of your mission, going to France and infiltrating the facility, it will need to be kept entirely secret. We can provide you with a cover story, and indeed we’ve already begun placing certain documents about all of the Commandos that will make it appear to anyone poking into our business that you all have perfectly normal, even dull, positions within the SSR.”
That piqued her interest. Having a cover story seemed so pleasurably mysterious, she could not help but ask, as though getting to know this other version of herself: “What’s my job?”
“You’re a mild-mannered typist, my dear. Delight of the debriefing room.”
The decision had been taken out of her hands. The boy could not know. It would be for his own good, not to know.
But there was one more question to ask, and Elle had been dreading the prospect for a few days now. In quiet moments, the liminal world between her drowsy mind and dreamy sleep, the full force of the irony playing on her thoughts would nearly consume her. She had nearly lost her position with the VAD because of rumour and overreaction, and now here she was voluntarily wading into a position which would require her to actually travel with an all-male team across most of continental (and wartorn) Europe on dire, covert missions. How close she had come to losing her vocation! To take that risk again...was she mad?
“No, Elle,” Peggy replied firmly. “You are not mad. I understand your hesitation in this, really, I do. But you’ve nothing to worry about.” Propriety and clear communication would be key, the agent explained. “These men hold great respect for you, you’ve got nothing to fear there, as you well know. And more than that, you will be moving in and out of these locations very quietly; as far as anyone is concerned, you’re that mild-mannered typist, love.”
“I wasn’t suggesting --”
Peggy reached a hand across the desk to grasp Elle’s, giving it a comforting squeeze. “I know, I’m sorry. It’s just...this is a different game, you see. Back in Italy, you had so many levels of people above you, it was hard not to be judged for every action or interaction.”
“But it’s not as though I’m commanding this squad, though, is it?” she replied with a wry smile.
That was not the point, Peggy reassured her. What mattered most is that she now had a defined position within the SSR; she was no longer on the sidelines, the periphery of the action, as she had been as an aide. “Not to belittle your service there, please don’t mistake me. God, we wouldn’t have the barest chance in hell of winning this war if it weren’t for our aides and medics and nurses. Back then, you answered to so many levels of people, and you were one of so many. Now, there’s you. The Commandos’ communication liaison, the point of contact between Headquarters and the boots on the ground. Elle, you are so bloody essential here, no one will question how you spend your time with those men. No one would dare.
“Furthermore,” she added, reaching for another biscuit. “I won’t bloody let them.”
In the end, she would become some lines on an old piece of paper, tucked within a file and pushed to the back of a drawer. The lie they wrote for her -- of a mild-mannered typist, delight of the debriefing room -- would become her epigraph, she thought. Daughter of a nurse and a writer; child of Westminster. Secretary. Aide. Prisoner. Typist. Struck within the confines of those words, bookended by a beginning and an end, Elle Andersen would become a footnote to a footnote of a brief story. She would not, she comforted herself that night, become a hero, have a novel or a film written about her. There would be no songs, no poems, because she was a typist. And that, she decided with a smile, was just fine by her.
They went for another drink, and she was invited. Gabe and James made room between them, and it was almost like old times, gathered in the circle of their old cell. But, of course, infinitely more pleasant. She ordered the cider she had run away from nearly three weeks before, savouring the sweet rich glow of it as much as she did the notes of laughter and the rapid banter that sprang so naturally from their lips. Ages had grown between them in the matter of a month or two, and she could not help but treasure it -- though there still remained some slight trepidation about how Gabe’s nudging of her shoulder could be perceived; how James’ affectionate smiles and Dugan’s playful teasing could be construed. Though Peggy had assured her that the fictional past she had been, unknowingly, running from had been entirely purged from the record, Elle still feared those moments. Those horrid moments when everything she had worked so hard to provide had been turned on its head, made ugly and mean.
Eight times during the course of the night, she attempted to catch Bucky’s eye, to ask him a question, to smile, to explain, to purge, to beg for forgiveness. He was no longer waspish and cold to her, and nor did he deliberately attempt to pretend she was not there. He nodded at her when he and Steve had come in, had even gently pushed her glass closer to her when Jacques placed it an inch too far from her hand. But he did not engage beyond that. And if anything, that pained her far more than his cold rebukes in the debriefing room had.
Now she was a stranger.
Briefly, she considered simply blurting it out all out, but thankfully, the words would not come, stoppered by the last vestiges of self-control in her possession. She was grateful that the anger she supposed him of harbouring against her had seemingly dissipated, but there would be no more kisses, she feared, no more weighty declarations of love. They could be comrades, but nothing more.
And perhaps that was better. Harder, colder, but better.
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Tempo of our Love - Chapter 3
Characters: baekhyun x oc
Genre: quarterback!baekhyun // pianist!oc // college AU
Word Count: 4.4k words
Plot: In which Byun Baekhyun completely messes up your tempo, but you soon learn that this only births the exposition of a beautiful, beautiful song.
Tempo of our Love: Mini Masterlist
Byun Baekhyun, you learn, is a man who never gives up. Granted, it should be obvious, deriving from his unending list of achievements and talents — ranging from sports to skills — that he will work for something he wants until his dying breath. So, it is a testament to his sedulous nature that he’s always there during the daily evenings where you make yourself to the same practice room you can practically walk to with your eyes covered.
He’s always there, following in time with your footsteps when he meets you halfway from where he’s done with his trainings. He’s always there, strands of his hair clumped together, some clinging nicely to his forehead, half dried yet half wet which only indicates to you that he’s fresh out of a good shower after a long sweat session. He’s always there, eyes a little brighter than the moon that hangs overhead the both of you, and whenever you get close enough, you can catch a whiff of the shampoo he uses.
And here’s a secret: It smells really nice.
It’s surprising, you think, how you’re starting to find it crazily endearing rather than irritating, the fact that he has never once not been there, never once had no topics to bring up, never once stopped trying to become your friend even despite your slightly inhospitable enthusiasm (or lack thereof) that you return to him.
But it’s been weeks of this same routine, and after every passing day, you find it harder to keep up with this disinterested front you put up whenever you’re with him. Because that’s all that it has become now — a mask.
There’s only one side of an earphone plugged in to your left ear as you simper past every corridor, and you’re silently humming the intro of Billy Joel’s New York State Of Mind to yourself when you’re interrupted, but you already know who it is.
“Be quiet, you’re gonna wake up the owls.” You spot the unmistakable figure of Byun Baekhyun and maybe in a different universe, this would seem creepy, but it’s hard to feel so in this world when the Baekhyun you know is friendlier than the stray dogs you encountered during a field trip last summer that wouldn't stop clinging on to you and your friends.
“Owls are nocturnal, Baekhyun. Everyone knows this,” you squint at him, but he can only laugh.
“I know. I just wanted to hear you correct me.”
“You’re stupid,” you sigh, or try to, because the grin that is plastered on his face somehow has your breath catching in your throat just the slightest, but you shrug it away. It must be the weather.
Not that you have been keeping up, but the football team isn’t doing so well.
They’ve been losing a few friendlies here and there. Nothing too big, really, but word’s been going around that their performance has been depreciating too.
You hear this mainly from Minho during the lunch breaks you spend together. Usually, you treat it with disregard, but this time you find your curiosity piquing.
“The season’s coming up, so I guess they could just be stressed out. You know, what with having to put up with everyone’s expectations and all.” Minho’s suckling on a small wooden spoon, looking a little dazed, and you can hear the minute concern lacing his voice. He is friends with the team captain, Junmyeon, after all.
“I mean,” you indulge in the topic at hand, a rare occurrence on your part. “They will be able to buck up, right? Isn’t it normal for teams to go through slumps? I’m sure they’ll be fine.”
“Since when did you suddenly care?” Joy raises a brow at you, which earns her the roll of your eyes.
“What? Can’t be a little invested in my own school team? It’s called school spirit,” you sip on your orange juice sparingly. “We should all be proud students of this campus!” you perk with mock liveliness.
Minho snorts. “Where were you for the past two years, then?”
“We get a holiday every time they win that big ass competition,” you shrug defensively. “So of course I’ll care.”
There’s a knowing glint sparkling in their eyes, but you don’t want to make yourself seem any more suspicious by backing down so you stare them directly, back and forth from one person to the other. You’re this close to having your facade crumble right before your friends, but a thin thread of luck rescues you this time when Minho purses his lips and you know the topic is dropped.
“Whatever you say baby,” Joy looks away with a mischievous smile on her face, so you turn to Minho only to find him staring at Joy, instead.
The sound of a straw slurp that indicates an empty carton has you pulling out the plastic loop, before flattening the little box with your fingers and crumpling it between your palms. You throw it at Joy, and she gasps, glowering at you.
“That’s what you get for targeting me,” you smile cunningly, tongue between your teeth.
“Kids,” you hear Minho say. “Literal kids.”
“I lose three brain cells every time I interact with you, Minho. Your participation in this conversation is invalid.”
You throw your straw at him, and the shriek that escapes his lips is anything but soft. It’s immature of you, and you can sense all the eyes focusing on the source of the noise from your peripheral vision, yet you can’t help but guffaw out loud, Joy following suit.
“Pick it up, Minho,” you whisper loudly, trying to act like a responsible person now with everyone staring. There’s a defiant glare on his face, one that tells you that you’re the one who should be picking it up instead, but you’ve got him cornered with every pair of eyes now focusing on him. Denying would only deem him as the bad person.
With a huff, he reaches his arm out to pick it off the floor, an action that seems way too easy for his long limbs. “You’re terrible,” he growls.
“Now now, don't make me regret not bringing my metal straw instead.”
The action happens too quickly, but before you know it, Minho is throwing the flimsy straw back at you, though it almost barely reaches you with the lack of strength he exerts. You widen your eyes at him, but your heads snap to the right when you hear a sound of disapproval.
There’s an old lady who has stopped in her tracks, shaking her head and tutting at your tall friend disdainfully before walking away. She mutters something under her breath that you don’t quite catch, and you have to bite your tongue to suppress the chortle that threatens to overtake you.
Forcing a pout onto your face, you stare pitifully at Minho. “That was very immature and rude of you, Minho. Didn’t anyone every teach you a thing or two about manners?”
Joy is having her own fun with this situation beside you when he groans aloud.
“I’m done with this friendship,” he glowers at you, before getting up to throw his food away. “Don’t contact me for three business days. I’ll be on a hiatus.”
“About time,” Joy dismisses him with faux relief, and you grin. “I have been waiting for this day to come.”
The air’s a little breezy today but it’s exactly what you need. You cringe upon feeling the minimal beads of moisture clinging onto the surface of your skin where your neck meets your shoulder and you’re stuck between cursing yourself for being this unfit or cursing Joy for clumsily leaving her too bright and too blue folder in some classroom, making you run all the way to deliver it to her in the lab where her current class is in.
(It doesn’t help that the lab and the classroom are on different blocks, so you were panting by the time you reached, glaring at her through the small window. She slipped out the door clad in a coat that was half stained— not by an acidic solution, you hoped— with a mischievous smile on her red lips.
“I owe you one,” she flipped through the file to ensure it was hers, before leaning in and pressing a firm kiss to your cheek. “Thanks! You’re the best! Love you!”
“Get off me you peasant,” you shrieked, hastily rubbing at your skin in an attempt to wipe off any lipstick marks. “And what validation do you need from checking the file? I can assure you no one else in this damn campus owns anything that ugly. It’s yours for sure.”
“Now you’re just being a hater, and i’m going to shut you off just like i’m about to shut this door.”)
You make a reminder at the top of your head to start running around your block again sometime soon for the sake of your physical health. Once the word Virtuoso comes into view, white thin letters above the door matching the aesthetics of the cafe, your need for a quench of thirst amplifies. There isn’t a Minho or Joy with you this time when you’re here, so you’re pretty much alone until the glass door opens to reveal a familiar face.
“Is that a hot chocolate?” you inquire Baekhyun, whose eye bags start looking more and more prominent the closer you approach him. His eyes snap up to meet yours and only now do you fully notice just how exhausted he actually looks, the corners of his mouth downturned imperceptibly, back marginally hunched and a black face mask tucked underneath his smooth chin. You feel a wave of uneasiness in your stomach looking at him like this— lacked radiance and sunny smiles— and the sensation is foreign. “Someone’s a little tired today.”
“Someone’s a little sweaty today,” he points out in a tone similar to yours, countenance almost instantly replaced with a recognizable smile. It barely reaches his eyes, though, and somehow that makes you want to frown even more. “But why? It’s a pretty cold day…” he squints, before taking the tissue underneath his paper cup and reaching it out to dab on your neck.
You try to think of a reply, anything really, but your throat dries out and your heart is pumping a little faster once you feel his touch, with only the barrier of a paper, on your skin.
“H-had to run somewhere,” you cough to snap yourself out of your reverie. “It’s a long story involving a forgetful friend and me being her unpaid servant.”
It really isn’t, but you desperately need a pick-me-up drink and a cold splash of water on your face right now.
“Thought you were sick for a moment,” he curls his lips and it’s pretty adorable, the way he does it.
“Are you?” you tilt your head towards his chin.
“What, this?” he points at the face mask and you nod. “Just a cold, that’s all, but it’s nothing.”
You bob your head and hum in understanding, because that’s all you can do, before muttering out a small “get well soon”.
He thanks you before you both part ways, but just before you’re pushing on the door with an impatience to gulp down a glass of ice blended caramel macchiato, you hear that same recognizable voice call out to you.
“It’s coffee, by the way!”
It’s the first time in a long while that you’re not greeted with broad shoulders and a mop of brown hair when you reach the outside of your practice room. You crane your neck to look at the football field on the other side to check if they’re still practicing, but the sight before you is of empty land, and a pang of disappointment hits you. After all, he has been there every evening to offer you small talk before you submerge yourself in piano keys and a myriad of melodies. It’s something you have gotten way too used to.
When you leave, there’s still no sight of him.
It happens again the next day, and then the one right after. You miss it, you realize. You miss having someone to deliberately disturb you solely for the fun of it, and it is with a diminishing reluctance that you admit that you miss him, too. The budding seed of concern does nothing but distract you even more, until you finally slap yourself out of your worried daze and decide to send him a text.
That is, until you realize that you don’t have his number.
“Get off me,” Joy huffs down your neck, patting your butt hastily. “Don’t you know you’re heavy as hell?”
“You make a good couch,” you mumble, which earns you a distracted chuckle from Minho even though your voice is a little muffled by her shoulder. “I can’t help it.”
You relax on top of your friend until you feel her poking at your sides, and you jump up in surprise, accidentally kicking Minho by the head from where his back is plastered to the edge of the sofa Joy and you are on.
“Ouch, that hurt!” he jeers, clutching the back of his head while you hop over to another seat. “Why can’t you just stay still you fucking monkey?”
“Sorry!” you squeak, falling onto a soft unoccupied sofa before laying down on it. “Not my fault your huge ass head was getting in the way.”
He shakes his hair to fix the mess of locks it has become and you watch as Joy hits the back of his head with her knuckles.
“What was that for?” he hisses, shooting her a dirty look.
“Your hair was tickling my leg,” she deadpans.
The man sighs, so Joy begins to massage his cranium just to appease him with her left hand while her right holds her phone up so she can continue scrolling through twitter. At this, he turns back to his playstation game with a smile so wide, it could reach his ears.
“Minho,” you call out lazily.
you slur out, louder this time.
“And what am I supposed to do with that information?”
“Get me something to eat!”
“Oh my God, here!” he exasperates, picking up a bag of sealed almonds by his table and throwing it at you. “Can’t believe you guys take over my sofas, injure my head and make me your maid in my own house!”
“Love you,” you giggle, tearing the package eagerly before plopping an almond into your mouth.
“I want some,” you hear Joy drawl, so you hold out the bag for Minho to pass to her. He doesn’t even spare you a glance, too busy staring at the game of Fifa before him to pay you any mind.
“Give it to her.”
“Do it yourself.”
“She’s too far.”
He narrows his eyes at you, quickly grabbing the snack and unceremoniously dropping it behind him for Joy to take. Thankfully, nothing spills out. He returns his attention to the screen only to find out he has lost the game.
“Perfect. Just perfect!” he throws his head back, slumping down until he’s completely lying on the ground now. “I lost and there is only the two of you parasites to blame. I’m never letting you guys infiltrate my place again.”
“You say that every week,” Joy points out and he sets his controller down beside him, now folding his arms underneath his head to stare at the ceiling above. “Yet we’re still here.”
You hum in agreement, claiming back your bag of almonds from Joy who passes it to a now unengaged Minho. You munch on them until you notice the timestamp on your phone.
“Gotta go practice in thirty minutes,” you groan. “I don’t want to leave.”
“Yay, I want you to!”
You pout and ignore the man’s comment, focusing on cherishing every last minute of relaxing time you have.
“Ming,” you hum the moment you’re reminded of something that pulls you out of your unwinding.
You chew on your bottom lip, hesitant to voice out the next question to avoid the chaos that you know will ensue right after, but you can’t hold it in any longer or your friends will get suspicious.
“Do you have Baekhyun’s number?”
Both Minho and Joy’s heads snap up in unison, two pairs of wide eyes staring at you as if you’ve grown another limb.
“Don’t look at me like that,” you roll your eyes. “I just need to ask him a question.”
“Sure,” Minho teases at the same time Joy questions, “You guys talk?”
“We’re friends,” you groan. “Friends talk to each other.”
“Last I heard, someone didn’t want to be his friend, though,” she wiggles her brows at you knowingly.
“First of all, I never said that. I was just doubting his behavior. Second of all, I realized he’s, uhh, kinda cool to talk to?”
“Took you long enough. How did you come to that conclusion?”
“Okay, time for me to go,” you get up and grab your things, half wanting to escape this situation and half needing to go back to campus to see if Baekhyun will be there today. “Text me the number, yeah?” you call out to Minho while openly ignoring your other friend.
“Done,” he pushes himself off the floor and slips his phone into his pocket. “Do you need me to drive you there?”
“Thank you. And nope, I got it, don’t worry. Bye losers!”
You’re arrive at campus a little later than usual today, and you wish you could say you didn’t spend the entirety of your time on the bus typing out a draft message to send to Baekhyun. It doesn’t even exceed three sentences, but you have decided to send it to him if you don’t see him today.
However, when you’re finally outside the practice room, you learn that you don’t need to.
You’re not alone this time, and your heart almost soars at this knowledge but it doesn’t, because there Baekhyun is, slumped against a wall. There’s a prickling apprehension within you because he doesn’t look well, and there’s no questioning it because you know he isn’t okay.
You stride over and take a seat on the floor next to him with every ounce of courage you manage to muster up. His head is leaned against the wall, eyes closed.
“You look absolutely terrible,” you wince at your crummy pursuit in lightening up the mood. For a moment, he doesn’t say anything, and the only indication you have that you’re not being blocked out entirely are his now blinking eyes.
“Now’s not the time,” his tone is clipped as he stares into space with furrowed brows and an empty gaze. “You should go and practice.”
“Well, you’re obviously not okay. So i’m not going to leave until you tell me what’s up.”
“I don’t mind waiting, really.”
“No answer? That’s okay. I’ll just tell you about my day inste—“
“I said now’s not the time!” Baekhyun snaps, entirely taking you by surprise.
There’s a long pause, and everything freezes for a moment.
“O-oh I’m,” he chokes up, immediately softening from his previous tenseness. “I’m so sorry I-I really didn’t mean to snap at you at all, I just—“
He’s mumbling many things at a time, a complete juxtaposition to his agitated self that had bursted at you earlier, yet you can only look at him with a smile that you can’t fight off.
“— And please, please forgive me. I swear I’m never like this, I got carried away for a moment because i’ve been really stressed out with sports and everything and having to meet everyone’s expectations and i’m so, so sorr— wait, why are you smiling?”
“Baekhyun,” you stare at him, and you still can’t wipe off the unfitting grin on your face because finally.
Finally, you see him let go of himself. Finally, you witness him showing a sense of weakness, something that makes him seem more human. Finally, he throws away his mask of constant happiness that he wears everyday.
And that’s all the validation you need, even though he has never owed it to you.
However, It still hurts you to see him like this, in such vulnerable state, and you want nothing more than to pull him into a hug. But you settle on resting your hand over his before giving it a squeeze, the touch sending volts of electricity through you. “Come with me.”
You know he’s befuddled and utterly confused but you don’t dwell on it. Instead, you try to hold on to whatever thread of bravery you have so you can keep holding his hand and not lose your cool while leading him into the piano room. Ignoring the feeling of dissatisfaction upon letting go of his hand to drop your bag onto the floor, you bend down to grab a spare t-shirt of yours and drag a chair along with you.
“No questions okay?” You’re behind him, standing on your toes so you can wrap the fabric over his eyes and tie a knot like a makeshift blindfold.
He hums in wonder the moment his vision is blocked, and he sounds way too cute for someone who had just been slumping in sadness not too long ago.
“I need you to trust me, and just sit down alright?” you’re facing him now, and his face is already sporting more color and life than it did just now, brows narrowing playfully. You pull him once again— this time by the arm— to the chair you had placed beside the big instrument.
“How do I know this isn’t just a ploy for you to get to have your way with me?” he jokes suggestively, but there’s a little emptiness in his words.
“Do you not trust me?” you whine at him.
“Alright, alright, I do,” he chuckles lightly, before settling down on the chair. Turns out, you aren’t much of a good guidance because he almost slips and falls. Almost. “But don’t do anything funny!”
You shake your head at his playfulness, taking a moment to appreciate how ethereal he looks right now despite his eyes being covered, skin glowing under the lights and lips curled in. “Just be quiet and relax now.”
Settling down on the leather cushioned chair, you lift the fallboard of the piano with a profound gentleness and rest your fingers on the keys, soaking up the feel of years and years of familiarity that you’re met with whenever you touch your favorite instrument.
Sparing one last glance beside you for reassurance, you begin to press the white and black keys. The exposition of Arabesque No. 1 is soft and light at first, only gradually building up and getting louder. It takes you a while before your passion finally and completely overtakes you, flooding you with the same comfort a person feels when they return back home after a long day.
Rich harmonies resound throughout the room as you pour your emotions out into this piece, hoping and hoping that the music will engulf him in a state of tranquility which his kind heart undeniably deserves. You slip in all the apologies you know you owe to him into the piece, too, and you hope it’s enough to make up for every single second you have spent pushing him away.
Your fingers move with every chord and trill, and the ornamentation is part of the reason why you adore this piece so much.
The volume dwindles down and the tempo decelerates to a halt once you reach the end of the piece and you can only stay unmoving, needing a few moments to recollect yourself. Suddenly, you’re hyperaware, because you’re not one to play something so personal for someone, anyone really, and that was a leap out of your comfort zone.
“Wow,” Baekhyun breathes, causing you to turn to him. You wonder just when his blindfold was removed. “That was flawless.”
You pink under his gaze, trying to hide your flushed cheeks away from him until you realize there isn’t anywhere for you to run away to. It’s just the both of you in this room, but right now it feels a lot like it’s only the two of you in this entire world.
“Thank you,” you hear every bit of gratitude underlining his words and you feel a need to look at him once again. Your breath nearly hitches at the obvious affectionate gaze and the prominent fondness in his eyes that he’s looking at you with, and you offer him a genuine smile in return.
He smiles back, and you’re internally in awe. Baekhyun has always possessed a blinding smile, but you think this one puts the others to shame, holding more mirth and brilliance than you have ever seen before. Your stomach begins to stir and you try with every fiber of your being to capture this sight before you so you can replay it forever.
You could get lost looking in his eyes, you think, but you do nothing to sever the eye contact. There are no words exchanged between the two of you anymore, but there doesn’t need to be. This moment is perfect as it is.
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Ahh, thank you kindly for your reply. =) Truly, I appreciate the reassurance. It is only that as mentioned, there a couple scenes I would dearly love to see. I found myself wondering -- when Crowley volunteers to take Aziraphale's job in Edinburgh -- how Crowley would go about blessing someone, and how it would work? (Crowley being mistaken for a priest would be doubly funny!) But I also wonder how Aziraphale might go about blessing someone? May I ask for a fic on this, please? Thank you!
Hiya! Here it is! I hope you enjoy, thank you so much for the prompt! :D
1 - Edinburgh
“Toss you for Edinburgh.”
The coin turns in the air and for a millisecond Crowley considers cheating, he doesn’t particularly mind Edinburgh after all and he knows Aziraphale is having a swell time lately hanging around Shakespeare. The journey up there is by far the hardest part of the job. He claps the coin down onto his hand and uncovers it so Aziraphale can see too.
“Heads. Looks like I’m off to Scotland.”
Aziraphale’s smile is worth it.
He stays for the end of the play, whispering into Aziraphale’s ear quippy comments about the performance. It doesn’t escape his notice that Shakespeare has edged closer to them again and is squibbling down on his parchment. He makes a point to make Aziraphale laugh in the gloomy parts of the play, earning dangerous looks from Burbage on stage. If Shakespeare overhears his jokes he is more than welcome to use them, the comedic plays are always better than the tragedies, in his opinion.
When it’s over, Aziraphale has to be dragged out of the Globe because he keeps making himself look like an idiot as he compliments Burbage and Shakespeare profusely. He’s getting funny looks from the spattering of other play watchers. Crowley also hasn’t eaten lunch and could do with something filling. Alcoholic too, just to take the edge off the annoyance at having to ride a horse all the way up north. It’s another half hour before they leave in the end. Turns out he still can’t help indulging the angel.
He gets the rundown on what Heaven wants Aziraphale to do and then they spend the rest of their meal arguing over the finer points of having so many soliloquies in a play and what counts as appropriate audience participation. Crowley steadfastly argues against shouting ‘buck up’ at the actors.
He gets to Scotland and makes a mental reminder to find a carriage or something to go home in because there’s no way in Heaven or Hell that he’s taking the trip again by horse.
Of course Aziraphale’s blessing has to do with rewarding a long-time church-goer for their faith which means the only time he knows they’ll be about it is when they’re leaving church on a Sunday morning. So he loiters and lurks outside the church until the session is over. He gets his fair share of funny looks, what with the tinted glasses, but encourages them to forget they’d seen anything easily enough. It takes a while but eventually the doors open again and he perks up from the bench he’d been lounging on and strides across the square to sift the intended woman out from the crowd. It’s a minor shock when he sees the child in her arms. A little girl. She looks deathly pale.
“Madam Stuart?” He asks when he’s in range, standing confidently and trying to exude the sense that she can trust him. He’s also trying to smile at the kid who just blearily looks through him.
“Miss Stuart, Sir. Are you a priest? I heard a new priest was coming in from out of town.”
Crowley looks down at his dark clothes. Then back up at her. Then down again, then at the woman’s eyes, trying to figure out if his ‘sense of trust’ has actually made him appear all holy and proper to her. She doesn’t wither under his gaze or do anything more than adjust the child in her arms. He shrugs internally; it makes things easier. And gives him something to bitch about to Aziraphale later.
“Sure. That’s me. The travelling priest... Would you follow me please?”
It’s really a testament to humanity’s stupidly trustful nature that Miss Stuart just nods and follows Crowley through the streets to loop round to a small grassy area, a couple trees. Almost a park. Empty, perfect for a quick blessing and minor miracle. Only. The minor miracle, Aziraphale had told him, was due for Miss Stuart which didn’t make sense when she wasn’t the one who was ill. Why reveal his wings to her to reinforce her faith in this difficult time when he could just heal the kid? Surely that was both more Good and more practical. It’s like Heaven wants the kid to die and for her to return to her faith during...during the grief…
Crowley stops under a tree and spins to face the woman who looks a little startled at their sudden stop. She squints up at him, trusting. So trusting. What was with humans and trusting people they don’t know just on their word? So foolish. He runs a hand through his hair and holds a hand out. She hesitates before taking it. She’s cold. Not surprising. Calloused fingers. She works then.
“Miss Stuart, I am on a mission to help you in this difficult time. Will you accept my blessing of good will?” He goes through the rote message, he could do it from afar but he likes to give them the option to refuse.
Something falls in disappointment in her eyes but she nods.
He digs into his power and uses part of his focus to try and mimic the soft, chilly feel of Aziraphale’s divinity when invoking the ‘blessing’. She’ll have some good luck for the rest of the year. But she isn’t technically blessed. He can’t actually do that. But the results are the same. Mostly.
“I- Pardon me for asking, Sir, but could you also give your blessing to my daughter? She is ill, you see, and they say there is no cure,” her voice trails away and Crowley can’t help the pang of anger in his chest.
Kids. What is it with Heaven and not caring about kids?
“Of course, can I hold her hand?”
The kid blinks up at him, a little spark of awareness resurfacing as he holds her small fingers in his. She’s feverish. Skin clammy and it makes Crowley feel sick himself. That Aziraphale was meant to be the one doing this. That, if the coin flip had gone a different way, he’d have sent Aziraphale to do this. And for all Aziraphale is sweet and compassionate and as in love with humanity as Crowley is, he knows deep down that Aziraphale wouldn’t have done what he’s about to. He wouldn’t have enjoyed leaving this child to die, but he’d have still done it. Faith in Heaven’s orders ranking higher than his personal moral qualms.
Crowley shakes his head and squeezes the girl’s hand comfortingly. He isn’t going to leave her behind to this fate.
2 - London
“Crowley, my dear. I really must get going now,” Aziraphale says, shuffling on the sofa he’s sitting on.
Crowley is currently settled in his lap, heavy and soaking up the angel’s warmth. He doesn’t move. “Take me with you,” he rasps.
“Crowley I cannot take a snake with me to do a blessing. They’ll get all flighty when they see you and if I don’t do this blessing I’ll get another note.” Aziraphale says all this in his ‘I mean it this time, you wily demon’ voice but also continues to stroke down Crowley’s scales.
“Not moving, angel.”
They pause at this stand-off. Neither of them willing to budge until eventually Aziraphale huffs. He gathers Crowley up in his hands and drapes him, ignoring his hissed protests, onto his shoulders. Crowley readjusts, looping round to stop from sliding off and drops his head next to the angel’s neck. He flicks his tongue out to tickle Aziraphale.
“Who we blessing?” He asks as they leave the bookshop.
Aziraphale is gaining a fair few strange looks but they’ve only just started talking again after the holy water argument and Crowley isn’t willing to let go. It’s new now. Just ever so slightly different. That moment in the car had confirmed things for both of them and now they were readjusting, making the best of it as they can. It’s scary and thrilling and very freeing.
“Just a quick in and out one at the homeless shelter. Teenager needs some unconditional love and faith and all that.”
The weather’s not too bad, for London, but it’s chilly enough that Crowley goes through the complicated motions of burrowing under Aziraphale’s coat, popping his head out where he’d been before just this time under a layer of warmth. Lovely.
“You gonna talk to ‘em or just wave your fingers through the window?”
“Dream this time, I think.”
“If they’re not already asleep I’ll tempt them to a nap for you.”
Aziraphale’s smile is obvious in the way his walk bounces a little. Crowley holds on a bit tighter. “Oh, thank you, my dear. That’s very sweet of you.”
“Eh, don’t shout it.”
“I do wonder how many people like them are out there, you know. So many people I could be helping...”
“Help too many and you’ll get reprimanded,” Crowley reminds him as they turn a corner.
Aziraphale sighs. “I know but it just doesn’t seem fair. I’m allowed to reaffirm her faith and all but I could do so much more. She hates her body, Crowley, and I could change that! I could give her the body she wants but--”
“But you’d be in trouble. So would she. You know how humans are, they’d poke and prod her instead of leaving her alone to live her life. You don’t want to give her that.”
Another sigh. Crowley tickles his neck again, less in an attempt to make him laugh this time and more to try and comfort. “I’m sorry, angel.”
3 - Earth, Somewhere
It’s early days in their...acquaintanceship and they’re wandering around a desert. Just because they were both going the same way, towards a town where they’ve been assigned some odds and ends jobs. A couple blessings. A couple temptations. It’s still new and they’re feeling things out. Slowly. Carefully.
They’re having a small debate over nothing really when Crowley pauses, wrinkling his nose. Aziraphale stops a step later and turns to face him, already asking what’s wrong but Crowley’s focused on the strange feeling building up. He waves away Aziraphale’s lifted hand that had been reaching for his arm and takes a step back.
Then he sneezes.
Aziraphale cracks up laughing at Crowley’s expression but still gets out a quiet ‘bless you’ because he does have some manners still. Crowley’s terrified expression, morphing from his disgusted confusion, is more than enough to instantly sober Aziraphale up.
“What did you just say?” Crowley asks, eyes darting across Aziraphale and looking for all the world like he expects himself to spontaneously combust. “Angel, did you just? Really?”
“Oh! Oh, I’m sorry! It’s not a real blessing, I promise.” Crowley’s terror eases a little with the reassurances but he’s still shifting his weight around. “My dear, I promise. I haven’t actually blessed you. You’re okay. It’s just a polite phrase.”
“Stupid phrase more like. What if you’d actually meant it? Who invented that, seriously.” Crowley shakes his head but starts walking again. “What were you saying about grapes, angel?”
And they continued on. Blissfully unaware of the tiny aura of luck that was following after Crowley like a shadow.
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Only For A Moment Ch. 31
Master List: @afewmarvelousthoughtsadmin
Pairing: Bucky X Reader
Summary: For most of your life you’d been able to keep your abilities a secret, that is until Hydra got wind of you. After years of being in their clutches, you break out when The Avengers expose SHIELD/Hydra. Since then, you’ve been on the run. Things are going as well as you could hope when you see a familiar face… Could the Winter Soldier really be in Bucharest too?
Warnings: Feels, fluffy-ish, so not a warning just a heads up.
A/N: Ok. So... this is different. I’m incredibly nervous to switch things up but it’s kind of necessary for the direction of the story so I really hope y’all like it. Also, THIS CHAPTER ISN’T FILLED WITH PAIN! I know, I know. It’s been a minute that these two have been being kicked around (... by me... sorry...) but not in this chapter!
Please let me know what y’all think of this baby. Love ya pumpkins! Thank you for everything!
Tags are open!
There was so much more to discuss, you both needed sort out this mess that the two of you were. He had wanted to keep going, try to convince you that you were wrong about him but you wouldn’t have it. And you were right, that had been enough for tonight.
Back inside, you both settled back into what was becoming comfortable silence… and distance for a bit. The lack of tension between you was surprising, to say the least.
Bucky looks down at you from his spot on the couch. The copy of Frankenstein you took today laying open against your chest, head tilted toward him, face relaxed in sleep. Finally, he didn’t want you to have an entirely sleepless night, especially on his account. He had to admit he was happy you trusted him enough to fall asleep in his presence… even if he thought it was unwise.
Your words were still ringing in his ears. My monster sees your monster. She’s not afraid. Neither am I.
Some part of him knew he was always a smart kid. Everything he’d read about himself said he’d been an excellent student, something he’d doubt if he didn’t vaguely remember that, and as it stood he had a deep well of advanced knowledge Hydra put in him. Even with all that… he just couldn’t understand how in the hell someone could see him, really see him, and not be disgusted or at least terrified. Here you were though.
Here you were and how in the hell he was going to protect you… from himself. Any other threat he’d obliterate without a second thought. But The Soldier…
Leaning his head against the back of the couch he extends his right arm flexing it with a wince. It would likely be fully healed by Friday but for now, it still hurt like a bitch. He’s grateful for it though. It showed him you wouldn’t hesitate to do what you had to and gave him some verification that you did have tactical training. But…
He had been holding onto some form of control that time. Playing a tug of war with the monster and sort of winning. If he hadn’t had control… well, you wouldn’t have stood down, would have fought through that monster to get to him. And lost. Fuck…
All those years ago, your fierce determination to go down swinging, had reminded him of Steve. Indomitable. That was the word for people like the two of you. He envies that. The will to go on, to keep fighting, unfailingly. Honestly, if he didn’t know Steve was still out there somewhere, likely looking for him, he wasn’t sure he’d be here. Pretty certain he wouldn’t be anywhere but, hopefully, oblivion… Though the former altar boy in him can’t help but think that’s not exactly what would be on the other side. Regardless of what would come after he checked out, he knew he had to make things right with Steve before the end. That was the only absolution that mattered. Was… his eyes drift to your sleeping form once more and a smile involuntarily curls his lips.
As far as he knew though… you didn’t have that. There wasn’t anyone left. Yet here you were, still trying to keep going, refusing to be beaten. However admirable it may be there was something else that went hand in hand with that indomitable spirit. Pure, bullheaded, stubbornness. It was one of the first things he remembered about Steve and it’s what was going to make this hard.
Only four days in and he knew any suggestion he made regarding the subject of your safety where he was concerned would be met with a fight. He couldn’t pretend he didn’t like that about you though.
A small sound comes from the bed. Quickly he sits up, ready to wake you if a dream was disturbing your sleep, but your face still looks relaxed, your breathing normal. His hackles lower just a bit. Maybe you could sleep in shifts like he used to do with the Howlers… except instead of Nazis you’d be looking out for ghosts.
You roll to your side, facing him, and your book tumbles from your grip. Quietly, Bucky leans down and grabs it, marking the general spot he thought you were at and sits it on the floor next to you. The blanket is tangled in your legs leaving a portion of your hip and torso exposed where your shirt rode up.
His chest constricts. Desperately he wants to feel your skin under his hands again, you didn’t flinch from his touch at all, it fascinated him. More than that he wants to make you feel as good as he had… Jesus, was it really last night? He pushes it away. Bad idea Buck, he can’t help but think.
No matter how much he wanted you, and the ache in more than his chest right now was a solid testament to just how much, he couldn’t allow himself to, not again. Too many risks, too many possibilities that he will lose control, flash to one of the countless unwanted encounters he’d experienced through the decades and you’d go from his lover to his enemy in an instant. Hell, it had almost happened last night.
He sighs and settles back on the couch, closing his eyes and letting his mind wander. A plan… some way to keep you safe, something you’d agree to, because if you wouldn’t listen to reason he couldn’t… wouldn’t allow this to go on. Better he leaves, better to be alone, than risk you.
As the sun just barely starts to brighten the windows there's the whisper of a plan playing around the edges of his mind. You’re still sleeping on the bed but suddenly your knees jerk up, placing you in a loose fetal position as if you’d been kicked.
Bucky shoots up to wake you but waits just a moment, he doesn’t want to assume and wake you from sleep for no reason. People move in sleep, maybe him seeing you as being in pain was just paranoia… when a small groan slips from between your lips he no longer cares if he’s wrong.
Laying his right hand on your shoulder he shakes you gently, “Y/N?” You don’t respond but your brows knit you whimper. “Doll,” he shakes you a little harder, “Come on, doll wake up.” Your eyes shoot open, though your body doesn’t move. It seems like your taking in the scene, evaluating reality.
When your eyes fall on him he offers what he hopes is a comforting smile. At that moment you seem to light up a bit, a soft, drowsy smile curling your full lips. God, you were something else. You look happy, happy somehow to see him… could he really make you happy…
Your hand reaches up and delicate fingers trace his features, “Thank you,” your voice raspy with sleep. He takes your hand in his left and places a kiss on your knuckles. Maybe he couldn’t have you the way he wanted but he couldn’t resist these small gestures.
"Guess waking you up was the right thing?”
“Definitely,” you sit up and lean back against the wall, rubbing the sleep from your eyes.
“You don’t have to get up,” he doesn’t like how little sleep you’ve gotten.
You shake your head, “If I go back to sleep it’ll just be there waiting.” Your big eyes turn to him and you offer a solemn smile. Drawing your knees up you wrap the blanket around you, sighing heavily.
Bucky wants so badly to hold you in his arms, to say that he’d be here waiting too, that he’d wake you again, he’d keep you safe. After last night though saying he’d keep you safe seems too close to a lie.
Instead, he says the next best thing, “I’ll make us some coffee.”
@bluegirlusa1 @l0kisbitch @tazzi-baby @disagreetoagree @woodyandbuzz20-01 @mooniightbucky @saundrasays @breezy1415 @alyssaj23 @mywinterwolf @wonderlandmind4 @fairislesheets @anamcg317 @buckaroo-barness @jazztherebel @peachthatdrinkslemonade @regulusirius @auskitty @katecolleen @handplucked @piensa-bonito @darkdragonphoenix @issanitydead @thestorydetective @buckysstar @wintersoldierswhore @greyeyedsmile14 @watchoutforfrostbite
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Bumpy Road to Love 6
EDITED & COLLABORATED with @waywardbaby
Pairing: Dean x Reader
Genre: 40s-50s Au. Singer/ young Reader x veteran WWII/ young Dean.
Warnings: not really just lots of soft angst. ALSO THERE IS A SURPRISE FOR THIS CHAPTER.
Disclaimer: the story takes place in the first year of WWII to the years right after, but I love the style and fashion of the 50s so some of the visuals and lifestyle will be not super accurate, especially during the flashbacks.
Summary:People use to say that bad memories stay with us forever, lurking in the darkest corners of our heart, but they are wrong. You can always escape bad memories , you don’t want them, your mind protects you from them, but, good memories…..the good memories are the ones that your heart wants to indulge in, a way to hold on to the things you love, the things that made you happy…and the things you never thought you’d lose .Good memories are the ones that drive you insane.
Catch up here : Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5
flashbacks are in italics
A/N2: Tennessee Whiskey version “SANG” by Chuck and Reader
My God, how I love this girl! Every fiber of me, every molecule, every cell of my body is consumed by her. I feel her pressed against my back, her arms wrapped around me, her delicate hand resting on my heart. I reach mine up and place it on hers, squeezing it, pressing it on my chest, hoping she could feel exactly how fast and erratically my heart is beating.
The road is dark, winding, disappearing under my wheels. It is leading us back to the reality of the world. The beam of my bike’s headlight splitting the darkness, guiding me towards the consequences we will have to face. We, but mostly her.
She has already suffered because of me. That red mark that was imprinted on her cheek a clear testament that the girl behind me is so much stronger than what I had pegged her for. She had gone against her parents, defied her own mother, had a fight with her… and all that for me!!
No one has ever put me above anything or anyone else. I mean, I know my father loves me and Sam kinda looks up to me like a younger brother would normally do. But they're family. They kinda have to.
But her! That act of defiance that earned her a literal slap in the face.
How can I not love her? How can I not worship at her feet?
She chose me, a dropout with six bucks to his name. But all that pride I felt…? All that happiness…?
Dangerous, it made me lose control. Cross the line.
But the way she felt in my arms. How delicate and smooth her skin was under my lips. How she breathed my name and melted against my touch! She liked it, certainly it seemed that she wanted me to do all those things and -lord forgive me- so much more.
I shouldn’t have let it go that far! I mean, I'm sure that had she not wanted any of it, I'd be lying on my back, next to my bike after being punched in the face. Because, my girl is like that. Feisty and strong.
Son of a bitch. I'm ruined. No matter which direction this goes,no matter how much time we have, I am certain that I could never love the way I love her. So completely, so consumingly.
The lights of the town are visible now. All this will soon come to an end. How I wish I could just walk her on her doorsteps and into her house, having her in my embrace and just face her parents, tell them that she's mine. That I will never leave her. That I’m sure I don’t deserve her, but I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to earn the right to be beside her. That there could never be anyone else for me. That I love her.
But I can't.
And she will have to face those consequences alone. Again. For me!
My grip on the handle tightens and I slow down just a bit.
How could this day have started so badly and ended up so beautifully? Well, it hasn't ended yet, and I know what's gonna happen the minute I step through the door, but right now, all I know of… all I feel… all I need… is him. His body sheltering me from the cold on the ride back, my now swollen cheek pressed against the cool leather, the scent of it already deeply imprinted on my clothes and my mind.His rough hand feeling so tender and warm as it's locked mine over his heart.
God! I can feel his heartbeat! Hell, if I focus enough, I'll probably be able to hear it. And mine could definitely match his. I close my eyes and I can still taste his lips on mine. The way his tongue licked and begged for me to let him in, desperately and hesitant at the same time. I could feel how he tried to restrain himself and the pleasure it gave me thinking that I was causing that. The goosebumps I felt when his eyes burned me as I was undoing my buttons and when his fingertips brushed against my breast. I'm so glad that he was a gentleman and stopped when he did. Because I'd never been able to. I would have been totally fine if he had made me his, right there. On that bike. Out in the open.
Sure, I’ve never experienced anything like this so I don’t know if it’s the same for everyone, but for me, right in that moment , nothing else could ever compare, and I know that I wouldn’t want nobody else to touch me like that.
There can never be anyone else for me. I am willing to leave everything behind and follow him anywhere if he ever just asked me to. In my heart and in my mind I'm already his. His concern when he saw the red mark on my cheek, his effort to conceal his anger, his willingness to make me forget everything.
I'd chosen him once and I'd choose him again in heartbeat. Because this man is everything I want and I'll ever want. He is the one who encouraged me to shout a huge “fuck you” to the world I'm going back to. He found my quirkiness,my temper and unladylike manners amusing . He’s the one who instead of suffocating me, is actually breathing more air into my lungs. More love into my heart.
If such a man doesn't deserve a slap and a fight with my parents, I don't know who does. And I know that the fight is gonna happen. The yelling and the threatening and maybe the slapping have already played in my head. But now…
Now, I don't give a damn, because I know that he loves me. And I love him too. Above all stereotypes. Above our crappy era. Above everything.
I just love him.
Pressed against the wall that surrounded my house’s garden we exchanged one last kiss.
“Are you going to be okay?”
His lips grazed mine, lingering warm and soft, before backing away from me. I chased after them, a little whine escaping. He chuckled before cupping both my cheeks with his hands.
“Y/N” he warned and I rolled my eyes pouting.
“Yes...I’ll be fine. they are strict and old fashioned but they are my parents and I know they love me. It’s a little bump on the road but nothing I can’t take care of”
He smiled, a tight smile that told me he’s not entirely convinced but he trusted my judgement. Squashing my cheeks together he pecked my fish like lips and backed away, our hands slowly lingering in our touch , not wanting to let go, before letting them fall along our sides.
We stood there staring at each other. Oh damn, this is really hard!.
His eyes widened and be blushed scratching behind his head.
“Err...your-” he averted his eyes and cleared his voice, “ -the uhm ...the buttons” he blindly motioned in my blouse’s direction.
Quickly looking down I blushed as my eyes noticed that I had missed some buttons.
I raised my hands to take care of it -we really wouldn’t want my parents seeing me coming home in this state, they’ll probably send me to a nunnery or something-
his hands covered mine, slowly pulling them aside. My breath hitched when he began to undo the few wrongly done buttons - it really was something different when someone else did that- still with that intense stare that reduced my knees to mush again. His knuckles grazed my collarbone and I closed my eyes shivering and tilting my head back as he reached the collar top ones.
“All done….nice and proper again” I could hear the smirk in his voice.
“ Yeah...didn’t want you to see me in a white dress with a shotgun pointed at your back” I joked before mentally kicking myself.
Whoa!! Real smooth, Y/N.
I didn’t want to see his expression just now so I looked at my shoes as an awkward silence filled the space between us.
He straddled his bike, the loud purr of the engine vibrating into my chest.
“Go inside right away” he finally said, amusement in his voice.
“Don’t forget to call the shop tomorrow….around noon”
“I will “
“But you can call earlier too-”
“-or also later”
“Now that I think of it... you can call anytime”
“- it’s just better at noon because they are all on break and-”
“Yeah, ok sorry….so...we’ll talk tomorrow”
“Tomorrow” I confirmed giggling and watched as he saluted me with a wink before disappearing around the corner.
I shook myself out of my daydreaming and sucking in a big breath, I turned around squaring my shoulders, raising my chin high - the angry red patch of skin still stinging- and walked to the front door ready for whatever battle awaited me on the other side.
“There she is!”
I throw a stink eye at Benny from behind my sunglasses as I enter the club, already bathed in dim light .Thank Chuck for that! But I still keep them on until I can hide in my dressing room, away from prying eyes. Benny’s in particular.
“Hey doll, sunglasses indoors ? Had fun last night, I gather”. I turn around, facing him, showing exactly how I felt about his comment. “That was completely unladylike, sweetheart, I love it!” he shouted as I disappeared behind the curtain.
Dropping onto the chair I let my body slide until my head rested on the backrest, my hand blindly searching for my cigarette pack in my dressing gown hanging behind me.
The first draft of smoke gave me life and I inhaled deeply, feeling my muscles already relaxing and my throat burning. Before taking a second puff, the cigarette was slipped out from my fingers.
“You can’t come back here Chuck, this is the girls’ changing room”
“Wrong, this is the only changing room in MY club” his voice stern but warm. I lowered my sunglasses, watching as he put a glass in my hand.
“I hope that’s gin”
“If it helps, sure.” he said before adding a tablet in it. I grimaced as it fizzled until it disappeared.
“Do you want me to keep your nose pinched? ”
I throw down the disgusting hangover remedy in one gulp, shuddering as it went down to my mostly empty stomach. “Oh god, you really do hate me”
“Hate you so much that I changed tonight’s set to Jazz ballads” he smiled in the mirror as I watched him smoking my cigarette. He pointed at it, saying “ no more of these tonight”. I groaned loudly, my head rolling back against the backrest again. “And also no alcohol tonight”
“...and also no alcohol tonight …” I repeated whispered mockingly, forgetting that he could see me in the mirror.
“I already threatened Benny and don’t try to drink from the customers. I’ve got Zeke to keep an eye on you” I turned to look at him offended but he had already disappeared.
“Fellas and ladies, I’ll leave you to the capable hands of Mr.Chuck’s swing’s set. And we’ll be back for some more Jazz right after a break.” I said addressing the room, making a little pause for the applause, bowing. “ Y’all know how to make a girl giddy “ I said with a sugary cute tone, my cheek hurting from smiling, a hand on my heart.
As soon as the curtains fell behind me the smile faded into a frown, my fingers massaging my temples. I patted my coat draped across the chair. I knew I had another pack hidden here somewh- ah ah! found it!
Sneaking out the back I shivered as the night’s cold air hit my face, the noises from the street muffled in the little alley.
As I enjoyed my more than deserved break, some angry voices reached my ears, but instead of being of angry men as I was used to, this time they were feminine ones.
“Is this the place you’ve been sneaking to?” a unpleasant shrill drilled into my brain painfully.
“...mom..” the girl’s little scared voice instead pierced my heart.
I saw the mother dragging the poor girl away, causing an embarrassing scene.
“I raised you better than this. What were you thinking going around dressed like a common harlot, dancing shamelessly with men. I swear once at home your father is g-”
I drown out the rest closing the door behind me, a shaky breath leaving my weary body.
Even though I know I can’t escape what’s coming, I still enter home silently and on my tip toes, closing the door slowly. But as soon as my foot sets on the first step that would lead me to my room, the blasted thing creaks.
“Y/N is that you?....”
I don’t answer to my dad’s voice but I don’t move from where I am, either.
“Come into the parlor, please”
“.... yes father”
As soon as I enter the room, my eyes find him sitting in his chair, his pipe in his mouth, reading his favourite book - uh I’m in real trouble now- a glass of whiskey sitting on the tea table beside him -yes...real trouble-
When he raises his eyes to me all my bravado from before vanishes, my own eyes start to burn and I look down. He looked angry, yes, but I expected that. What I didn’t expect was the tired look of worry that made him look older than he was.
I bit my tongue in my suddenly dry mouth at his tone.
“You listen to me now, am I clear?”
He signaled me to come closer and I took my place, the usual place I’d always taken when I was little, curled at his feet in front of the fireplace, my cheek , that usually was at his knee’s height now settling on the armrest.
“Never do that again! “ his tone harsh and dry, “Storming out like that and going who knows where. Do you have any idea how worried we were? We didn’t call the police only because we sent Mr.Raynolds after you and he saw you going away with that boy”
I tensed and he sighed heavily, I felt a huge weight coming off his shoulders as he laid a warm hand on my head, slowly caressing my hair. I leaned into his touch , tears threatening to spill.
“I...I’m sorry Dad”
He patted my head , “I know you are sweetie, I know you are”. We fell in a warm comfortable silence as the smoke from the pipe wrapped us in our own world. “How’s the cheek?”
“Stinging” I said, massaging it.
“Your mother has an excellent slapping technique, I should know, got few of those myself when I deserved them”
We chuckled slightly.
“Why ...why don’t you tell me something about this mystery guy?”
I sucked in a breath as I looked up at his kind eyes and strained smile, and my bottom lips trembled.
“His name’s Dean Winc-”
“Oh NOW you decide to come home?!”
We both jumped as my mother’s voice filled the parlor and popped the warm bubble we were in.
“You shut up! And you..” she said pointing at me “... get up!! “.
I did as she ordered and stood up, proudly walking toward her. I flinched when she grabbed my jaw, turning my face to inspect my cheek.
I peeked at her face and I could see a frown on her features, almost like she regretted it, but that soon disappeared as she eyed how I looked, unkept, messy, rosy cheeks and bright eyes. She knew. She definitely knew.
“So, not only do you run from home in that state , so everyone could see you walking around like that, but you jumped on a motorcycle, with that….that hood, going who knows were for hours. AND now you come back at this hour, looking like that?” .
Yes….she definitely knew.
She sighed pinching the bridge of her nose, before torturing her pearl necklace, “At least….at least please tell me you didn’t-”
“NO!!! Oh my gosh, mom of course not !” I said blushing embarrassed .
“Oh, thank God!” she said laying both her hands on my shoulders, “And please tell me you said goodbye to him”.
“What?!...I did not do such thing and I never will!”
Her fingers dug into my skin almost hurting “What did you say?” she hissed between her teeth.
“You heard me” I shrugged, escaping her grip, standing in the middle of the room, looking at both of them, “ he’s….he’s...” I choked on my world as my eyes filled with tears.
“He’s a good-for-nothing hood who just arrived in our town and you are the first skirt he got in a bundle”
“A drop-out, I suspect. From your friend’s description I guess he’s what….a mechanic?” she said the last word like it was the most disgusting thing that she ever had to name.
“He had to drop out to help his family so his little brother could continue his studies! He’s going back to his studies to get a degree in Mechanical engineering”
She snorted, “Oh sure, and I guess he promised you the sky and the moon. Y/N, you are a grown woman, you have no time for fairytales”
My mouth setted in a tight line, jaw clenched, we just stared at each other.
“I’ll never marry whoever you want to sell me to”
“Sell you?!” she said raising her voice and I winced, “I’m not selling my only daughter like a cow in the market! I just want to be sure you’ll be comfortable for the rest of your life. Why can’t you see that?”
“I prefer to be happy than comfortable!” I shouted back.
We looked at each other, our breathing fast, both red in the face. We probably looked very alike.
“I don’t understand why would you throw away a perfectly good opportunity for a wealthy marriage to follow an infatuation”
“I LOVE HIM”
“AH! Love!! You are too young to know what that is”
“You were my age when you married dad!”
“I was clearly wiser”
“You're going to tell that boy to leave you alone!”
“I will not”
“I will not have my daughter becoming the wife of a mechanic, no way!”
“It’s not your call”
“Oh, it is. You can’t do a thing about it”
We were inches apart, venom spitting out from our eyes, my knees trembling under her stony face and I started to feel crushed.
“Why don’t you introduce him to us?”
“ What?!” both our heads turned to my dad who, in the midst of all, had stood up, finished his drink and now he was pouring himself another one, double.
“Well , I want to at least have my own opinion on the fella. I think it’s only fair”
“What are you saying darling?” my mom’s voice dangerously sweet, “ You want to invite the boy who almost made a whor-”
“ENOUGH!!” He shouted and we both flinched, not used to him raising his voice. He downed his drink in one gulp and turned to the fireplace, giving us his back.
When he spoke again his voice was the same collected tone as usual. “I said we meet the boy and let him speak for himself like a man he should”, he turned his head slightly to look at me, “a man who should deserve my daughter”.
“Hon-” my mother started.
“Next Thursday, dinner, 6 pm sharp. That is all.” Saying that, he walked out of the parlor leaving us speechless.
I woke up again in the present, the ashes of my finished cigarette almost burning my fingers. Looking up at Benny I throw the cigarette butt on the ground, stomping on it with the point of my shoe.
“Yeah, ‘been calling ya ‘couple of times. Where were ya?”
“Just….never mind. Can you bring a tonic and whatever tablet Chuck gave me earlier backstage? My head is killing me”
“No alcohol “
“Oh my God, okay. Just take away the gin, whatever” Wrapping the coat around me I snorted and slipped inside the club again, ready for my last set so I could go and die in my bed for the rest of the next day, thank you very much.
“Ugh, can you lower the lights a bit?”
“Y/N, people need to see to clean this place” I reach Chuck, sitting next to him at the piano. He’s pressing random keys while finishing his drink. I look at it longingly. “How are you anyway?”
“Really ready to go home, and if you wake me before twelve I’ll kill you”
He chuckled shaking his head, “It’s your fault, Y/N”, then he went serious playing a little riff, “You need to stop drinking so much”.
“Oh please...” I snorted, but seeing no amusement on his face I bit my tongue and laid my head on his shoulder, “I know, it’s been….difficult these last few weeks.”
He hummed, patting my thigh before putting both hands on the keyboard and starting a familiar tune. I chuckle, “Really? Chuck come on! I sang all night, are you not tired of hearing my voice?”
“Never “ he started from the beginning again, going in circle until I decided to humor him.
The night is cold but the air is humid tonight, my breath visible as it condensates in front of me. I bring the lapels of my wool coat up, protecting my throat from the chill wind that sometimes hits my face.It’s in this particular weather that my chest usually starts to ache so I bring a hand over my heart. Still beating, pulses are strong, I let out a huff, I’m good.
The streets are mostly empty, save for some late night couples hiding in the shadows, the last patrons leaving bars, and drunk people which I have to dodge as I walk on the sidewalk.
I really want a drink , at least to warm the chill that is settling in my bones.
There are still some clubs open at this hour, their lights reflecting on the shiny wet street, but no one is playing music right now, so I guess no nightcap this time.
Son of a bitch, I really need one!.
As I pass near the umpteenth closing club I hear some notes.
Then someone, maybe, will still sell me some damn whisky, whatever brand or quality they have, I’m not picky.
The stairs that lead down to the main room are not illuminated so I go down slowly. It seems a bit sketchy but who cares, and damn this song is calling me and it’s a duet, her voice is nice.
Aah!!! Tennessee Whiskey, how approp-
I've looked for love in all the same old places
Found the bottom of a bottle always dry
I stumble on the stairs, my hand clutching the handrail as I lean on it, suddenly feeling like all my blood left my body.
No...no, I must have heard wrong.
But when you poured out your heart I didn't waste it
'Cause there's nothing like your love to get me high
Without me having a say, my trembling legs reach the end of the stairs and the main room opens up in front of me, half concealed by thick velvet curtains. Pressing myself against the wall I peek inside.
You're as smooth as Tennessee whiskey
You're as sweet as strawberry wine
My eyes need to adjust to the bright light shining on the stage, illuminating the couple sitting together at the piano. The man is playing and singing following the woman beside him. She’s turned toward him, her back at me, but during the next few lines she turns again and I can make out her outline.
You're as warm as a glass of brandy
And honey, I stay stoned on your love all the time
I suck in a breath, or I forgot to breath, still don’t know which one, but I don’t care right now.
That’s...no, it can’t be...but that’s her voice, that’s her little round nose, her dark eyelashes, her full delicate lips in a tinge of red I’ve never seen. She used to wear pink. I shake my head, that was when she was a girl. What I’m looking at now is a woman. Even her voice seems a bit rougher than I remembered, then I see her thin - way too thin- arm reaching for the cigarette between the man’s lips, bringing it to hers.
My chest aches again, but this time the pain is deeper, not only it reaches my heart, but also my soul, what is left of it anyway. I clench both my jaw and fists ,teeth grinding and nails digging into my palms, as I watch them smile warmly at each other. She lays her head on his shoulder and they sway together as they sing the last lyrics.
You're as smooth as Tennessee whiskey
The song ends and they stay like that a bit more, in comfortable silence, she sigh contently as the man circles her shoulders with his arm, bringing her closer.
I don’t want to watch this.
Of fucking course.
It’s not that she would have waited for me anyway. Hell, she had probably forgot pretty quickly.
She raises a hand swiping her face, under her eyes, is she…..crying?.
The man’s hand slides on her head, kissing it and she softly laughs.
My hand covers my heart again as a fit of pain takes my breath away. They are whispering something to each other, intimately and I feel embarrassed watching them, like I’m spying on a private moment.
Looking down I smooth down the edge of my hat, steal another glance before squeezing my eyes shut, trying to delete everything I’ve just seen, but in vain, it’s all burned in my mind. I slowly put on my hat, angling it on my face, hiding my eyes from the world as I turn around and suddenly I don’t care about the humid, cold and windy air outside.
I welcome it.
Right outside I look up as some stray rain drops fall on my face, I swallow the lump that formed in my throat , and tuck my cold hands in my pockets. Taking the first step is more difficult that I imagine, but I manage to walk away, every step quicker than the last.
I had an important date with my hotel’s alcohol assortment and for the first time in months I felt like I didn’t want to ever regain conscience.
Tennessee Whiskey version “SANG” by Chuck and Reader
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