being bold

They had all been more than a little curious as they had left after the viewing of the painting. Everyone snagging a cookie or two before they went on their way. Yael had waved them off, leaning lightly against Quentin as he did. He looked exhausted and Quentin knew it wasn’t all that surprising. This had been a lot of stress for a single young man to go through, after all.

“Why don’t we get some rest? Tomorrow is going to be a big day, all the setting up and preparing. We have to decide what we’re preparing for that meal. It’s been some time since we’ve last cooked for so many people.” Yael still was leaning slightly against him at that point though once the door closed and the last of their guest was one, he turned to his companion, one brow quirked slightly.
“What are you preparing?”

“That’s a surprise, love, please humour me and go with me on it all? Just think of it as having everyone over, it’s been forever and I feel like preparing food for everyone, something simple but delicious.”

“Hot pot?”

“The one with the meat and veggies and at times tofu where everyone cooks their food themselves in the broth? Rice and salads on the side?”

Yael nodded, rubbing his eyes as he started to walk away from the door. He felt absolutely exhausted at this point and he knew that sleep would do him some good.

“That is actually a wonderful idea, we’ve never done that before, not even with Eoghan and his trips around the world, we’ll just need to get at least two pots but that’s something I can do tomorrow. I can get some beef, some shrimp and veggies. I’ll look online to find more information and I’ll do all that shopping. On Friday afternoon we can start slicing and dicing stuff, sounds good?”

“Sounds good.”

So that was it there. They had sliced and diced, prepared plates, put them back in the fridge to keep certain four-legged fur balls from getting into the plates, they had prepared enough sauces they knew they’d have more leftovers than they knew what to do with it all. They had set up the table, prepared the broths (conveniently they used the broth Quentin had been preparing when Yael had finished his painting two days back), set everything up.

By the time their guests started arriving, the broths were beginning to bubble. Seats were taken at the table, plates handed out and, for this particular occasion, an occasion no one but Quentin understood the significance of yet, they even had wine. Even the twins were handed slight cups. Mira scrunched his nose at his own and was offered a glass of water instead.

The meal was eaten, the air filled with chatter and discussion about everything and nothing of importance, as usually was the case for their shared suppers. Several times over the course of the meal, Quentin left the table, looking into the fridge, as if to check to make sure that whatever he was worried about still was where it was meant to be.

Once the meal was done, he shooed everyone to the family room where the new painting had been hung onto the wall. Eoghan stayed behind along with Mira to help put things away, to help clear up the table. Once the table was clear, it was Eoghan’s turn to gently shoo Mira off to join the other, telling him they would be joining the lot of them shortly.

Finally alone with Quentin, Eoghan tilted his head somewhat to the side, a curious note escaping him. He looked down to the very nervous looking Quentin and set his hands on those shoulders. Quentin stopped his almost pacing and looked up, his eyes wide. There was a tiny hint of fear in them but Eoghan refrained from digging into the other’s mind.

“How about you tell me what this is all about?” He kept his voice low, knowing it wouldn’t carry over the talking being done in the family room.

Quentin licked his lips to moisten them as best as he could. He swallowed around a lump in his throat. Instead of answering, he opened the fridge and brought out a beautiful cake, already sliced in eight portions. Along with the cake he brought out a bottle of champagne.

Eoghan looked at both items, still confused and Quentin stepped closer. He moved to stand on the tip of his toes and once his lips were as close as he could manage to his friend’s ear, he whispered something. As he leaned back, Eoghan’s eyes widened. “Really?”

Breathing in deeply, Quentin nodded. He rubbed the back of his neck and rolled his shoulders. “I think this is the single boldest thing I’ll ever do in my life and I just want it to be right.”

Eoghan chuckled, patting Quentin on the shoulder gently. “Here, let’s just set the cake, along with the plates, the flutes, the forks and the champagne on this tray, we bring everything down to the family room. You do your thing and we pop open the champagne, sounds good?”

Again, Quentin licked his lips to try to get some moisture to them. He patted his pockets and nodded. “Okay.”

Eoghan smiled down to him once more and gathered everything onto the tray. Quentin walked to the family room, Eoghan nearly at his heels. The tray was set down and Quentin cleared his throat gently. Silence settled over their guests.

“Yael, could you come here, please?” Eoghan stepped to stand next to Lex, leaning comfortably against him. Yael moved away from the window and stepped closer. Once he was close enough, Quentin took Yael’s hand in his and eased down to one knee. Eoghan hid his grin as best as he could and the rest of their company stood, eyes just a little wide. Yael’s eyes were widest of them all.

“Yael, some people would think I’m crazy. A lot of people think I’m an asshole, I can’t stand most humans. When you entered my life, you changed me. You made me a better person, you helped me learn patience. I know our relationship hasn’t been an overly long one but every day, as I wake up, I tell myself that I couldn’t spend my life with anyone else. You’re all I want in life.”

He paused them, looking up to those icy-blue eyes, a film of tears covering them. “I don’t even know if we can make this work here but I don’t really care. I’m honestly doing this so you know how much you mean to me, so you know that I want to spend the rest of my life with you and that if you ever decided to move on, I think- no, I know I wouldn’t be able to let you go.”

As he offered those last few words, he clicked open the box he had been keeping in his pocket all meal long. It was a slim sort of box, black and velvety. Inside, a ring. It wasn’t overly fancy, it was a simple band with a long stone embedded into it. Inside, a few words engraved in a language long lost.

“Will you be mine until the very end of times?” The room was silent, eyes wide from all parties, even Eoghan who looked on, breath held as a single tear ran down Yael’s cheek. His lips pulled into a smile and he nodded. His other hand was in front of his mouth, as if unable to really believe what was going on, it didn’t seem as if it could be real, not at all.

Relief flooded him at that nod and Quentin slipped that simple, but oh so beautiful ring onto Yael’s finger. The fit was perfect.

He eased to his feet, Yael nearly throwing himself at Quentin and they hugged. Applause rose from their mock-crowd.

“This is so very wonderful, I’m almost jealous that Yael is the first one of us to get a ring.” He shot a glance to Lex who looked to Quentin and Yael in turn, the laughed and Eoghan blinked. “You guys are going to have to tell me what’s so funny. Later though, much later, for now, cake and champagne!”

He reached for the bottle, popping the cork and managing, surprisingly, to not get champagne foam everywhere. He filled in glasses while Lex took a moment to place the cake to the plates. He stepped to Eoghan however, a soft chuckle escaping him. “Thing is, I thought about putting a ring on that finger of yours, last Christmas. It’s what all that jewellery was meant for, I didn’t think we were ready for the ring itself.”

Eoghan looked up to him, his eyes widening again though he laughed in turn, handing out flutes as Lex handed out cake plates. This was a day that was meant to be celebrated to the very end and back.

what you see

He couldn’t really remember the exact moment he had started working on this portrait. For its size alone, he figured the term ‘mural’ was best fitting but that wasn’t right either. It was on a large canvas, thus not a mural and it wasn’t simply a painting of one person from the shoulders up so a portrait wasn’t right either. He had no terms for it and it didn’t really matter. What mattered was that he was done.

He looked at it from all possible angles and he couldn’t find anything that might have seemed wrong or missing with it. The more he had worked on it, the more he was afraid he was doing too much but now that he looked at it, now that he saw it in the clear light of day as it poured into his studio, it was perfect.

Yael looked down to his paint covered arms and laughed. This wasn’t new. This was as far from new as it could ever had been possible. Working on this particular painting had left him with paint everywhere on his person, from his arms, to his face and up in his hair. He shook his head and wiped his hands clean on his pants, those were as stained as the rest. He opened the door to his studio and looked briefly out to see if he could spot his companion.

“Quentin?” He called out, voice thoughtfully quiet, almost afraid the other demon might have been busy in his own work room.

From the kitchen, the blond head peeked out, curiosity settled clearly into that face. Yael’s own brightened and he grinned. He almost waved his arms but managed to keep himself standing as still as he could manage. It wasn’t much, he was nearly bouncing on his toes. “Come see!”

Quentin, curiosity piqued even more, wiped his hands on his apron, having been in the middle of preparing some broth, and stepped out of the kitchen, to Yael’s studio and stepped inside once the other moved to the side. He didn’t have to wonder long about what he was supposed to look at, the painting was right there, almost life-size, almost. He stared at it for a long while, his mouth hanging slightly open at the sight.

“Yael that is so beautiful.” It was. As far as he was concerned, it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. “Want me to see if we can gather everyone in for a while after supper? I bet I can tempt most of them with the offer of hot tea, coffee or hot cocoa with some of those too delicious cookies you’ve made lately. I know we still have plenty of them.”

Quentin was rather pleased with himself, he’d managed to not eat his way through all of said cookies though it had been so very, absolutely tempting.

“Would you do that? I really want all of them to see it. I could show it to them Friday when we all get together but I don’t really want to bring it outside and to Eoghan’s place just for that.”

“I’ll call them, don’t worry. I’ll call Eoghan and he can see about everyone else. Why don’t you have a shower, you’re colourful again today. I’ll call while you shower and we can set it out in the family room once we’re both done with our current tasks and set it on the couch. It’ll be just perfect there. After that we’ll have to figure out where we’re putting it.”

“I’m almost done with the smaller one too, the one with the older type of clothes. I tried to stick with the clothes I imagine everyone wearing when they were younger and preferably from where they were born. It’s not as clashing as I thought it would be.” He laughed again, looking down to his arms. He really was covered, this time.

“I can’t wait to see it. Go on, get washed up, if I finish with the broth and the call before you’re done, I’ll head in to help you scrub yourself clean.”

The painting looked beautiful in their family room, sitting, for the time being, on the couch. There was a wide open space above it, right on that wall though it would have taken a bit more time than they could have spared right then to set it up. Later, they could hang it up and be reminded of the beauty that was their family, though only two of them blood-related, every time they stepped into that room.

Yael fidgeted, wringing his hands together as he waited and paced. Quentin had left him be for the time being, knowing that nervousness was more than likely to abound and there wasn’t much he could do about it. Yael needed the approval of their friends as far as this painting was concerned and it was out of his hands and into theirs.

Not long after they had set the painting up on its temporary resting spot, they came, all together, at once. Wearing light coats and not even the hint of a scarf. The weather had warmed significantly in the past few weeks and just two days away from the solstice, it was easy to see that spring was in the air.

“I’m grateful that you’ve all come here. When I called Eoghan, I didn’t really tell him why I wanted all of you here, why we, both of us,” he motioned to Yael who was joining them, still looking absolutely nervous, “wanted you here. I did bribe him with some of those delicious cookies Yael has made recently and I imagine it might be how he persuaded you all to come this way. So I’ll go and Yael can lead you to where you’ll be at least for the new few minutes. We’re not asking you to spend the night, but this is an important event in our lives, especially in Yael’s.”

With that said, Quentin disappeared back to the kitchen and all eyes turned to Yael. His eyes grew two sizes, the jitters of his first time ever in front of an audience robbing him of most of his thoughts. He stared blankly, his eyes unfocussed and Eoghan was the one to step forward, settle a gentle arm over Yael’s shoulders with a chuckle. “Just tell me where we’re going and we’ll go there, yes?”

Yael licked his lips to moisten them. When he managed words, they were so soft he barely heard them slip from his own mouth. “Family room, if you’d all please.”

Eoghan nodded, turning the wide-eyed demon around and he led him, and the rest of their group into the family room. Once there, his eyes fell on the painting and he released Yael who stepped to the side and went right back on to wringing his hands together. He watched as eyes widened and mouths opened slightly to gaping position. This was a good start, he didn’t see anything negative in anyone’s reaction, he felt already somewhat better, he felt less completely stressed out.

“Ah, I see you’ve all discovered why we asked you to come about.” Quentin’s voice broke through the silence as he weaved his way into the room itself, a tray of cookies in hand that he set down on the table in the middle of the room. He moved to settle at Yael’s side, slipping his arm along that slender waist.

“Yael, this is beautiful, I have no words.” Eoghan was the first to find his voice. He stepped closer, studying the details put into the painting itself. It was amazing. It was almost as though he was looking in a mirror.

The twins finally stepped closer themselves but Yael caught Cyrille’s gaze more than he did the twins’s own. He was confused, as if he didn’t understand how he’d made it into that painting himself. He looked to Yael a moment, his eyes wide, confusion absolutely clear as day before he looked back to the painting.

“I’ve been working on this painting since I’ve met Quentin, just about. On and off, I’d paint it, change it, modify it. Then, Eoghan came into our lives, I sketched him into it. Alexis was added, then the twins and Zora, though when she left I didn’t feel comfortable leaving her in the painting. Armin and finally though certainly not the least of addition, I’ve added you, Cyrille. You’re as much part of this family as everyone else. You’ve done so much for everyone in your own way, I don’t think we’d quite by the same without you. You deserve to be in this painting as much as everyone else.”

He paused, finding smiles all around as they looked at him. Courage settled into his bones then and he smiled, looking to his completed painting. “I was terrified some of you might not like it. This is the first time I’ve had so many people looking at my art and it is such a personal piece that I was terrified of what might come of it. Now I know that it was worth every second I’ve poured into it. Every shower I’ve had to take because somehow with this painting more than any others I ended up covered in paint from head to toe. It was worth everything.”

A group hug would have been symbolic then but perhaps it was asking for too much. Yael did find himself on the receiving end of several hugs by his friends, it was all he needed, they appreciated the work he had put in the painting and that was that.

“Before anyone goes anywhere, I’d like to offer that we do our shared meal this week here. There’s something special I’d like to do myself and I’d feel better if it was done here, if that’s all right with everyone.” Quentin looked around at the group, little nods coming from all parties though there was curiosity in their gazes one more. A curiosity he found in Yael’s gaze as well and that was the plan.

aftermath

Curled miserably on the couch, Agni tries to ignore the churning of his stomach. He looks at the empty container of sour candy with reproach, as though it had ruined his whole life before he closes his eyes with another groan. He feels pathetically ill and it is most unpleasant.

This is a first in his life and he wishes he would never have to go through it again. He knows there is nothing he can do about it at that moment but live through it and learn from his mistakes.

Not far from him, he hears his brother and their friend talk together, their voices are low, whispered notes that he can’t focus on. He breathes in and out slowly through his nose, not much caring to breathe through his mouth else he throw up again in the trash bin they’ve left not far from him.

“What happened, exactly?” Cyrille looks over to the curled teenager before he looks away. They have wrapped Agni in a blanket and left a bin next to him, in case he feels the need to throw up again. He doubts there is much left to throw up as he’s rather certain that all the sour candy he’d eaten has already come back up.

“He had bought the container of that sour candy he loves so much in order to celebrate, we went through our exams for history, the last ones we were meant to go through, I passed mine with flying colours but he failed his. Just by a few points but he failed and Eoghan said he’d have to take it again. Cue him stuffing his face with his candy to forget the bad news.”

“Mira, I was gone for all of half an hour, you’re telling me he ate through all of his candy in half an hour?”

“Twenty minutes, I’d say.”

“No wonder he’s sick. You want to keep an eye on him while I head back down to the store? I know what to get him, he needs to at least keep hydrated and in a way that’ll stay down.”

Mira shrugs gently, a wry smile finding his lips though he sighs and closes his eyes, rubbing the back of his neck as he does. “I have nowhere else to be though I was thinking of asking Eoghan or Armin for a miracle remedy if there’s any. Just come back soon, please.”

“I’ll be in and out, I’ll head to the closest corner store and once I’m back and trying to get him to drink the stuff, you can head up and check in with Eoghan to see if he might know something though I don’t think there’s much we can do, else than keep him hydrated.”

“He what?” Eoghan frowns as he lets Mira in, closing the door behind him and walking him to the kitchen.

“When you brought us our test results back, he started eating his way through that big container of sour candy he’s bought. Now I’m pretty sure he’s thrown it all back up already but he’s miserable and he can barely take a few steps without feeling dizzy and wanting to throw up again. Cyrille got him some sports drink of sorts, he said it was to help him stay hydrated but I wanted to check with you to know if there was anything we could make for him or give him that would help him along.”

“That is one poor coping mechanism.” Muttering, Eoghan looks through his herbs and spices, knowing he might have something he can put together to at least help a little though he knows it won’t be much. It could soothe the stomach enough, at least. “I can probably manage to prepare him a mix of herbs to steep in hot water, a tea that could help his stomach settle down. I would feel better knowing it came from Simon at the shop but that would take longer to get to him and back, then steep it all up than it is for me to try to recall the ingredients. Can you get some water heating on the stove? We’ll prepare it up here and you can bring it down to him once it’s cooled.”

Mira nods, filling the kettle with water and setting it on the cooking top to heat up. With that done, he steps back and out of the way as he only watches Eoghan. The man digs through his spices, most of them Mira still has never heard off and he puts little quantities of this and that into a tea bag.

After five or so minutes, he nods and closes the bag, sealing it with its little string to pull the top closed. He sets it in a large pitcher and Mira blinks at him, opening his mouth to ask his question but closing it when Eoghan chuckles softly and shakes his head. “I’m preparing more than less, that way you’ll have extra to give him throughout the day. About a cup of the stuff should be enough for a few hours and it can be taken hot or cold, it’s what’s in the bag that helps.”

Eoghan knows it’s not perfect, far from, Simon would have known better but the herbal shop is nearly at the other side of the town and it would have taken them too long to get there.

Once the water is boiling, Eoghan fills the pitcher up to the brim, drops the tea bag in it and sets a five minute timer on the microwave, letting it count down, second by second until it beeps. Once it does, he pulls the bag out and sits in on a plate to the side. He puts a cloth around the pitcher and offers it over. “It is going to be piping hot but it should cool down a little bit by the time you’ve gone back down. Just fill in a glass three-quarter full for him and have him drink it up. He might not like the taste but he has no choice if he wants to get better, hear me?”

“Thank you, Eoghan.”

“You’re welcome, now get.”

“That stuff smells pretty bad.” Cyrille leans over the still somewhat steaming glass of tea, scrunching up his nose as the smell of it. Mira shrugs gently, leaving the pitcher on the counter to allow it to finish cooling down. He then takes the glass to his brother, kneeling down next to him.

Agni looks at him, misery all over his face, he scoots up just slightly, barely, so he can at least be mostly vertical and he curls his fingers around the warm glass.

“This is going to taste pretty bad but you have to drink it all down. Eoghan said it will help your stomach feel better. I have more and you’ll likely be needing more throughout the day but only some hours apart. It all depends on how you’ll feel.” Mira sighs but steps back and away, letting his brother sip slowly at the cup. He utters not a single word but it is written all over his face that whatever is in there tastes terrible.

Cyrille watches from a distance, trying not to feel guilty. He is the one who helped the twins discover these candies. Of course, Mira cares little for them but Agni’s adoration for the sour little bites have obviously turned to a bad thing. He wonders if the teen will ever eat another sour candy again after this little issue, however. He shakes his head at the thought, hoping that Agni has learned his lesson well enough that he will leave those candies be, at least for a while yet.

When his glass is empty, Agni sets it down, feeling his stomach already settling down somewhat, despite the terrible taste in his mouth. His throat no longer burns from all the throwing up he has done. He cares little for what little he has ingested but he can understand natural medicine to a point and knows it’s for his own good.

“I’ll help you study for the next test, Agni. I looked at your test answers and it’s mostly a few numbers you’ve switched around, stuff you know but probably didn’t notice were written jumbled up.” Mira’s voice is soft but Agni ignores him for the time being, not even wanting to think about the test for the time being. He knows he didn’t fail by much but still he failed and it annoys him to no end.

community

“Alexis?”

The tall demon turns slightly, looking down to the blue and black haired youth as he stands next to him. He still does his best to respond to his full name though it sounds so formal to him. He smiles however, a soft chuckle escaping him as he realizes he hadn’t noticed the teen coming up to him.

“Yes, Mira?” He can hear the rest of their little group going about not far from them, in the adjoining rooms, talking, walking, placing dishes on the table, preparing for their meal, he tunes most of it out and focuses on their group’s youngest member. It seems strange, the oldest and youngest having a discussion, though perhaps not all that strange.

“Back then, before these cities and these large buildings and this technology, back when demons really didn’t have to hide about who they were,” he pauses on that point, frowning softly as he does, “there was a time when demons didn’t have to hide, right?”

Lex knows this isn’t the primary question, that somehow Mira has deviated from what he was wishing to ask. “There was a time when we, demons, didn’t have to hide. We were accepted by society as it was.”

“Okay, back then, during that time, did people live in split communities or was everyone together, helping everyone else and working with everyone else?” His eyes are wide and curious. Lex feels the urge to run his fingers through Mira’s growing hair to muss it up gently, so he does.

“Well, some demons were comfortable enough to mix in completely with the humans, I think that part of our civilization hasn’t really changed, Mira. There will always be those who prefer to stick to their own kind and those who feel more comfortable mingling. Where I was born, so long ago, the village was pretty close to a relatively big community. Demons and humans alike worked together, ate together, bathed together. People saw no harm in who we were and they didn’t use us for our gifts. We helped them willingly where we could. There were no slaves and no masters. At least not in our village and we were one of the few settled this way, sadly.”

He shakes his head then, looking out the window as he does. He sighs and tries not to think too much on the past he has lived through. It was a very long time ago.

Mira, still standing at his side, nods, as if that was all he had wanted to hear. “Thank you, Alexis.”

“You’re welcome.” He pauses, looking back once more as the bustling sound of movement is letting up somewhat, their table is almost ready for the meal, he’s certain, “you know you can call me Lex, right?”

Mira looks out the window again, gazing out, as if trying to find the right answer before he cranes his neck to look back up to the elder demon. “I know, I just don’t feel comfortable calling you that yet. I know you but I don’t really know you. Maybe in a decade or so more.”

The thought amuses Lex in ways he hadn’t expected. It is so sweet in its own way, this kind of respect. A lot of teens in this day and age no longer have that form of respect for their elders. “Thank you for that, Mira. Come, let’s go see if they need any help for the final few things that might need brought onto the table and then we’ll eat.”

With that, Mira turns and heads into the other room, to join his brother and their friend. Lex follows him, just a few paces behind.

“Should I get a penny?”

Next to him, at the door as they watch their friends walk back down the stairs or take the elevator down, Eoghan stands, hands lost in the long sleeves of his shirt. Lex blinks at him a moment before he turns away and closes the door with a soft yawn. As it always is, the dinner tickled the tastebuds of everyone present and the movie was appreciated by everyone.

“I’m just thinking, that’s all, really.”

“Okay, I’m going to have to up that bid and make it a whole dollar, you’ve been thinking since before we all sat down for our meal so it has to be some pretty deep thinking. What did you and Mira talk about? You two were the only ones not about to help with the table, not that it was necessary, we had plenty of folks almost walking on one another’s toes.” He laughs softly, those ever blue eyes looking up to his companion, trying to catch those green ones.

“He just asked me about how things were when I was younger, with demons not feared by humans but that’s not really what gets me, I think what gets me is how much he seems to respect me. Everyone I work with, when I’m dealing with the law side of my job, respects me, it’s earned because they know what I can do and that I’ve yet to ever lose a case but otherwise, when you meet up with people nowadays, it’s like there’s no respect taught to anyone anymore.” He shakes his head, stepping away from the door and deeper into their home.

“Mira respects everyone. I suppose I should give Zora that much, she taught them how to respect others.”

“I don’t know that Zora has taught them much of anything, honestly. Not when you really think about it. She refused to teach them the language, so they could hardly talk or interact with anyone, they couldn’t learn respect that way. It’s innate, or it’s in spending time with Armin or even Cyrille-“

“Or us, Lex.” Eoghan steps into their bedroom, moving to sit on the edge of their bed as he watched his lover round the bed to his side, tugging his shirt off as he goes.

“That could be too. Thing is, he refuses to call me Lex. Says he doesn’t know me well enough, that maybe in a decade or so, he’d feel as though he might know me well enough to be able to call me Lex and not Alexis.”

“They all call you Alexis though, I’m the only one who shortens your name.”

“I wish they all would, it feels strange.” He sits on the edge of the bed on his side of it, looking out of their window.

“Or you know, you could ask them to call you by the name you were given when you were born.”

Lex blinks and turns his gaze to Eoghan, eyebrows lifted in amusement. “So you’d rather they call me Lexius instead of Alexis?”

“You still were Lexius when I met you. You changed your name to Alexis when it seemed a more common name that most people wouldn’t really ask any questions about.”

“I had to, Eoghan. When I first left law and then came back to it a couple of decades later, when I told them my name was Lexius, I had to come up with the excuse that in our family, it was a really important name. At least with Alexis, I don’t stand out so much.” He laughs, shaking his head as he stands and goes about undressing so he can slip in between the covers. He feels absolutely drained and he knows it only is because he’s had himself several last minutes commission to finish before their friends came in.

“I know, I know. Aside the point, I know, you’re more comfortable with being called Lex but you can’t force anyone to anything. If they want to call you that, they will on their own time and that’s all there really is to it. It’s sweet that Mira respects you that much though. I know they all respect us in their own way but Mira seems to be the one who shows it the most. As parents, it proves we’re doing something right.”

Lex laughs and shakes his head. “We’re not parents, Eoghan and we both know this.”

“Details! Now come to bed and cuddle. I deserve cuddling for managing to cook perfect souffl├ęs that didn’t deflate.”

“You always manage perfect souffl├ęs that never deflate, love, but I can cuddle all you want. I don’t think our relationship would be the same if I wasn’t so willing to cuddle you whenever you want me to.”

“Are you complaining?” Eoghan, finally nude, slips between the bed sheets, shivering at their temperature and grumbling about it for a moment. When Lex settles in next to him, he scoots instantly over to steal some of the other’s body heat.

“Not complaining one little bit, I promise.”

“Good.”

aquarium

The knock on his door had woken him up from a slight doze. Armin’s night had been very short-lived and no amount of rolling over in his bed had helped him find that ever elusive sleep that he had desperately sought to find, without ever managing that much. He didn’t know what had kept him awake but it had been unpleasant.

For a while he thought it had been the movie, that somehow it had bothered him, confused him, left some trace on his subconscious but it hadn’t made sense so he’d dropped the idea. It didn’t really matter all that much. He hadn’t slept and that was all there was to that, he couldn’t change it.

As he moved to get back on his feet, rubbing his eyes, the knock came a second time, he shook his head and stepped to his door. Opening it, he found Eoghan looking down at him, worry creasing his brow.

“Sorry, didn’t sleep so well so I guess I dozed off a bit on the couch. Is there something wrong?”

This wasn’t their usual meeting hour, let alone their usual meeting day, so seeing Eoghan at his door was like seeing some long lost friend who’d randomly popped back into his life after dropping off of the face of the earth.

Eoghan’s frown and worry remained for a moment more before they faded off to nothing once more. He smiled, straightening as he did so. “I just thought we could spend some time together. At first I thought we could go out to buy you a few more books for your new shelves but since you’re tired I think I know exactly what we should do. How about a trip to the spa?”

Armin stared for a long moment before he shook his head and leaned his weight against the frame of his door. “Out with whatever it is you’re hiding, Eoghan. I don’t even need to try to probe into your head to know you’re hiding something from me.”

Eoghan’s face remained calm for several seconds before he pouted. “Drat, you saw right through me. There’s this one surprise I’m preparing for you and I need access to your apartment, preferably without you in it, for a few hours up to half a day. Exhausted as you look, how about I walk you back upstairs and you can sleep in our guest room? Lex is working on commissions and he won’t be out and about to bother you. You know how the bedrooms work, they block out everything and anything so if there’s something nagging you, it should leave you alone just fine and you should be able to get plenty of sleep!”

“Eoghan.”

“Yes Armin?”

“Nothing extravagant and nothing I don’t actually need, yes?”

“It’s not overly extravagant and I’m sure you’ll love it. Is that fair?”

“I swear, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with you. Sleep could be nice though, I feel absolutely exhausted. I don’t know if it’s last night’s movie or just something in my memories or even something in my room but I couldn’t drift off.” He sighed then, rubbing his eyes again. Eoghan looked into the apartment, shaking his head as he did. He couldn’t sense anything wrong with where he stood but maybe there was something in the bedroom.

“Come on, I’ll walk you up to that ever comfy-cozy bedroom so you can get some sleep and I’ll have a look around your apartment to make sure it’s boogeyman free. I’ll also come get you when the surprise is ready, so please, just please, please, don’t come back down until I’ve gone up to get you, okay?”

With a roll of his eyes, Armin stepped out of the apartment, carefully closing the door as he did. “All right.”

“Now if you need anything, you know where I’m at though I’d rather you didn’t. You know where most everything is in the apartment, if there’s something you need that you can’t find, Lex is there too and I’m sure he’ll be done with his commission pieces before too long. I should be up here to get you to see the surprise before the end of the day, I promise.”

At least, he hoped that would work out. He’d snuck the aquarium guys into the apartment when Armin had been at work a few days prior so they could measure and take note and set up the design before they headed out. He really wanted it to be as much a surprise as he could.

Armin nodded, seated on the edge of the bed, his crutch off to the side. He rubbed his eyes, feeling somewhat like a child who had been kept up far beyond his regular bedtime. It was a strange sensation. He felt calm however, so quiet and peaceful, as if everything that surrounded him was somewhat like a soundproof box that kept everything out.

“You sleep. I promise you, this is more than likely going to be the most restful sleep you’ve gotten in a whole.”

With that said, Eoghan eased out of the bedroom, closed its door, looked in on Lex to let him know about Armin and disappeared back downstairs to wait for the team of workers who would transform the wall between the kitchen and the living room into an aquarium.

Armin had mentioned, after all, that company could have been nice. Fishes were low maintenance, especially these, the whole systems, the whole set up, there was nearly nothing except the absolute basic of care that would be required to take care of the fishes.

Late in the afternoon, with Armin settled out on the couch, the green, tie-dye blanket sitting on the back of the cushion not far from him, Eoghan stepped back into the apartment. He was bright-eyed, almost bouncing. He looked into the living room first, just to make sure and if it was at all possible, his face brightened even more at the sight of his friend.

“You look rested, at least more rested than this morning, that’s great!” He laughed, walking over and Armin could tell he seemed quite pleased with whatever this surprise would turn out to be. Armin wasn’t sure if he really wanted to know but there was no backing out of it and Eoghan had yet to do anything for him or give him anything he didn’t actually need.

“Ready?”

“As ready as I’ll be. Thank you for letting me sleep in the guest room, you were right, I can’t recall last I’ve had such a restorative sort of sleep.” It had been dark and peaceful, he couldn’t recall any dreams he might have had, which was for the best really.

“Great! Let’s head down to see your surprise. I swear it’s only half a surprise, it’s one of our discussions that brought the idea up to the surface so I know it’s not completely out there and I’m not crazy. Not yet.”

“Not much, in any case.” Armin murmured with a gently amused note as they stepped out of the apartment and into the elevator, down to the first floor where his door was slightly ajar. Not something he minded, he trusted everyone who lived in the building and he left his door unlocked unless they all stepped out. One couldn’t step into the building itself without a key, or the code for the door. It was one or the other.

“You’re so cruel to me, boohoo. Now, you’ll just have to trust me. I want you to close your eyes and set your hand onto my arm. I will lead you safely into the apartment and to the surprise, once there, I’ll let you open your eyes so you can see what it’s all about, sounds good?”

“I already trust you with my life, Eoghan.” He did. At the door, he closed his eyes. Eoghan took his hand and held it, carefully leading the slighter man inside and to the wall separating his living room and kitchen, a wall now filled with water and fishes and coral of all sorts.

“Okay, open your eyes.”

And he did. He opened his eyes and stared, mouth hanging open just a little. Just a tiny, tiny little bit. “Wow.”