Other [FanFic] Rose & Sunflower 3: A Different Perspective (Updates Weekly) -Ch 70 [19 March]

Discussion in 'Fan Works' started by Risukage, Jan 30, 2017.

  1. Risukage

    Risukage Existential Complex

    //I still love this scene, it felt SO GOOD to finally have Lys reconcile his past and make up with someone that meant the world to him.//

    The saloon was filled with laughter and merry conversation as Lysander and Elliott arrived. Elliott caught the tail-end of a story that Allen was telling, something involving spiders, and he smiled to himself as he closed the door, assuming that it was likely about his partner, and something embarrassing at that. Their arrival invited attention, and when Allen saw them, the smile vanished as he put down his glass. Lysander had removed his gloves and scarf, handing them to Elliott. He was also looking quite somber, but likely for a different reason.

    Sighing a bit sadly, Allen stood up and pushed back his chair. “I’ll go now, sorry to have intruded, Lys. I’m sorry for everything, especially barging in here like that.” He reached for his own coat as Lysander gave his to Elliott. ‘I’ll get out of your life and-“

    He was interrupted by his friend hugging him fiercely and possessively. “Stop running. We both do that too much. And we keep hurting each other every damn time. Don’t apologize for anything.” He dug his fingers into Allen’s back, almost as if he were scared to let go. “I understand now; I’m the one that started it, I’m the one that hurt you first, I’m the one that that cut off all contact and ran away.” Quietly and carefully, Elliott set aside Lysander’s garments as he removed the same ones, then sat down to listen. “You didn’t do anything wrong, you never did. I’m always the one that got us in trouble, I’m always the one that got us hurt. You were the one that was always there for me, and no matter what stupid shit I did or said, you always put up with my antics without ever complaining.”

    Everyone else around the table was also silent, but this time there was no tension to it. This time, they listened to their friend open up to an old friend, trying to fix what had been broken. Lysander’s voice was steady, but still had the edge of pain. “Every time we got into trouble you were the one who stepped up to make things right, even when you shouldn’t have. You’re a better friend than I ever deserved, and it’s completely inexcusable what I did to you. I’m sorry for all of the pain that I caused, I’m sorry for running away, I’m sorry for doubting you, I’m sorry for not being strong enough, I-“

    Allen pulled away to grasp Lysander by the shoulders, almost shaking him in frustration and because he could hear him breaking down into tears. “You always apologize for everything, even if it’s not your fault, stop it! And I don’t know what I ever did to deserve your friendship.” His grip was a little less firm, but he still held onto Lysander, for both of their sake. “I was always a coward, holding back and running from everything while you stood up and protected me. Every time you’d smile and show off your bruises and cuts, laughing at how the other guys got it worse.”

    Smiling into his drink, Elliott was hard-pressed not to laugh with delight. This sort of information didn’t surprise him, but at the same time, he felt delighted to hear this bit of his partner’s past. He fancied himself a rogue, but these were the acts of a paladin!

    Finding a smile again, Allen continued. “You were always the brave one who tried new things and was happy to be in front of a crowd. You were always so full of love and warmth that you wanted to share with other people, and I always felt like I was just leeching off of it, never giving anything back.” He shook his friend gently as he squeezed his arms, chuckling happily. “And you are strong, you always took on the weight of the world and other people's troubles without question and never asked for anything in return. You always gave Lys; love, money, time, everything, and you did it with a smile. You're too strong, and I feel like such selfish dead weight, because despite everything that's happened and what I did to you, I still want to be around you. I don't understand, why did you want to be friends with me?”

    Lysander was both relieved by this information, but still baffled by his friend’s quick acceptance of the situation. He reached over and ruffled Allen’s hair, chuckling softly. “Because you cared. I was always different, in appearance, personality, everything. I never got along with anyone, even though I tried. So I stopped trying.” He put his thumbs in his belt loops and thought back to a very old memory. “And then one day I was at the park and saw a fight. You were being picked on for some reason, but it's not like some people need a reason. I'm a bit stupid but honorable, so I stepped in and fought back, and they ran. And you...”

    Laughing, he threw his arms around Allen again, but this time it was one of delight. “You insisted on dragging me back to your house because one of them landed a lucky punch that cut my lip and you felt just awful about someone being hurt because of you and you had to make it right.”

    A soft round of chuckles momentarily interrupted the story, and Lysander flashed everyone a warm smile before he returned to his tale. “We were, what, six? Seven? It was so long ago, but I still remember how you were almost frantic in telling your mom about what had happened and that she had to help. It made me feel good, y'know? Nobody had ever done that for me before. And you were almost in tears the entire time she was cleaning me up. All I could do was smile and laugh, and right then, it was all okay. Also, I remember the cookies she gave us. Your mom makes the best cookies, better than mine, but don't tell her that.”

    Feeling the tension dissipate, Allen chuckled with relief. “Yeah, those guys had me terrified, and then you swooped in laughing and throwing punches, without a care for your own safety. It was like I had my own personal superhero, and I decided right then that I needed to stand up for that."

    Elliott poured himself another drink, mulling over what he’d heard. No, none of this was exactly a surprise, given what he’d learned about his partner over this half of a year. And yet, the thought of his partner, so many years younger, valiantly and recklessly charging into danger for the sake of a friend, laughing like one gone mad brought a smile to his face. He wasn’t the only one, as Allen was very nearly beaming now, and it was obvious why Lysander had loved him; he was attractive, kind, intelligent, and caring. He could see all of that in the way that Allen smiled as he talked, and it was obvious that the love went both ways.

    Lysander’s smile was warm and energetic. "And over the years you continued to stand up for and with me, even despite the dumb and crazy shit I pulled. You were the voice of reason and more than once talked me down from something that could have gone badly wrong.” He shook his head, cuffing Allen on the shoulder. “I'm almost bipolar and flicker between extremes, but you were always balanced and level-headed. We were a great team together. I inspired you to be a better person, and you gave me direction and something to fight for and protect. You were always creative and brilliant. I'm the musician and entertainer, but can't create to save my life. You always had these grand ideas and knew how to make them happen, and all I wanted to do was make sure you could do anything you wanted."

    So I am not the first to have benefited from his love, he has been a muse to others. Selflessly and happily he gives of everything he is and has. Never again will I doubt myself, for I have been given a most amazing gift, and I will do all within my power to protect and support it.

    He chuckled to himself, then blushed as he saw the other two men give him an amused look. “I did not mean to interrupt, that was rude of me,” he said, feeling quite silly, which dissipated in the light of Allen’s smile.

    “It’s okay, he’s found someone that makes him happy and supports him back. I’m glad that you can do what I couldn’t. What I wasn’t strong enough to to.”

    This unexpected compliment completely eliminated Elliott’s embarrassment and replaced it with a rather warm and fuzzy feeling. Lysander put a fist on his hip and tapped his friend on the top of the head, grinning broadly. “Allen, you’re stronger than you know and I’ll keep saying it until it finally sticks. Besides, I started it, everything, every time, you just went with it. And it’s my fault that you felt like you couldn’t come to me about any of it.” He sighed again and the smile took on an edge of regret. “You were scared of me and what I might do, and that’s completely wrong. I’m embarrassed and angry at myself that I gave you the impression that you couldn’t trust me to sit down and talk about your concerns as soon as something came up. But regardless of what happened, I was selfish and stupid and wasn’t paying attention. I was so happy to have you back when we met up again at university, and I wasn’t thinking of what you wanted. And that’s why I…”

    The silence was quite loud, and in it they heard the words that he still didn’t have the courage to speak, as he ran his fingers over the mark on one wrist. When he did speak again, his voice was softer and sad. “I didn’t do it just because your words hurt, I did it because I thought that I had ruined a friendship that had lasted me a lifetime, and had physically and emotionally caused suffering to the nicest person I knew, who had always and selflessly done everything for me.”

    He bit his lip and tried to reach out to put a hand on Allen’s shoulder, but reconsidered and pulled back. “I couldn’t live with that pain. I was too weak to live with it. That’s why I told the medics to leave me, because I was too much of a coward to look you in the face again after what had happened. I was so angry at you for so long, almost as much as I hated myself, and it tore me up inside, and I thought I was over it, up until you showed up just now.” He clenched his fists, biting his lip again to hold back tears once more. “I shouldn't have attacked you when you walked in, and Sam and Elliott are right, you deserved the chance to try to reconcile things, or at least clear up the past. And now that I've heard your side... I was wrong, Allen, about everything. You were never to blame, none of this was your fault. I was the source of both of our suffering."

    Elliott had forgotten about his drink again, remembering the incident at the community center that had caused him to break down and finally open up. This was the pain and weight that he’d been holding back, terrified that others would find out. And when it had happened again… Elliott was once more glad that Alex had stopped him before he’d gone too far, regardless of how the altercation had played out. He glanced over with curiosity as Lysander walked a bit away from the table, sat down on the floor, and rested his arms on his knees.

    “Which is why the next choice is yours, and I will respect it, regardless of what it is.” He sighed deeply. “Stay, leave, yell, cry, talk… It doesn’t matter. Hell, punch me if you want, I deserve it and I’ll only be angry if you hold back. But I took control of everything for almost two decades. No more. This decision is yours, and everyone here will back you up, whatever you decide.” He gestured to the table, and Allen followed its path, looking surprised but relieved when everyone nodded assent. “Don't worry about retaliation or recrimination, this needs to happen. What do you want?”

    Quietly considering this, Allen folded his arms across his chest, regarding his friend carefully. “Fine,” he said, “I’ve made my decision.”

    Something in his voice made Lysander’s face fall, and Elliott’s heart fell with it, but he kept his silence; this was Lysander’s story to finish, not his.

    “Good,” Lysander sighed, “whatever you want.”

    “I want to be your friend again.”

    Surprised, he looked up at his friend, open-mouthed. “Even after I-“

    “Although,” Allen interrupted, holding up a finger, “there is one last thing to take care of.” His grin as he cracked his knuckles gave a fair indication of what he was thinking, and despite it, Lysander seemed relieved.

    “Fair enough. Don’t hold back. You’ve earned it.”

    Grinning broadly, Allen stepped over to loom over his friend. “Good, because if you’re still as ticklish as I remember then I’m going to enjoy this very much.” Eyes wide with sudden panic, Lysander held up his hands in defense but was too slow to escape before Allen pounced and pinned him to the floor by kneeling on his waist. “I thought you said you weren’t going to run away,” he smirked, “take your punishment like you promised!”

    This revelation delighted Sam more than any other gift, and his grin split his face from ear to ear. “No WAY, he’s ticklish? Lemme help, you’re losing this battle.”

    “Sam, you ass- Gah!” Lysander shouted as the blonde man scampered over to grab his wrists and hold them above his head, leaving Allen plenty of room and freedom to work.

    The table erupted into laughter, enjoying the complete shattering of the tension as well as seeing Lysander get a bit of comeuppance for his mischief and other things. Thanks to this tag-team approach, Lysander was completely helpless, and alternated between swearing and laughing as he tried unsuccessfully to free himself.

    Once Allen had decided that Lysander had had enough, he got to his feet and resumed his earlier crossed-arms pose, echoing the smile that Sam wore. “There, we’re even now.”

    Still flat on the floor, Lysander lifted a weak hand to wipe his eyes. “…You…bastards…” Elliott watched with further amusement as Lysander was helped to his feet by his tormentors, needing them both to stand and get to his chair. “You both are my awful little brothers and I love you so much anyway.”

    “Good,” Allen replied, poking him roughly, “remember, I’m to blame for half of what happened, Lys, stop taking the world on your shoulders all the damn time.”

    Lysander thought of something, and a warm smile spread across his face. “…Responsibility.” At Allen’s query of confusion, he gave Elliott a smile of thanks and hugged his friend. “Neither of us are to blame, but we both do have responsibility for what happened. So, I’m sorry for what I did, and I forgive you for what you did.”

    These were the words that Allen had apparently been waiting to hear but feared he never would, and his eyes got a bit misty as he sagged with relief. “I’m sorry for everything and I forgive you for the same. I just want to see you smile again.”

    The familiar, welcome, brilliant smile was back, and Lysander chuckled as he ruffled Allen’s hair again. “I’ve got my best friend back as well as a whole group of new and amazing ones. All of the pain and anger is gone now, and I feel like I can do anything.” His smile softened a little. “Thanks for being the better person and reaching out. Now, let me cover a couple of drinks for you and introduce you to everyone properly.”
      Minimanta and Alkanthe like this.
    • Risukage

      Risukage Existential Complex

      //Okay, not gonna lie, I totally forgot what day it was, and I've been grinding the hell out of the main story quests on FFXIV to reach the new expansion content, so I totally lost track of time. This is probably gonna be par for course for July, though, as I'm going out of state for training, and while I think I'll have decent wifi in the rooms, I don't know about time to write. I'll do what I can, though, this story is ALMOST over and I'd hate to artificially draw it out because of something like scheduling conflicts. :)//

      Elliott watched with a smile as Lysander seated himself between him and Allen and began the round of introductions. Having gone around the table away from himself, Elliott was the last to be made an acquaintance, and Allen gave him a thoughtful look.

      “Wait, I’m reminded of something, but…” With a grin, Lysander pulled out his phone, bringing up the e-book copy he’d downloaded recently and asked if this was what Allen was trying to remember. “So I was right, I did see that the other day! You got published? And married? Damn, Lys, you move fast!” Elliott couldn’t see Lysander’s face but he was quite certain that they both wore the same baffled look, which prompted friendly laughter from everyone else.

      I-! Why do so many people assume that- Well, it isn’t as thought it’s an unwelcome prospect, simply one that is too soon right now. Although, to have so many suggest a thing unprompted…

      Lysander turned to him to say something but threw it away as the both of them broke down laughing. “No, mate, not quite,” Lysander giggled, cuffing Allen playfully on the shoulder, “we got published, yes, but we’re only dating. Here, I’ll pour you a drink, Elliott can tell this story.”

      A little surprised, Elliott wasn’t quite certain where to start, but when in doubt, the beginning is a good idea. “I had moved here a year before Lysander did, attempting to begin work on a novel. I’d wanted to for many years but had had no luck with, well, any of it. The short of it is that I had failed utterly and by the time the year had passed I was in rather a bad spot.”

      He smiled warmly and stared into his glass as he recalled their first meeting. “We encountered each other at one of the spring festivals. After some conversation, we met again later at my home, and upon hearing of my…difficultly, offered his assistance. You are, of course, familiar with his background, and because of that, we were able to craft together a story, one that I am completely incapable of creating myself. As such, he deserved writing credit. However, as I am trying to make my own way without relying on my family name, we decided to use his until I had a few more titles under my belt, so to speak.” Chuckling, he rubbed a temple with one hand and shook his head. “I mean it honestly that we had not intended any implications, but it seems that it’s worked out for us anyhow.”

      Allen had listened with rapt fascination at the truncated tale, and gave Lysander a look of pride. “And you kept saying that you’d never amount to much and had no creativity. I am so glad you’re wrong! Congrats, I’m happy for you. Well, for both of you, really. That’s pretty damn awesome. But you’ve been getting up to other stuff, too. How’d you get into a band? You sat in with your dad’s a lot but you didn’t seem the type to put together one yourself.”

      Shaking his head, Lysander drank nearly half of his glass. “Nope. Another accidental bit of help, actually, it’s Sam’s band and idea, I just dropped by the day after that festival to help with something and got roped in. Can’t say I mind, though, it’s been amazing and…” He exhaled deeply and ran a hand through his bangs. “I really don’t know what would’ve happened to me if I’d not met everyone here.” He reached over to squeeze Elliott’s hand. “Yeah, it’s been amazing, heh. You were at our first gig, and gods, I haven’t felt that alive in years. I’ve missed that sort of thing so much. I’m kinda humbled to have had that opportunity. And I saw mom and dad for the first time since my…incident.”

      “Oh!” Allen perked up at the mention of Arthur and Lynn. “How are they? Your parents are just such a kick.”

      Shooting Elliott an amused glance, Lysander giggled at his look of embarrassment. “They’re doing great. They were there to help us out, plus a couple from dad’s band, so we weren’t completely on our own. And I think mom was a bit salty about me being so silent for a bit ‘cause she totally sassed the hell out of us. We were talking about what all I’d been up to since I’d moved here, and at one point she just straight-up asked- no, demanded to know that we were ‘using protection.’ Holy shit, I think Elliott turned the color of my hair. And the entire time she’s just talking like it’s the weather, that regardless of what our status or whatever is we need to keep using it, and that we also needed to keep getting medically checked out, too. Or something. I can’t really remember, I was a bit buzzed and it was a long night.”

      Allen’s face was the picture of amused delight. “You’re joking, Lynn really asked you two that in front of everyone else?”

      “Yup, you know how mom is,” Lysander sighed, “but after the grilling that Liz gave to me I think I was allowed to enjoy Elliott being a little embarrassed.” The look that he gave to him was cheeky, and he simply shook his head.

      Sam remembered the conversation that had been interrupted when Lysander and Elliott had returned, and he reached over to prod Allen with a smirk of glee. “Oh, hey, finish that story you were telling when they came back.”

      “Mm?” Lysander asked, refilling his just-emptied glass, “what were you telling them?”

      Allen’s grin was remarkably similar to one that Lysander usually wore. “The haunted house story.”

      With a groan of frustration and embarrassment, Lysander put his face in one hand and sighed. “For the love of… You know what? This is part of my penance. Go on, finish it, it’s not like Sam doesn’t have enough material with which he can give me grief.”

      For the next couple of hours stories were traded and experiences shared, and Elliott remained silent for most of it, simply enjoying everyone’s company and the look of happy glee that Lysander wore. He could already see the weight that had been lifted from his soul, and it shone so much brighter. But as the night wore on it also wore them down, and they finished their drinks to stand up and gather their effects. As everyone set about departing, Lysander offered them hugs as they walked past, which were happily accepted. Alex was the one to give him a hug, however, eliciting a grunt as the breath was momentarily squeezed from him.

      “Cor, mate, you’re the only person that can manhandle me like that. Proper impressive. Ah, also, sorry if I kinda overshadowed your big news, that was a bit rude of me, yeah?”

      Putting him down, Alex grinned and ruffled Lysander’s hair. “Are you kidding? You finally got all of that emo shit out of your system and cleared things up with an old friend. I’m happy that you’re past all of that crap you went through. Maybe now all of that tangle in your head will finally go away.”

      Lysander was thoughtful, and a small, hesitant smile spread across his face. “Yeah, true. I’m already feeling so much better, I almost can’t describe it. See you tomorrow like usual?” Alex agreed, though he was uncertain as to how they’d deal with running in the snow. “Cheers, then, sleep well.” Elliott assisted him with his jacket, as he and Allen were already dressed. “Time for us all to get going as well. Though, I hope you’ll visit again, Allen, it’s good to have you back, and I’d love to show you around.”

      Leading the way out, Elliott held the door open for the other two and closed it firmly behind them. Allen shivered at the change in temperature and looked at Lysander with curiosity. “I’ll have to do that. Where do you live?”

      “Remember grandpa’s farm? It’s mine now.”

      His look of surprise made Lysander giggle. “What? You inherited Sommerlied Farm? I remember the summer that we visited; you fell out of a tree and broke your arm so badly your wrist touched your elbow. I’m amazed you weren’t in greater pain.” He chuckled and shook his head. “Though it was funny how you were so mad that you had such a bad injury but wouldn’t have a cool scar to show for it later.”

      Elliott bit his lip, trying not to laugh at their conversation. What a reckless little hellion Lysander must have been! Oh, he definitely wanted to talk to Allen again soon; getting the stories from his partner would be satisfying, yes, but he was interested to hear Allen’s take on them, as well as the ones that Lysander would too embarrassed to bring up without prompting.

      Laughing at the incident in question, Lysander adjusted his clothes. “Yup, I was lucky that grandpa knew how to set bones, and was able to get it back in place before any swelling or other damage could set in. Heh, I’m amazed I’m not just a mess of scars from all I did back then. Here, pull up a map of the area,” he said, waiting for Allen to retrieve his phone, “okay, so there’s the main road, we’re here, the farm is right there.”

      The proximity to everything was something that Allen hadn’t expected. “Oh, that’s right close, isn’t it? I’ll drop in again some time. I’ll message first, though. …You still have the same number, don’t you?”

      “I do, and I’ve still got you in there.” He smiled warmly at his friend. “Despite everything that happened I couldn’t bring myself to delete your information.”

      With a chuckle, Allen shook his head, then bit his lip as he looked away. “Lys, I… There’s something I want to mention but didn’t want to say in front of everyone else.” Sensing something very sensitive and private, Elliott offered to leave for a few minutes, but Allen shook his head again. “No, it’s okay. Rather, I want you here, so you know everything that happened. You deserve to know. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes I did.”

      Both Elliott and Lysander were concerned, but once again Elliott kept his silence while his partner pressed his friend to continue. Allen took a deep breath to settle himself and delved into the past. “…Remember when I said earlier that I was ‘this close to following you?’ It wasn’t for a lack of effort. I didn’t know if you’d survive, as you’d lost so much blood as well as your will to fight. It was all my fault. I’d killed my own best friend, the closest person I’d ever known and loved.”

      He took a shuddering breath and hugged himself before continuing. “I got to my own home and… I tried to overdose. I didn’t succeed, I just made myself badly sick, but I ended up in the hospital as well for it. My parents were frantic, and even more so when I wouldn’t tell them why. Eventually the only thing I told them was that I’d had a bad breakup, but wouldn’t tell them anything else or who it was with. That’s why I didn’t try to see you in the hospital, Lys, because not only was I there myself, I didn’t even know you’d survived long enough to be admitted yourself. By the time I found out that you’d recovered it had already been almost a week, and since you hadn’t tried to call me, I…”

      Elliott fought the sting of tears as he listened, putting himself in Allen’s place at that moment and wondering- knowing that he might have done the same. Something similar had almost happened not very long previous, and once more Elliott was unbelievably grateful for Alex’s interference. Almost unable to fight his own tears, Allen didn’t resist when Lysander went to him and wrapped him in a protective hug.

      “I didn’t know about that. I didn’t talk to anyone, so I had no idea about your condition. When you didn’t try to reach me I assumed that you never wanted to speak to me again. By the light, Allen, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I nearly got the both of us killed and-“

      Allen pulled away to punch him gently in the ribs with a look of patient irritation. “Stop that. We’re both to blame- No, not blame. You said it, we both have responsibility. We’ve already made peace with all of it. Time to move on.”

      He sighed and smiled. “And I still don’t know what I felt for you back then. More than a friend, not enough for a lover. Just… I don’t know. It wasn’t romantic, but I always felt warm and safe and happy around you. Everything was just better with you around. I mean, I don’t know who I’m attracted to, men or women, maybe nobody, I guess. And looking back, I wasn’t interested in you, not like that. I just wish that I’d had the courage to try to say it back then.”

      With a chuckle, Lysander messed up Allen’s hair, grinning at his expression. “If you had the courage back then you’d probably not be the person that I was friends with, you’d be different. And I’ve been thinking about your words all night and… I understand, because I can’t find the words either. I thought I loved you, but I didn’t, not in that way.”

      Another chuckle, and he reached over without looking to reach out for Elliott’s hand, and he complied, lacing their fingers together. “I’ve found romantic love here, and it’s amazing and wonderful. I know what it is now, and that’s not what I felt back then. But that’s what I thought it was, at least for a while. I started to have doubts. And then we started getting distant, and I began to worry, wondering what I’d done wrong, concerned that I was wrong, that it wasn’t love, or if it was, it was one sided.” He shook his head, sighing at himself. “So much noise, so much that went wrong, because I wasn’t honest with either of us and I was too scared to approach the issue head-on.”

      Allen looked the happiest he had all night. “I’m glad I came out here today. I was terrified, but I was also tired of being a coward and running from everything. I just wanted to stand on my own for once, to do the right thing, even if it was scary. I just had to see you again, even if it was for the last time.” He turned to Elliott, offering a hand. “And I’m happy to have met you, Elliott, you’re a good man and I’m glad to see that you’ve made Lys happy.”

      He didn’t realize how much this acceptance was valued until it was said, and he took Allen’s hand in both of his own, finding it hard to not be overly eloquent. “Likewise, I am not only delighted but grateful to have made your acquaintance. It has weighed heavily upon my mind for some time who it was to thank for summoning medical assistance to his aid, and I must express my deepest and most heartfelt thanks for your intervention. You have been a pleasure to converse with tonight and I anticipate the opportunity to do so again in the future. Please do not find yourself a stranger in this town or his home.”

      Apparently his speech was extremely unexpected, and Allen gave him a very impressed stare before turning back to his friend. “Damn, Lys, I can see why you fell for him so hard. Even I’m getting a bit hot for him right now.” He sighed again as he rubbed his arms. “But I’ll have to take you up on your offer to visit later, I need to get going.”

      Lysander hugged him again, this time energetically, and pulled back to lean in, almost out of muscle memory, and at the last second refrained from kissing him. With an embarrassed chuckle, he apologized, and Allen mimicked him. “No worries, I almost did the same. I may not have been interested in you but you were amazing at that.”

      Ever the romantic, and ever free with your love, but always selflessly. I will not begrudge you the opportunity to properly close out your story the way that you need to.

      With a warm smile, he put a hand on their shoulders. “Take your time and do what you both need to in order to achieve closure. I shall wait over here.”

      He walked away to be out of earshot and took the time to study the snow that was beginning to fall again. Such a strange thing, snow. How so few could create something so much. But wasn’t that the way of things everywhere? He was aware of quiet conversation behind him but diligently paid it no mind, although he did allow himself a small, amused smile at a lengthy moment of silence. Once more, there were a few words exchanged, and he heard footsteps approaching him. He turned a little at a gentle touch on his arm, and smiled as Allen gave him a friendly wave before departing down the road.

      Relieved, he was about to address Lysander when he saw his partner wiping away tears, and had a brief moment of panic when he flopped into the snow on his back, just missing catching him by inches. Now he was worried that something had gone wrong in their parting, but Allen had looked happy. “What is wrong? Did he say something-“

      “No. No, it’s okay.” With a smile, Lysander scrubbed away tears. “Everything’s okay. I’m… I just feel dizzy and happy and light and just overwhelmed and empty at the same time. It’s all a bit crazy right now. It’s all over love, it’s gone; the pain, the hate, the anger… I know the truth of all sides and what happened, and now I’m properly free. Everything is right now.”

      This relieved Elliott considerably, and he helped Lysander get to his feet when his partner held up a hand. “Let us return to your home; it is simply frigid out here.” He dusted him off while he fixed the hood of his coat to keep the snow off. Now settled in body and mind, Lysander took Elliott’s hand and led the way home as quickly as they could, as though the snow was light, it was beginning to come down a bit more urgently.

      It wasn’t long before they arrived at the house, and they both welcomed the warmth as they walked in and began to remove coats, gloves, boots, and other items that would be left by the door. Lysander went to the fireplace to rekindle the fire that had burned down in their absence but had left the house feeling quite snug. Leaving him to it, Elliott went to the bedroom to undress, carefully putting his clothes over the back of a chair to deal with later, and was quickly joined by his partner, who stripped much more quickly and with far less finesse. With a broad yawn, Lysander got into bed with an almost equal lack of dignity.

      As he pulled the blanket over himself, he almost appeared to melt into the mattress. “Merry hell, I didn’t do much today, but I’m just completely wiped.”

      Finally undressed as well, Elliott wrapped himself around him from behind, nuzzling his neck, and the way that Lysander pressed into him gave him a warm sense of satisfaction and contentment. “You had several moments of great stress and anxiety,” he pointed out, getting comfortable, “in addition to those of euphoria. It was a taxing day for you, physically and mentally.”

      Lysander agreed with this and yawned again as Elliott secured the blanket over them. “And at the end of the day, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

      He was asleep in only a few breaths, and Elliott bit back a chuckle as he simply drank in the sensation of the two of them, just them, right there.

      And neither would I, my dear. The wound that has festered and brought you suffering has been cleansed and healed. You are free, and I can feel it, even in sleep. There was a tension to your body that I never noticed until I realized its absence just now. There is nothing more that can quench your flame, let it burn brighter than it ever has before.
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      • Risukage

        Risukage Existential Complex

        //Finally getting to the second to last arc of this book. We're almost done, whoo! :D//

        The front door slammed shut abruptly, waking Elliott. Confused and bleary, he wondered what had happened. Lysander never closed the door like that, and those footsteps weren’t right. “Mmm, Lysander?” he asked, sitting up a little, “is everything okay?”

        “Elliott! He needs help!”

        He was awake at the sound of panic in Alex’s voice, and as he sat fully upright the athlete strode into the room, holding Lysander in his arms, completely unconscious.

        Oh gods, my dearest, what-

        “What happened?” It was difficult to keep that same panic at bay, and he moved a little so that Alex could ease his partner to the bed. Once relieved of his burden, Alex rubbed his arms, looking worried.

        “Hell if I know, bro, he ran up looking tired, nearly coughed up a lung, and just went limp.” He gave Elliott a hopeful look. “He didn’t say anything before he left?”

        Elliott shook his head and put his fingers to Lysander’s throat. Good; he had a steady pulse and he was breathing normally, if shallowly. “He always wakes and leaves for your run before I rise, so no, there was nothing for me to notice.” He was about to get up to get something, then remembered that they wore nothing to bed. “Though I do require trousers, so…”

        He let the statement trail off, and Alex turned away to give him a little privacy. Strangely, Elliott didn’t find the idea of being nude around Alex to be embarrassing, nor did it seem arousing or pleasant. It was simply that he was comfortable with himself, but didn’t want to make Alex uncomfortable. However, given Alex’s previous commentary and athletic history he wasn’t bothered by being around other undressed males he likely wouldn’t care if Elliott had got up without mentioning anything, but still, it felt courteous to at least give him the option.

        Grabbing the first pair of trousers at hand, he stepped into them and noticed that they were Lysander’s. Well, he’d worn them before and they’d fit just fine, and they did again. They were rather comfortable, he had to admit, though he was quite fond of his current style. …Maybe he could emulate a bit of his partner’s aesthetic, it would be good for him to relax a little…

        He fastened the zipper and button and adjusted the trousers to fit correctly. “There, a bit more decent for company.”

        “Aren’t those his pants?”

        Elliott couldn’t hide a smirk as he put a fist on one hip. “You’d rather I take them off?”

        Alex returned the smirk. “I’m good.”

        Moving to his partner’s side and now fully awake, Elliott put a hand on his forehead and glanced up at Alex. “Still, he’s burning with fever, why did you not take him to the clinic? You were closer to it than his home, were you not?”

        This apparently hadn’t occurred to Alex, but after a moment of consideration he chuckled at them both. “It was, but even if I had it’s not open for a few more hours.”

        Not quite as awake as he thought he was, Elliott laughed at this statement, realizing how silly a question it had been. “You are correct, my apologies for disparaging you,” he smiled, as he opened the dresser and began looking for something, “you did the right thing, thank you. Please, stay, allow me to get you something to eat or drink, you look cold yourself.”

        Perking up, Alex grinned. “That’s be great, thanks.” He looked down and then back the way he’d come and groaned. “Aw crap, I tracked in a bit of mud and snow, sorry about that.”

        Elliott shook his head as he pulled out what he needed, and ducked into the bathroom to get a towel that he threw to Alex. “You were concerned for his health and safety, it is understandable. Here, use this, I’ll get Lysander changed into something a bit more suitable.”

        Now relieved that Lysander was some place where he could be taken care of, Alex grinned as he gestured toward his cousin. “You need help or are you good?”

        Appreciating the friendly tease as well as the genuine offer to help, Elliott smirked again and shook his head. “I am quite adept at undressing him, I think that I can manage the reverse with little difficulty.”

        He was left to his work when Alex began wiping the floor from the bedroom back to the front door, undoing his mess. As he had averred, he was able to strip his partner of his running garments quickly, but getting him into the pajamas, even though they were a button up-front instead of a pullover, was a bit difficult. He had hoped a little that Lysander would wake up, to make the process a little easier, but whatever had struck him down had knocked him out hard, though he had noticed no sign of injury in the exchange of garments.

        Suitably changed out, Elliott moved him under the covers, as though while he had a fever, he didn’t feel comfortable with trying to cool him down without medical consultation. Feeling slightly chilled, he picked up Lysander’s discarded shirt as well, the long-sleeved one, and pulled that over his head. Once again he entertained the idea of altering his style a little to accommodate something a bit more casual, and walked out of the bedroom to see Alex take off his shoes and set them by the door.

        Elliott gestured over his shoulder. “Put that in the laundry bin, I’ll start a coffee for us both. Or do you prefer something else?”

        “Nah, coffee’s good,” he replied, standing up from the bench, “ heh, so what, you’re in that part of the relationship where you’re wearing each other’s clothes now?”

        With a quirk of a smile, Elliott shook his head again. “It isn’t the first time, and they were the first garments at hand. I assumed that you would be uncomfortable with anything less.”

        As he moved to the kitchen Alex strolled into the bedroom, and Elliott tried to focus on what was needed to make coffee. Now that the initial moment of panic had subsided, he had plenty of time and energy to begin worrying, and he was trying his best to avoid that. It took a couple of tries to remember where the press was, and he nearly dropped it when he did find it, came close to spilling the grounds, and knocked aside a mug that skittered across the counter away from him. Hands shaking, he tried to think of the task at hand, just making coffee, nothing else, but he’d never seen his partner in such a state, and, being honest with himself, he was terrified.

        He heard Alex approach and tried his best to act normally, but this made it worse. “Hey, Elliott, chill, he’ll be fine.” Alex patiently righted the scattered items on the counter, and with remarkable speed and accuracy, caught a cup that Elliott elbowed off of the counter. “It’s just a cold,” he reassured, "I’ll go and pick up Doc Harvey when the clinic opens and bring him on down. Right now you can’t do anything, so just…chill, yeah?”

        This simple statement of the facts and genuine confidence that Alex had somehow reassured him, and Elliott rested his weight on his hands on the counter, taking a deep, slow breath. “You are correct, thank you,” he replied, “I am overreacting, but it is difficult for me to not be concerned.” While he still had focus and control, he mixed together the grounds and hot water, and that task done reached for a cup, but backhanded it instead, and juggled it for a moment as he caught it. “Gods DAMN IT!

        He immediately turned very red at this, not only for the unexpected epithet, but losing control like that, and in front of someone else. Alex smiled at him, and for a moment he could see the family resemblance in it. “You really do care about him, don’t you? C’mere, bro-hug, you need it.”

        Elliott gasped both at Alex’s strength and nearly having the breath crushed out of him, hearing and feeling his back pop loose in a couple of places. His knees went a little weak as Alex loosened his grip, but courteously, Alex continued to support him. Gratefully, he returned the hug, though not nearly as strongly, and sighed as he leaned into the athlete, welcoming the unspoken and freely-offered support.

        This is the man with whom I once nearly had a rivalry, with whom I had multiple disagreements and misunderstandings. Someone that I never thought I would see eye to eye with on anything. And yet, here we are, in the home of the one that we both love, providing comfort to each other until uncertainty and peril have passed. How strange it is what has changed, and so quickly.

        Sighing with relief, Elliott pulled away to check on the coffee. “My thanks again. I had thought that concentrating on a simple task would be sufficient to distract and focus myself, but apparently I am not as rational as I had hoped to be.”

        Alex shrugged and folded his arms across his chest. “A’course not. You love him to pieces and you’ve never seen him this weak before. He’s always been the strongest out of all of us, and I’m not gonna lie, I damn near shat bricks when he dropped like that. It’s a bit scary.” He perked up and smiled at Elliott with confidence. “But he’ll be fine, he’s got you to look out for him.”

        Blinking, Elliott needed a few seconds to process this compliment. “I…pardon? How am I in any way qualified to care for him?”

        With an exaggerated eye-roll, Alex punched him in the shoulder playfully. “Uh, because you love him? Duh.”

        “It takes more than just affection to provide assistance!”

        “Then how are you not qualified?”

        This roundabout yet direct question was one that Elliott couldn’t easily answer. “I… I’m not a doctor, I…”

        “Bro, it’s not like he’s got the plague or something, he’s just sick. All he needs is someone to, well, take care of him. It’s kinda a burden and all, but isn’t that what you do in a relationship? That trade-off and stuff? I mean, not to be an asshole, but he’s done a lot for you this last year, taking a day or two to keep an eye on him isn’t much a of a problem, is it?” He thought about what he’d said and looked away, rubbing the back of his neck. “Um, actually, now that I’ve said it, that was really rude.”

        Elliott shook his head. “No, it’s…” He thought back on the year that they’d been together, what they had done, how far they had come… Finally finding an honest smile, he chuckled. “You’re right. There’s really no good way to word it without sounding inconsiderate, but it is true, he has done so very much for me this year, all selflessly and happily. It’s my turn to look out for him, to be his strength for a while.”

        Before Alex could reply they hear a loud thump from the bedroom, and Elliott was in motion before he realized it. Stopping suddenly in the doorway, he heard Alex’s footsteps quickly approaching as well. Lysander was sitting on the floor, leaning against the dresser, hissing in pain with a hand to his temple. With a gasp of shock, Elliott was in front of him in two steps and pulled him into a protective hug. “Are you alright, dear? Please, stay in bed, you aren’t well.”

        Lysander attempted to break free, but he didn’t even have the strength to put up a struggle. “I’m fine,” he mumbled, still trying to get his feet under himself and stand, “I just… I… It’s…” Elliott saw him trying so hard to hold back tears and still be strong, and he felt a pang of pain and sympathy. “Please, just go.”

        Holding onto his shirt for support, Lysander was clearly close to breaking down, and he buried his face in Elliott’s chest even as he tried to support himself. Elliott didn’t understand what he wanted him to do. “Dear, what’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

        Somehow, this made it worse, and Lysander choked back a sob. “No, I’m… Just… I…”

        Brushing his partner's hair from his face, Elliott tilted up his chin to look him in the eyes, smiling softly. “Talk to me, what is wrong? Are you injured?”

        Those warm hazel eyes were filled with pain, and the words he spoke were barely audible. “…I don’t want you to see me like this…” He tore his gaze away from Elliott’s, trying to hide the tears that were starting to flow and the color in his cheeks that was from humiliation and not fever.

        You are strong, my dear, too strong. So much pride and dignity. Trust me, give yourself to me and let me support you.

        Elliott looked up over his shoulder at Alex. Silently and in only a second, they exchanged a conversation, to which Alex nodded in agreement before he left the two of them alone. Sighing but still smiling, he traced gentle fingers down Lysander’s cheek. “What are you afraid of? I won’t laugh or poke fun at you.” Lysander still looked away, and Elliott brought his face back up, gently brushing aside tears. “Dearest, look at me. Part of being strong is knowing when to let someone else take care of things. There is no shame in letting someone see you when you’re vulnerable. Rather, it is a sign of trust.”

        He remembered what Alex had said only minutes earlier and laughed quietly. “Let me take care of you, be a bit selfish. You pour your heart and energy into looking out for all of us. Allow me to take on that burden for you, even just for a bit.”

        Lysander shook his head vehemently, still reluctant to give in. “I don’t want to be a burden on you, love, I-“

        Tired of his protestations and knowing that he would simply have to strongarm him into submission, Elliott kissed him deeply as he held him as firmly as he could. Lysander’s struggles increased, and he broke free, but only barely. “You could get sick, don’t-“

        “I don’t care,” Elliott stated, “you need this, dear.” He protested once more, and Elliott glared at him. “I. Don’t. Care.” This time, Lysander allowed it, even leaning into and enjoying it, but he still seemed reluctant to give in. Elliott knew that he’d have to fight dirty and reached back for a slightly more distant memory. “Do you recall when I stayed up far too long in order to finish our novel? And how you asked that if our roles were reversed if I would do the same for you?”

        There it was. That was the magic phrase, and he tried not to exhale with relief as Lysander sagged into his arms without resistance. He carefully picked him up and returned him to the bed, trying to hide a smile at his partner’s obvious embarrassment at being tucked in like a child.

        With a frustrated sigh, Lysander draped an arm over his face. “I just wanted to get something to drink.”

        Elliott finished pulling the sheets over him and squeezed his hand. “Then I will get you something. I have already started coffee, will that do?”

        “Yeah,” he nodded, “that’d be great, thanks.” His smile was still embarrassed, but Elliott saw gratitude in it, and he squeezed his hand before leaving the room to pour everyone a drink.
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        • Risukage

          Risukage Existential Complex

          Chapter is gonna be late, will post Friday night when I get in to my hotel. The short of the story is I'm off for a month of training, and I ran out of time with packing and stuff and didn't have the time to finish. ...Well, I COULD sit down and finish, but it's a ten hour drive and I really need to try to get some sleep. Sorry! Check back on Saturday morning for your usual dose of shenanigans.
            Alkanthe likes this.
          • Risukage

            Risukage Existential Complex

            //It was supposed to be a 10 hour drive. It was almost 12. Also, I cannot retain Word formatting to AO3 or the SDV forums. WHAT. THE. F*CK. I am too tired for this bullshit, I'll find a permanent fix later, for now, I have to screw around and waste another goddamn half an hour fixing the proper goddan formatting I f*cking did correctly the first time because every goddamn website out there thinks it knows better than me and strips it. F*CK. YOU.//

            For a lack of anything else to do, Alex had picked up the coffee press to see how it worked and if it could go any faster, but since it relied on simple entropy and semi-interesting chemical reactions, there was nothing to be done for it. As Elliott returned from the other room he put it down, giving him a searching look. “Looks like you two worked things out.”

            Sighing and nodding, Elliott got a third cup from the cupboard before serving everyone. “We have reached an agreement, if not a complete understanding,” he remarked, pulling the milk out of the fridge and adding it to his and Lysander’s cups, “bloody stubborn man, it’s fortunate that he hasn’t been ill previously, as he’d work himself to death on his own otherwise. But then, that’s one of the things that we all find endearing.”

            Alex shrugged and smiled in agreement as he took his cup, following Elliott as he took the other two to the bedroom. Upon seeing them return, Lysander tried to shift to get up, but the exertion triggered a prolonged fit of coughing that worried Elliott considerably. He put down both cups and went to him, but until Lysander regained control of himself there was little to be done. Breathing raggedly, he grimaced and nodded thanks as Alex assisted him, then relaxed into the pillows that Elliott had moved to give him support to do so. He grimaced again when Elliott waited for him to have the cup in both hands before he let go, but the irritation was directed at himself, not his partner.

            Sighing deeply, he took a grateful sip. “Thanks, love, sorry to bother. You too, Alex, I owe you both.”

            Elliott leaned over to kiss his cheek and picked up his own coffee. “It is no bother at all. And once the clinic opens we’ll have Harvey look you over and see what needs to be done.” He smiled warmly over the rim of his cup. “In the meantime, you’ll just have to enjoy our company.”

            Blowing on his coffee, Alex’s grin was a little brighter. “Yeah, I carried your ass all the way from the plaza, so if you don’t listen to your boyfriend and get well soon I’m gonna be annoyed.” He rolled his eyes and laughed when Lysander shrank a little, looking embarrassed. “And don’t give me that apologetic look, bro, I’m just glad you’re okay.”

            With a half-hearted shrug, Lysander smiled a little. “I was kinda wondering how I got back. You really carried me? Through all that? I…” He sipped his coffee thoughtfully and finally smiled properly. “That was a hell of a distance, and in those conditions. Thanks again.”

            “It’s all good, it’s not like we could have really run out there anyway. I’ll figure something out later. Right now, just chill and get better.”

            They quietly conversed while they finished their drinks, though most of the conversation was carried by Alex and Elliott, as Lysander was busy trying not to have another coughing fit and instead focused on enjoying the hot, refreshing drink. Collecting their empty cups, Elliott returned to the kitchen, followed partway by Alex.

            “I’m heading back home to get dressed,” he commented, sitting down to put his shoes back on, “I’ll drop by the clinic and grab the doc as soon as he gets here.” Standing, he stretched and rubbed his arms, knowing what awaited him outside. “Thanks for the coffee, that really helped.”

            Elliott smiled in reply. “I will call him and let him know that you will be arriving so that you aren’t waiting.”

            Thanking him, Alex opened the door, gasping at the sudden bite, despite being ready for it. “It’s stupid cold out there right now, we’re gonna hafta find some other way to get in cardio this time of year.” He grinned as he pulled the door closed. “See ya in a bit, bro.”

            This casual, friendly departure made him feel welcome and accepted in a way that he hadn’t expected but was glad to have had experienced. He returned to the bedroom, feeling better in general. “Lysander, do you-”

            His question fell upon unconscious ears, as Lysander had gone to sleep, breathing steadily, although there was a slight rasp to it that Elliott didn’t like. Nothing to be done for it just yet, though, not until Harvey could get there. Noticing himself in the mirror, Elliott decided to get changed into something more suitable. …Although, he did admit that this was quite comfortable. He fully understood his partner’s liking for this particular style and aesthetic. Those clothes went into the laundry bin anyway, and he changed into the clothes that he’d left there the day before. Another quick glance in the mirror told him that no, he did not need a shave, and only minimal attention with a hairbrush.

            These personal matters of attire complete, he picked up his phone and went to the living room again, scrolling through his contact information for the medical clinic. He had added it after his fall on the bridge last winter, in case something like that should happen again, and he was glad for his foresight. Dialing, he felt the flutter of worry again, but stomped it down as hard as he could and put the phone to his ear. It rang twice before someone picked up.

            “Good morning, Pelican Town medical clinic, Doctor Harvey speaking, how may I help you?”

            Elliott sighed with relief that someone was there. “Doctor, it’s Elliott, can you… Do you make house calls?”

            “To the beach? Oh dear, what’s the nature of your emergency?”

            He could hear him reaching for a pad of paper and a pencil to take notes, and for a moment was confused before he realized what he’d implied and where he was. “No, not me, it’s Lysander. I’m at his home. He fell ill this morning when going out for his morning run with Alex.”

            “Oh!” The pencil scratched quickly across the surface of the notepad. “It is simply illness? He has no other injuries?”

            “None. He awoke briefly and was able to drink a cup of coffee, and he didn’t comment on any pain. I didn’t see anything when I got him changed out of-”

            Oh gods, how could he just say that to someone like that?

            Wait, why couldn’t he? Besides, Lysander was his partner, wasn’t he? It was a safe bet that everyone in town knew that they were intimate but didn’t care. Why did he feel embarrassed to mention it? He shoved those thoughts aside as Harvey continued to take notes.

            “…drank, coffee… I missed that last bit, say again?”

            “Ah, that he was unconscious when Alex brought him in, and that when I changed him from his running clothes to something more comfortable I did not see anything unusual.”

            “Mm-hmm.” The pencil continued to make its scritching sound as he wrote. “And you said that he was unconscious when Alex brought him back to the house?”

            Sitting down on the couch, Elliott replayed his memories to be certain. “Correct. Apparently he awoke as usual to go out for his run, got changed to do so, but as he got to the place where he and Alex meet he was taken with a coughing fit and passed out. Alex brought him back and woke me when he did so.”

            For a moment he had felt the embarrassed sting of admitting to sleeping with him, but shoved that thought away roughly as well. This was not the time! Besides, everyone knew and didn’t care. This was important, focus!

            “Okay, I’ve got it. Is there anything else? Mucus, fever, rash-”

            “No, none of- Wait, he has a bit of a fever, but nothing…else. It’s a dry cough.” He turned a little to look back at the bedroom. “He is asleep again, and he sounds as though he breathes well, but there is a bit of a sound to it that doesn’t sound normal.”

            “Mmm, okay… Got it. I’ll pack my kit and be over as soon as I can.”

            Elliott nearly slapped himself. “I almost forgot, Alex ran home to get changed, he said that he would drop by to pick you up so that you don’t have to walk.”

            “That’s very thoughtful of him, I appreciate that a lot! I’ll keep an eye out for his truck. In the meantime, I’m forwarding the clinic number to my personal phone.”

            Glad that he was sitting down, Elliott sagged with relief. “Thank you so much. I…”

            “Don’t worry, that’s what I’m here for, Elliott,” he said with a smile in his voice, “just keep him warm until I get there.”

            “I will. He’s sleeping now, I… I’ll go check on him again, I suppose…”

            “I’ll see you in a little while, then.”

            Sighing, Elliott nodded, then felt silly for the gesture that nobody could see. “Thank you again. See you soon.”

            He hung up and set the phone on the coffee table, taking a minute to get his pulse to stop racing and his hands to stop shaking. Everything would be fine, he just needed to be patient. In the meantime, well, he might as well make himself useful. Getting up, he washed the cups and press and set everything to dry, then looked about for anything else that needed to be dealt with. There wasn’t much, as they’d already done most of it before they had left the day before, and they had gone straight to bed upon returning, therefore not making a mess of anything.

            Doing what he could, he noticed the fire burning a bit low and went to put a couple of fresh logs on and to stoke it back to its original state. As he got to his feet, dusting off his hands, the door opened and Alex walked back in. He ducked to the side to allow Harvey entrance then quickly shut it behind them both. Fortunately, the mat in front of the door was large enough to accommodate them both, allowing them to remove their winter gear and boots covered in snow and dirt without tracking it everywhere.

            Shaking his head, Alex hung up his coat and rubbed his arms again. “Dang, even though the road is paved to the door it’s still a mess out there. I’ll grab the shovel and clear the way to the main road for you in a bit.” This unprompted and kind gesture was another surprise, and Elliott protested it, only to have Alex wave it away. “Nah, it’s cool, I need to get in some exercise today, and this way I’m helping out a bit. You two are a bit out of the way out here.” He grinned at Harvey, who had gone to the kitchen to wash his hands. “Speaking of, thanks for the house call, doc.”

            Having dried his hands, Harvey removed and cleaned his spectacles. “I do not normally do calls like this, but your distance from the rest of the town, this weather, and what you’ve told me of Lysander's condition, it’s best that I be the one to travel.”

            Elliott strode to the bedroom, a bit more quickly than he had intended, but it was difficult to fight the surge of worry again. He was trailed by the other two, and he moved the chair in the bedroom to the side of the bed closer to his partner so that Harvey would have some place to sit. As Harvey took the offered space and set down his satchel, Lysander stirred a little. While Elliott wanted to go to him, to ask him how he was and see what he could do for him, he knew that he would just be in Harvey’s way, who would ask the same questions and more, and be able to do so much more. He retreated to the living room and sat on the couch once more.

            Rubbing the back of his neck, he stared at the floor, trying to sort his thoughts, and felt the cushions next to him shift when Alex sat down next to him. “You doing okay, bro?”

            His tone was genuinely concerned, and once again he was grateful beyond words for the athlete’s presence. “Yes, now that medical aid has arrived I can relax. I an trying not to smother or be obsessive, and know that it is simple illness that is not life-threatening, but at the same time…” He trailed off and bit his lip, still staring at the floor. He sounded silly and he knew it, what a fool Alex must think him.

            “It’s okay, I understand where you’re coming from.” Blinking, Elliott looked up into Alex’s eyes and saw pain in there as well. “I watched mom waste away, and there was nothing I could do about it.” Oh gods, Elliott had heard of but almost forgotten all that Alex had been through growing up. And despite all of that, not only was he still a good person for it, here he was showing empathy for him, someone who had never suffered in remotely the same way! “Heh, I guess that’s why I’m so involved right now, I don’t want anything like that to happen again. Yeah, it’s just a cold, but it could get worse if he tries to do everything like he usually does, so we’ve gotta step in and make sure it doesn’t get that far.”

            Elliott had no reply. This was his partner’s power, to draw in people around him and make them want to be better people, to do the right thing because it’s right and it needed to be done. He knew that he could never do this himself, that had he been left to his own devices he would be completely alone and friendless in that tiny cabin. But here he was, sharing a moment with someone who was so drastically different from him in every way yet offering genuine empathy because of the shared love for someone. Swallowing a sudden lump in his throat, he nodded, and hesitated when reaching for Alex’s hand to offer a supportive, grateful squeeze. Seeing this, Alex snorted with amusement and was the one to perform the gesture on the writer, grinning at his honest surprise.

            Unsure of what else to say, they lapsed into silence, but it only lasted a couple of minutes before Harvey returned, carrying his satchel, which he rummaged through on the coffee table. “As I surmised from your telephone diagnosis, just a minor chest cold, though if he isn’t careful it could develop into pneumonia.” Elliott gasped quietly, but blushed and bit his lip at the comforting squeeze from Alex again. Might, not would. He paid attention as Harvey continued, but the doctor interrupted himself to glance between the two men. “Ah, what…relation…do you two have with him? I do not want to breach doctor-patient confidentiality.”

            Relation? Why does- Oh, that’s right, only direct family or spouses are normally allowed to know specifics about someone’s medical history and needs. …Of which I am neither…

            He and Alex looked at each other, and he saw the shrug in the set of his jaw; he knew that he likely wasn’t eligible to be privy to this information. As for himself… He sighed and shook his head. “Not proper relations, I must confess. Alex is his cousin, albeit a bit distant, and I am…” The words almost hurt to say. “Simply his partner.” Not a proper spouse, no, just someone that shared his bed and on occasion, his home. He didn’t really matter, legally. Looking at the floor, he chewed his lip, almost as painfully as the ache inside of him.

            “You two are living together, correct?”

            Looking up, Elliott realized that the question had been directed at him, but he didn’t understand what Harvey was talking about, and then he saw the sly smile almost hidden under the mustache. “That is correct,” he replied, not adding or subtracting anything. Technically, yes they were living together, though at each other’s homes alternatively, and…

            “Ah, domestic partners, then, I am allowed to confide in you his medical needs and history.” Once more Elliott was very glad that he was already sitting, as his legs would have given out from under him. Harvey shrugged at Alex. “Apologies, Alex, but…”

            Not the least bit bothered, Alex got up. “S’okay, doc. I’ll go and see how the ginger nuisance is holding up.”

            Once the room was occupied by the two of them, Harvey pulled out his notepad and tore off a page containing copious notes, in a much neater hand than Elliott had been expecting. As the author skimmed them a couple of small, plastic bottles were set on the coffee table in front of him.

            “It should run its course in a couple of days. As it’s viral I cannot give antibiotics for it, but I have prescribed these to help deal with the side effects of the cough.” He picked up one bottle and showed him the label. “One pill morning and night, make sure he takes it with food.” He put it down and picked up the other one, containing small packets of some sort of powder. “This one mix into tea or hot water or something and drink as needed. Otherwise, just make sure he stays warm and hydrated. No special dietary needs other than his usual ones, if any. Should symptoms worsen give me a call; I forward the clinic number upstairs after hours just in case of emergencies. He’s a healthy young man and will recover in two or three days.”

            Holding the notes in both hands, Elliott stared at the bottles for so long that Harvey had to call his name twice to get his attention. “Hm? Oh, sorry, I… When you asked about our…status, I had worried that…”

            “Nothing to worry about Elliott, I understand,” Harvey chuckled, closing up his satchel, “the rules are there to protect patients, but you’re not the first couple in this sort of situation, and there are rules for this sort of thing, too. He’s lucky to have you, I’m leaving him in good hands.”

            For the second time Elliott was speechless, but he nodded and blinked back tears. “Thank you. I… If he’s awake, I’d like to…”

            Nodding, Harvey picked up his bag as he stood. “He came around just as you walked out. He’s quite lucid and in a pretty good mood, given his morning so far.”

            A bit quicker than he had intended to, Elliott put the notes on the table and set the bottles on it, just to make sure it didn’t get knocked away, and strode back to the bedroom.
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            • Risukage

              Risukage Existential Complex

              //Okay, so good news and bad news. TECHNICALLY, I can get wifi. But it's not reliable and it's not in my barracks. I also have almost no cell coverage in there, either (they're so heavily built that the signal can't get in). Bad news is that because of that, posts will be difficult to upload, especially since it seems like I'm going to be quite busy and will be working some LONG hours. I can't complain, it's what they're paying me to do, but it looks like updates will be sporadic for a while. I'll upload as I get the time to write, but I'm not sure how much I'll have until the exercise gets underway and we have a better idea of what all needs to happen. I'll also be bouncing between two posts (long story...), and the other location doesn't have wifi anywhere that I saw, so we'll have to see what will happen. Thank you all so much for sticking with this story, sorry it's having to slow down JUST as it's getting close to the end. >_<//

              Lysander was awake and sitting up, having reached for his phone, which he put down as Elliott walked in. He was wearing a paper mask to prevent the further spread of his cold, but despite that, Elliott saw the corners of his eyes crinkle the way that they always did when he smiled, and he couldn’t help but return it. Realizing that he had only a few items of clothing and nothing else that he needed, he turned to Alex and asked if he could also beg a ride home in order to get items for an extended stay.

              Nodding, Alex agreed, as it would allow him to shovel the road when he got back. “Catch a nap, Lys, we’ll be back in a while.”

              Elliott leaned over to kiss his partner on the cheek before heading back out to the other room to put on his own coat and gloves. As he spun through his mind what all he would need, he was joined by Alex and Harvey. In a minute they were ready and stepped out into the bitter cold. Elliott took the center seat since Harvey would get out first, and took the satchel so that he could get in in the first place.

              “Thank, you again, doctor,” Elliott sighed, “this was so sudden, and I just…”

              “Don’t worry, Elliott, it’s a minor cold and he’s quite resilient. Having you there will help him recover more quickly, especially given the work that he does.”

              “The- Ah! I had forgotten!” He just now remembered the garden and all that needed to be done, and added a few more things to his mental packing list. “Yet again you have my thanks, there is much that I will need to accomplish in his stead. I wonder if I can manage it.”

              They arrived at the clinic in a few more minutes, and Harvey thanked them for the ride before jogging inside out of the cold. The remaining two departed for the cabin, and there was terse silence before Alex sighed and rolled his eyes. “So what’s eating you, bro?”

              Elbow on the door and chin in his hand, Elliott watched the town go by as he thought. “Recalling the conversation with the doctor, on the phone and then when being instructed on Lysander’s medical needs.” At his next lengthy silence, Alex prodded him again, and Elliott hesitated before answering. “I…still feel as though I am being judged for our relationship.”

              “Whaddya mean ‘still?’ Nobody’s ever given you shit about it,” Alex replied, then gave him a look of concern, “have they?”

              “Well, no, not directly. …Or, even indirectly, really, but…”

              Sighing again, Alex punched Elliott in the shoulder. “Shit, you and Lys and your self-confidence issues. I’ve lived here forever, bro, and I can tell that everyone is happy for you two, even if you are ‘outsiders’ and all. You’re good people and have done stuff for the town. Nobody’s judging you two for anything.”

              A small smile returned, but Elliott didn’t quite feel reassured yet. “I know that you are right, but I have for so long had to maintain a certain face and status for the family and-”

              “Bro, shut up and be happy about your amazing boyfriend already.” Elliott was without words and stared at Alex with surprise. “He talks about you all the time, you know.”

              “…No, I didn’t know.”

              Chuckling, Alex carefully drove over the bridge and parked next to the cabin. “When we go running in the morning, he’s always going on about something you’ve done, or something about your appearance that he likes, or just how freaking awesome you are to him, and I’m almost kinda jealous.”

              Elliott nearly walked into the door before he opened it. “You…what?”

              “No shit, bro, he gets this dreamy, happy look when he does it, too, like you’re the center of his world. He’s always talking about bits from your book that you did that he loves, or stuff about your personal style.” He followed the author inside and closed the door behind him, leaning against it as Elliott began to pack a backpack. “Hell, I learned quickly to ID the look he has when the two of you have had some completely amazing sex.”

              Elliott dropped the backpack and nearly tripped over it. “He- He what?”

              With a hearty laugh, Alex smirked at him. “Oh please, you know that look better than I do. And he wears it ALL morning. At first it was kinda embarrassing for him to basically show off how good you are, now it’s just annoying. It’s like, I get it, Elliott’s great in bed, shut up and run, bro, y’know?”

              Still staring, Elliott almost stumbled over the backpack before he picked it up again. “I… Well, I suppose that I am a skilled and enthusiastic lover, but…” He cleared his throat and walked quickly into the bedroom. “My apologies for making you uncomfortable, I will ask him not to-”

              “Oh my GODS, bro, shut up! I think it’s funny. You two really have no freaking idea how lucky each other is, do you? Just, anyone who looks at you knows you two are totally in love, and it’s so damn pure that I almost kinda wanna barf. Okay, you’re banging, so it’s not totally pure, but whatever. Oh what the hell,” he muttered, reaching for his phone, “I’m getting a shit-ton of Chatter messages.”

              “I was noticing my phone buzzing incessantly as well,” Elliott, observed, and they both retrieved their phones to check the thread that had started without them.

              SixStrings: just a heads-up, I caught the plague, won’t be able to make practice, not sure when I’ll be functional again

              RawkStar: what? noooooo, you’re not allowed to die on us right after our debut! :(

              SixStrings: chill, mate, it’s just a chest cold, I’ll be fine soon

              L33tK3ys: sorry to hear about that, need anything?

              PurpleGoth: clearly he needs a lap dance. Get on it, Sam

              RawkStar: but he hasn’t taught me yet. you never taught me to pole dance, either, d00d

              SixStrings: it’s your fault for not picking up a thong and pair of heels by now. This is all on you, mate

              L33tK3ys: …this got weird very quickly…

              PurpleGoth: my mascara is running OMG :’D

              RawkStar: but where do i buy that around here? not like i get to the city much

              SixStrings: nick ‘em from Haley, she’s got a few pairs extra

              Alex and Elliott were chuckling at the exchange, and the athlete decided to enter the conversation.

              ProBro: …how the hell do you know so much about the state of my gf’s underwear?

              SixStrings: I didn’t until now :3

              They laughed again at Lysander’s reply, and continued to do so when Haley chimed in.

              ShutterBug: leave me out of this. Besides, I’ve got wayyyy too much boo-tay for him to wear my stuff and he’s not classy enough for any of my shoes ;)

              PurpleGoth: #DYING :rofl:

              Wiping his eyes, Elliott decided that it was time to playfully reprimand his partner.

              SeasideScribe: if you aren’t asleep by the time I return I shall be very annoyed

              SixStrings: what’cha going to do about it, spank me? Didn’t know you were into that, love

              Both men dissolved into helpless laughter as Sebastian voiced the opinion that everyone there was weird. “I should finish packing,” Elliott sighed, “the sooner I return the sooner that I can ensure that he is behaving himself.”

              Knowing that he could launder his garments at Lysander’s home, he only grabbed a couple things that Lysander didn’t have that he required, then a book and his laptop. As an afterthought, he took the rose with him; it still needed care now and then, and it just felt...right

              Alex brought them back to the house as quickly as conditions would permit, and he pulled a snow shovel and other equipment from the bed of the truck as Elliott went inside. Dropping his backpack inside the bedroom, he smiled to see Lysander curled up on his side, hugging a pillow, completely asleep. As quietly as possible he changed into work clothes, set the rose upon the kitchen table, and put on his coat again to go outside and dash to the greenhouse. There was work to be done.
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              • Risukage

                Risukage Existential Complex

                //As is already obvious, I've missed two updates already, and am not likely to get to any in the near future. The short of it is that mornings have started around 0430 and been ending close to 2200. The training and guidance that I and my counterparts are providing to the units here may well save Soldier lives when they deploy in the next year or two, and I intend to take this seriously. I'll be back in the first week of August, but until then, I'm getting paid to ensure that people get the best training that we can offer. Hugs for you all, R&S3 returns in a couple of weeks. Cheers, and thank you for reading!//
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                • Minimanta

                  Minimanta Spaceman Spiff

                  That's a long morning ;D

                  But seriously, rl comes first and it sounds like you have lots to do, so I'll be looking forward to continue reading in august :)
                    Alkanthe likes this.
                  • Kid Absurdity

                    Kid Absurdity Big Damn Hero

                    You deserve a break, especially given that schedule. Come back strong and refreshed!
                      Risukage and Alkanthe like this.
                    • Risukage

                      Risukage Existential Complex

                      //Oh gods, I've been gone so long! I wasn't expecting to take an extra week, but I got a bit ill after I got home from annual training, and then things just went wonky for another week. Took me way too long to get my creative mojo back. But I AM back, barring any other distractions. Hopefully I can keep up this schedule again until the end of book 3, but if I do end up doing a fourth one, I'm likely gonna back it off to twice or just once a week updating. But that's in the future. Now, we pick back up where we left off, with Elliott continuing to take care of our poor, sick, ginger nuisance. See you all again on Wednesday! :)//

                      Elliott rubbed his arms to get them warm again as he stood inside the door to the greenhouse. He hadn’t brought a coat with him between the house and there, as it was just a short jaunt, but by Yoba, that wind still had teeth! Looking around, he had a look at what needed to be harvested and tried to remember what it was that Lysander had done. It wasn’t difficult, it was that he’d simply followed directions and assisted as his partner had worked. However, he found that it had already become a sort of muscle memory as he made his rounds, though to his relief, nothing needed replanting or major work. He wasn’t inept, but he didn’t quite feel right in making major changes to that which wasn’t his. Although…

                      He shook his head to dispel that thought. As much as he did enjoy this home and Lysander’s company, it was too early to consider anything long term.

                      Was it, really, though?

                      It took a moment for him to realize that he’d spaced out, and he laughed at himself as he set down the plant he’d been working with, shaking his head. They did know quite a bit about each other, and they had similar life goals and plans for the future, and, well, they were quite compatible. Hell, they’d already had their first major “fight” and overcome it, being stronger for the experience. And now, strange as it was, he enjoyed the thought of taking care of his partner like this. He knew that Lysander was somewhat embarrassed by the attention, but he appreciated it all the same. How strange, the way he had fought so hard to do everything on his own, how hard it had been for him to relinquish control, but all it had taken was a few gentle words and he had surrendered without further resistance, almost gratefully.

                      It wasn’t long before he was done, and he cleaned up as best he could, packing up what he had harvested for collection and shipment. As an afterthought, he left a note with it explaining Lysander’s temporary illness and his own contact information, should any questions arise. Satisfied with his work, he darted back to the house and shivered a little once back indoors. He took off his shoes and strode to the bedroom to check on his partner. Lysander had just awoken, and he looked surprised to see him walk in wearing not only work clothes, but ones that had just been used.

                      Elliott smiled softly at him, glad to see that he was looking a little better. “It is quite warm and lovely in there, but the cold from there to here is bitter and sharp,” he chuckled, trying to cheer his partner.

                      Blinking, Lysander sighed and shook his head. “You took care of… Thanks again, love, looks like I’m just racking up the favors to return.”

                      “It needs to be done, so I am taking care of it,” Elliott explained firmly, sitting next to him to remove the ribbon and retie Lysander’s hair, “do not concern yourself with debts and repayments. I am happy to perform this task.” He kissed the top of his partner’s head and smiled again. “Rather, I find it pleasing, as previously I had no horticultural ability, and under your tutelage I am now capable of performing the errands that you manage daily.”

                      As the front door opened and closed, he mused aloud that it was likely Alex returning from shoveling the front walk. He got up to greet him, but stopped in surprise to see all of their friends removing shoes, scarves, coats, and other garments. “Oh, hello, I did not expect all of you to be here as well.” Sam grinned as he darted past, dropping his backpack on the floor as he bounded onto the bed to hug his friend quite firmly around the chest. Elliott chuckled and shrugged, following their energetic companion.

                      “Sweet PJs, I didn’t know you wore that style,” Sam commented, noticing Lysander’s new state of dress. When Lysander replied that he normally didn’t, Sam tilted his head to the side. “Why, what do you normally sleep in?”

                      “Elliott’s arms.”

                      Blushing deeply, Elliott gave his partner a look of amusement as their friends laughed, and he moved aside a little as Sebastian walked around him to rummage through Sam’s backpack for a soda, apologizing for Sam’s overenthusiastic state at the moment.

                      “He’s been wound up all week because of the snow and Jodi practically begged us to get him out for a bit.” He also explained that Sam had had two sodas en route, but was corrected by the man in question that it had actually been three, therefore explaining his unusually chipper mood.

                      Frowning, Lysander remarked that he recalled that each of those particular drinks contained the amount of caffeine equal to or more than a cup of coffee, which was gleefully corroborated by Sam. “Man, you are looking rough, dude,” he said, examining Lysander with interest, “hasn’t Elliott given you kisses or anything to make you feel better?” When Lysander informed him in a patient tone that he didn’t want to give Elliott what he currently had (thankfully not mentioning that he had actually “given him kisses” earlier), Sam put his hands on his face and gasped, faking overdramatic antics. “What? You’ve been deprived of smooches? No wonder you’re dying!” Nodding to himself, Sam made a determined face. “Fine, I shall fall upon the sword of contagion myself.” He grabbed Lysander by the collar with both hands, who watched him with a strange mix of boredom and amusement. “Pucker up, buttercup, you’re going to enjoy this more than I will.”

                      With a quiet snort and a roll of his eyes again, Lysander politely rebuffed the offer, as while he appreciated the offer, it was something that Sam would likely regret later, which produced another overdramatic gasp. “You’re turning down kisses? This man is clearly not in his right mind.” He began pointing at people around the room as he gave instructions, earning smirks and giggles as he did so. “Elliott! He needs a handy! Abby! Boobs in his face! Sebastian! …Stand there and smolder all sexy, it’s gonna be crowded over here. Haley!” He paused thoughtfully, glancing between her and Alex. “I’m not asking anything of you ‘cause Alex will kill me.”

                      General merriment rippled around the group at all of this, but it did have the desired effect of getting Lysander to smile, thought it was difficult to tell under the mask. The smile touched his eyes, however, and it was noticed and appreciated while he chuckled and rubbed his eyes. “That all would be very nice but I couldn’t get it up if I tried, so the effort would be wasted.” Sam smirked and hugged him again, grinding against him suggestively, but Lysander just sighed and chuckled again, remarking that no, it wasn’t doing anything for him.

                      “Gasp!” Sam replied, holding his friend at arm’s length, “alas! Have I lost my sex appeal?” With the equally snarky riposte that he had definitely lost something, Sebastian finished his drink, and Lysander provided further snark that it was himself, not his friend, that was the problem. Once more he made with the theatrics, lamenting Lysander’s lack of desire or drive, and pulled the sick man closer, burying his face in Sam’s chest. “So young, so beautiful, we hardly knew you,” he whimpered, pressing the back of his hand to his forehead, then thought of something and released Lysander to reach for his phone. “Wait, hang on a sec.”

                      As he tapped the screen, searching for something, Lysander tried to ask something, but was interrupted by Sam finding what it was he wanted, a funeral dirge, which began to play from his phone. Sam pulled him back into the previous position, trying to remember where he had left off. “We hardly knew you, sexy ginger man, you had so much life left to live, so many hot people to shag, so many bitchin’ concerts at which you could rock people’s faces. Now it’s all gone, gone!”

                      Everyone else in the room was caught up in fits of laughter, and it finally made its way to Lysander, who was now laughing fit to burst as well, apparently having needed this release. He thanked Sam for his attention and help, but upon trying to apologize for being a burden, Sam cut him off and threatened to tickle him, which did the trick, and offered to keep him company a bit longer, mostly because he had a captive audience, so Lysander honestly had little choice.

                      Still chuckling, Elliott wiped his eyes. “I will allow it for a while, but not too long, he does need to take his medication and get some rest.” Alex agreed, as he had been the one to bring his cousin back himself, and Sam laughed and smirked at them both, teasing that they were acting like overprotective parents. This made both men exchange a look of surprise as well as another laugh. “He is correct, we rather have.” Once again, Alex agreed, and it was now Lysander who teased, having recovered enough to do so.

                      “If that makes Elliott the ‘mom’ then that means that I’ve got a massive Oedipus Complex going on and I’m not sure if I’m comfortable with that.”

                      Elliott dissolved into helpless laughter at this, and Alex helpfully supported him, gesturing for everyone to clear out of the room. Once the three of them were alone Elliott had finally collected himself, and he retrieved the medication that had been prescribed, dosing it out for his partner.

                      “Oy, love, I know I just called you a ‘mom’ but you don’t need to take it this far,” Lysander giggled, reaching for the bottle, and Elliott playfully ignored him, instead tipping the pills into his hand. He was about to get up to get a glass of water but apparently Alex had read his mind and walked in with one. “Pfft, thanks, dad,” Lysander snorted, accepting the glass and momentarily removing the mask. He washed down the pills and handed back the empty glass, replacing the mask, and Elliott kissed his cheek again, squeezing his hand.

                      “We’ll go take care of food. Rest, dear, sleep. I’ll wake you when we have something ready.” The short burst of levity had apparently been welcome but draining, as Lysander nodded and shifted to get back under the covers. Elliott pulled the sheets over him as he got comfortable, and couldn’t help stroking his hair a little, smiling when he saw the muscles on the side of his partner’s face shift, indicating a happy smile.

                      Alex was rubbing the back of his neck, watching everyone else as Elliott walked in. “So, we’re gonna try to cook something? Are you sure that this is a good idea?”

                      With another smile, Elliott began to pull out the items necessary for soup and began giving directions to everyone present. “Of course it is. The kitchen is large enough that we can all work without getting in each other’s way, and it will taste all the better for everyone’s contributions.”

                      While Abigail had plenty of experience in the kitchen, he thought it better to have her supervise others as well rather than work directly, so that someone else could get experience working. He directed Sam to fill a pot with water and set it to boil as the start of the soup, assuming that it would be easy enough, but while he was retrieving a couple of other items he heard a shout of, “SHIT’S ON FIRE, YO,” from Sam. Perplexed at both the energy of this statement, as well as its low-level vulgarity, he turned around and gaped to find that, indeed, something was on fire, the pot of water.

                      “…How?...” he asked, confused, and Abigail groaned with frustration and put the lid on the pot to smother the fire, cuffing him on the shoulder.

                      “If you’re doing this to get out of helping I’ll kick your ass myself.”

                      Rubbing his shoulder, Sam pouted a little, though he did giggle. “Man, I wish I could do this on command, I legit have no idea what happened. Um, uh, I’ve also no idea how to clean that up, either.” He pointed to the small scorch mark that the fire had produced, and Elliott examined it.

                      “It can be dealt with, but later. Let’s get you on a less…hazardous task, shall we?” In short order, the bits and pieces for a hearty soup had been peeled, chopped, and otherwise reduced into the necessary parts to be cooked. Everyone lounged around the kitchen table while Elliott sampled it, muttering to himself as he rummaged through the cupboards for the right spices, almost dropping the entire bottle of pepper into the pot when Sebastian laughed and commented on how well he knew Lysander’s kitchen.

                      “Seriously, dude, just move in already or something, you two are damn near married as it is,” he grinned, enjoying the chance to make fun of their usually stoic friend.

                      Elliott took a moment to compose himself as he set aside the pepper after tasting the broth again, grabbing another bottle of spices. “It is still a bit early to consider such a thing. I am not averse to it, but there are a number of things that must be discussed first, and I shan’t do so until he is fully recovered.”

                      “Oh gods,” Sebastian snickered, leaning back in his chair, “I was messing with you. You’re really thinking about it?”

                      Pausing to think about the exchange, Elliott sighed and nodded as he put the lid on the pot and spoon on a saucer. “Yes, I have. It’s only natural, with how our relationship has progressed. However, as I said, it is nothing that can be discussed any further until he had recovered, and even then…”

                      Sam rolled his eyes and cracked open yet another soda. “As if he’d say ‘no.’ Bet’cha five bucks that if you asked him right now he’d take you up on it.”

                      Haley gave Sam an irritated sniff, giving the soda a look of disdain. “It’s not nice to tease a sick man like that. Though for once you are right, Lys has it so bad, there’s no way he’d turn you down, Elliott.”

                      “It isn’t nice to tease the man taking care of the sick one!” Elliott replied, turning away to hide a sudden flush in his cheeks, “and as I said, it is too early.”

                      “When won’t it be?” Sam asked, for once looking serious.

                      Elliott hesitated as he opened a cupboard, pulling out glasses. “…I…don’t know yet.”

                      He cleared his throat and set about pouring drinks for everyone, hastily changing the subject to a different conversation. Since they all were there and had nothing much to do until the food was ready, they went over some ideas for upcoming songs and gigs, and did a bit of work on lyrics for a new piece that Sam was writing. Eventually, the soup was finished, and Elliott took the first bowl into the bedroom for Lysander, setting it aside to gently shake his partner’s shoulder.

                      “Hnngh. Mm, love?” he asked, slightly dislodging the mask as he sat up.

                      Removing the mask completely, Elliott set it aside and risked a quick, light kiss, which was accepted happily. “I brought you something to eat, dear, it’s rather decent for a group effort.” He handed over the food once Lysander was sitting upright. “Oh, and don’t worry about the scorch marks, I’ll get to them soon enough, hopefully they’ll come out.” Lysander had been just about to take a bite when he peered at Elliott with a mix of curiosity and concern, unsure as to whether he was joking. “It’s alright, don’t worry,” he chuckled, patting his partner’s shoulder, which did absolutely nothing to reassure him.

                      “I thought I heard something,” Lysander mumbled around large spoonfuls of soup, eating quickly but clearly enjoying it, “and you definitely had a hand in this, it was a group effort but you led it.”

                      This praise filled Elliott with a greater joy than he had expected, and he watched with a smile as the soup seemed to evaporate. Scraping the bottom with the spoon to get every last bit, Lysander sighed happily and handed over the empty vessel and reached for the mask. “Damn, I want another bowl but I’m still wiped out pretty bad. I swear I’m gonna marry you one day just for your cooking.” Elliott nearly dropped the bowl as Lysander flopped onto his back, one arm thrown wide and the other one over his eyes, already beginning to doze off. Setting the bowl on the dresser, he pulled the sheets into place once more as Lysander snored softly.

                      …Sam was right. Granted, he is exhausted and ill, but still, to suggest a thing out of the blue like that… Perhaps it isn’t something too far away after all.

                      He retrieved the bowl and took it back to the kitchen, smiling to see that everyone else had already served themselves, and poured himself one as well. As he sat down with his friends at the table, he looked around and felt another warm rush of happiness; they weren’t just friends, they were family, too.
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                      • Risukage

                        Risukage Existential Complex

                        //So yeah, I've missed three updates. Freakin' wow. Long story, not very interesting, but the things that kept me from writing are finally being resolved, so I should hopefully now be back on schedule again. I need to finish this story SO BAD. It should have been done by now, augh. Thank you all so much for sticking with me these last couple of months. Well, okay, I thank you for reading this in the first place, but extra thanks for being patient. See you all again on Friday, barring everything going pear-shaped again.//

                        Everyone departed once they’d finished eating, save for Alex, and Elliott tried to persuade him to go home as well, but the athlete wasn’t having any of it. “Nah, I ate dinner, so I’m helping with the dishes, and I figure you want a bit more company while Lys is out cold.”

                        “…I cannot argue with that, no. I am better than I was earlier, but until the first night passes I will continue to be concerned. Thank you.”

                        They gathered up the various dishes and glasses that had been used and stacked them on the counter to be washed, and when Elliott began drawing water Alex once more stepped in. “I’ll wash, you dry, I dunno where stuff here goes. Unlike you.” This was said with a cheeky grin, and Elliott huffed a chuckle and smiled as well.

                        “Very well, I accept both your help and your direction.”

                        For a little while they cleaned silently, focusing on the task at hand, until Alex asked a casual question: “So, when’re you proposing to him?” Elliott frantically juggled the glass he’d just dried and barely caught it. “Um, heads-up, bro, but if you’re gonna break something, it might as well be a dirty one.”

                        “I- What?!”

                        “Yeah, ‘cause there’s no sense in-“

                        “No,” Elliott interrupted, “about- Why do you think I’d…”

                        Alex shrugged. “Why not? Like I said earlier, he’s always talking about you and stuff, and I’ve been watching you all night. You’re always thinking about him, hunh?”

                        Turning the glass over in his hands, Elliott sighed and nodded, putting it away in the cupboard. “Yes, I am. He means so much more to me than even I can express. And as you have insinuated, I am familiar with most everything in his home and am comfortable here. …I would like to stay here more than just overnight, or for a couple of days while I take care of him. But it is still too soon a thing to consider.”

                        “Eh, I guess so, you finally met each other’s family, so that’s at least one big step going for you. I dunno what else you think you need to do, but I guess you still need to learn more about each other or something?”

                        Elliott accepted the plate that Alex handed to him but held it silently, letting it drip on the floor. …What was there to learn? There was the usual simple thing like interests, favorite colors and foods, birthdays, and so on. There was each other’s past of course, but… They had already learned so much in their working on the novel and then just being around each other. What else was there left that they needed to know or do?

                        He blinked and stepped back as Alex waved a hand in front of his face. “Bro. Broooo. You still in there?”

                        “I… Yes, I was simply considering your statement.”


                        “…And there is little that precludes me from asking him to…” He cleared his throat and hastily dried the plate, which was almost unneeded since it had mostly drip- and air-dried already. “I have considered it, yes. And he has mentioned interest in the possibility as well, although it appears to be more of an impulsive reaction or statement than something deliberately considered.”

                        Alex shrugged and handed over another dish. “Isn’t that a good thing, then? It’s all, what is it, since he doesn’t think about it it’s like, from the gut?” He shrugged. “You’re the writer, you’re the one with all the words.”

                        Again, Elliott considered this quietly as he dried what was handed to him. “And despite that I have none, other than that you are correct. Although I am amused, you seem to have a vested interest in our relationship.”

                        “Yeah, well, he’s family, and I promised I’d watch out for you both.” Chuckling, he shrugged again and rinsed the soap off of his hands as he let the sink drain. “He kinda gave me a second chance, y’know? Anyway, it’s not like I’m, uh, what you said, vested. It’s just funny.” He dried his hands on another towel and hung it up, looking around the kitchen. “Well, I’m off now, gimmie a call if you need anything else. I’ll probably drop by again tomorrow if the road needs to be cleared again. Aw, crap, we did use some stuff, you gonna need a lift to the store?”

                        The subject back to business of a sort, Elliott did a quick inventory. “I would appreciate it, yes, I believe he was planning to go today at some point, but, well, you see how well that went.”

                        Alex put on his cold weather gear once more, gave Elliott a friendly hug, then waved as he left, closing the door behind himself. Standing alone in the living room for a moment, Elliott rubbed his arms as he thought, replaying their conversation and thinking about how he had responded and why. His gaze wandered slowly across the room until he saw the medicine on the table. Damn, he’d almost forgotten! Opening one bottle, he shook out the required dose, got a glass of water from the kitchen, and went to the bedroom, but didn’t turn on the light, as he didn’t want to wake him up completely. Unsurprisingly, Lysander was asleep, though he did wake up much more easily than he usually did, so he hadn’t been that deeply asleep.

                        “Sorry to wake you, dear, but I’d forgotten to give this to you with your food.”

                        “Hmm?” Lysander replied, blinking at him blearily. This lasted only a moment before consciousness, if fuzzy, asserted itself, and the smile that was hidden by the mask turned up the corners of his eyes. “Hey love, thanks. I forgot, too.”

                        With help he sat up, then removed the mask to accept what was offered, consume it, and sigh heavily, which made him cough furiously. He still had the control to at least cough into his sleeve, though, and slumped forward, feeling quite weak.

                        “Do you think you can rest through the night without difficulty?” Elliott asked, wondering if he would be kept up by random fits. He sat down next to his partner and brushed his cheek with his fingers, which Lysander leaned into with a smile.

                        “Mm. Yeah. Just gotta breathe carefully for now, ‘specially without a mask, cooler air seems to screw me over. Shit, it’s late,” he remarked, looking out the window, “how are you gonna get home?”

                        Elliott smiled as Lysander put the mask back on. “I am home, dear, wherever you are is where I want to be.” This produced a slightly embarrassed blush, but Lysander looked pleased.

                        “Yeah, you did say earlier that you were getting stuff to stay a bit. I totally forgot. And yeah, it’d be kind dumb to keep going back and forth if you’re…” He blushed again, but this time looked guilty. “If you’re taking care of me.”

                        “Dearest,” Elliott sighed, smiling as he hugged him and stroked his hair, “how many times must I say it? I do not mind. I am happy to do so.”

                        Lysander put his arms around the other man’s waist, resting his head on his shoulder, shuddering a little at a pleasant tingle when Elliott’s fingers brushed his neck. “Yeah, I just… Look, I understand, love, and I appreciate it. So much. It’s just old habits and stuff, and, well… I just feel a bit weak and silly. I know it’s silly to feel like that, and I’m trying to, whatever, change my mind, y’know?” He got silent for a moment, burying his face in Elliott’s chest. “I’ve never trusted anyone enough to let my guard down like this before. To let someone get this close. I…” His grip was weak, but it still tightened around Elliott a bit. “I’m scared to lose you. This just kinda made me aware of the fact that someday we’re both going to…”

                        The front of his shirt got a bit damp as Lysander began to cry again, his shoulders shaking gently as he tried to hold back. Elliott kissed a small line up his partner’s neck, under his ear, and across to his cheek. “I know. Everything must perish in time. But we are both here, so let us live in this ‘now’ we have together. Sleep and recover knowing that I will be here for you at any time. Do not hesitate to wake me should you need anything.”

                        Nodding, Lysander eased himself back down with Elliott’s help, fumbling to pull the blankets back over himself. “…Thanks, love. I will. But you get some sleep, too, don’t worry about the garden and stuff, just get to it whenever you wake up, okay?”

                        “I shall. Good night, dear.”

                        Elliott retrieved the empty glass and left, putting it in the sink and unbuttoning his waistcoat and shirt. Grabbing his bag, he changed into some sleep wear in the living room. Like his partner, it wasn’t something he wore often, but in the case of unexpected company, and sleeping on the couch, he thought it prudent to wear something. He draped his clothes over the back of a chair, unsure of where else to put them for the moment, then spread the blankets over the couch. A yawn suddenly consumed him as he reached for the pillow that he’d taken from the bedroom, and as he got himself comfortable he discovered that he was much more tired than he thought. Just as he was dozing off he remembered that he hadn’t plugged in his phone and had to get up momentarily to do so. Returning to his place of rest, he got comfortable once more and was asleep almost before he pulled the blanket over himself.

                        Despite his unexpected exhaustion, Elliott still rose at the time that he usually did, though he did experience a moment of confusion at waking up on the couch at Lysander’s home, as somewhere in the back of his mind he had expected to be back in his bed at the cabin. Changing again in the living room into fresh clothes, he took the garments from the day before and the blankets from the couch, putting them all in the laundry room to deal with later.

                        First point of order was to get a bit of food and medication into Lysander. As he reached for the bottle of medicine, mentally queuing up what he needed to do, he realized that he should have just changed into work clothes for the garden and not his good ones. Sighing and rolling his eyes at himself, he pulled some of the leftover soup out of the refrigerator and warmed it up, as though neither of them really ate breakfast, this was a bit of an exception to normal circumstances. Not an exception, Lysander was awake as well, flat on his back and somewhat sprawled out, looking quite annoyed.

                        “I did not expect you to be awake yet, dear, are you alright?” Elliott asked, setting the soup on the dresser and pulling the bottle of medicine from his pocket.

                        “Yeah, just, guess my internal clock is set to always go off at this time,” he sighed, somehow managing a shrug, “not like I can get up and do anything, so I was trying to figure out if I should try to go back to sleep or just be awake for a bit and read or do something on my phone or whatever.” He accepted Elliott’s help once more in sitting up, leaning back against the pillows that had been shifted to provide support and happily removed the mask as Elliott handed over the soup. “Though this will totally hit the spot, I was actually feeling a bit hungry. Might be able to crash out again after, too.”

                        Elliott began removing the garments he’d just put on less than a half an hour previous, reaching into the closet for fresh work clothes, and Lysander watched him with immense satisfaction while he ate. Noticing this, Elliott gave him an amused smile. “Do that, I’ll take care of the garden once more, and once Alex is free later we will restock the pantry.”

                        “Mm, bugger, thanks,” Lysander replied around large spoonfuls of soup, “I wanted to do that yesterday, buuuuut…”

                        “As I had surmised. Is there anything in particular that you might like for lunch?”

                        Scraping the bottom of the bowl for every last drop, Lysander scrubbed his sleeve across his chin as he thought. “Nothing in particular. Something spicy would hit it, though.”

                        Finished with getting changed, Elliott took the bowl and kissed his partner’s cheek before the mask went back on again. “That sounds lovely for a cold winter’s day. I’ve got an idea of what would be satisfying for us both. Well, I shall return once chores are completed. I’ll try not to wake you when I return to clean myself up.”

                        He didn’t wake his ill companion when he returned from the greenhouse, and took a shower less to clean up and more to warm up. Once dressed properly (again), Elliott put on his boots in anticipation of leaving and made a quick shopping list, but when answering the door at a knock, expecting Alex, he staggered as Sam bounded him and hugged him around the waist. Elliott gasped both in surprise at the visitor and shock at the cold, and Sam laughed as he stepped back and began disentangling himself from his scarf and coat.

                        “Hey dude! Is Lys still out of it or is he up?”

                        “Ah, he was asleep last I checked, but- Never mind, then,” Elliott sighed as Sam trotted to the bedroom after having haphazardly tossed his coat and scarf onto the rack and ditched his shoes by the door. Rubbing the bridge of his nose, Elliott couldn’t help but giggle at the shout of, “hey dude! Your bestie is here! How ya feeling?” followed by a muffled yelp of irritated confusion from Lysander, who likely had been woken by Sam pouncing him. His assumption was correct, as Lysander shot him a look of tired patience, trapped under his friend who was sitting astride him again, hugging him before sitting up to muss up his hair, which produced another strangled noise of rage. Before Elliott could say anything, another knock prompted him to return to the door. This time it was Alex, who looked at the coat on the rack with curiosity, then recognized the style.

                        “Hoo boy, Sam’s here.”


                        “Well, I guess Lys isn’t getting any sleep for a while.”

                        “A safe assumption.”

                        Returning to the bedroom, Elliott saw that Lysander was trying to sit up, but between his weakness and Sam’s weight he was completely unsuccessful. “Love, I’m going to kill him when I get better.”

                        With a shrug and a smile, Elliott walked over to kiss him on the forehead and remove the ribbon that held his hair back, as between sleep and Sam his hair was a bit of a mess. “Well, feel free to try while I’m gone, Alex and I are off to the store. But be advised that the ground is too frozen to dig a hole and I think that any animals that could help you dispose of a body are all hibernating.”

                        Lysander’s irritation melted away with laughter, and he shook his head, jabbing a finger into Sam’s midriff. “Fiiiiine, I’ll murder his ass in the spring, happy?”

                        “Really?” Sam smirked, “I thought you usually murdered Elliott’s ass. Ohhh!”

                        Rolling his eyes, Lysander sighed deeply with frustration, but appeared surprised by Elliott’s sudden grin. “Oh, you’re quite wrong, Samson,” Elliott remarked, putting on his coat, “I am normally the one who ‘murders his ass.’ Ask Alex, apparently I’m quite good at it. Back later!”

                        Elliott almost couldn’t keep himself from bursting out laughing until he was outside, and even then had to muffle it in his scarf, which he hadn’t put on yet. The door closed and Alex stepped onto the porch, giving Elliott a look of amazed delight. “That is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard, bro, and I never expected it from you. Fistbump, that was awesome, wish I could have seen Sam’s face.”

                        Returning the gesture, Elliott laughed again as he wrapped the scarf around his neck. “It was almost as funny as Lysander’s. Oh my, I cannot believe I said that. But…” He picked up the shopping bag and carefully picked his way out to the truck. “But at the same time it felt liberating in a way. I am still myself, the person I have always been, but I am more now. I’m a bit more free with myself and my friends, and I’m so glad for it.”
                          611, Alkanthe and Minimanta like this.
                        • Risukage

                          Risukage Existential Complex

                          //The last time this was updated was back in August of 2017. I am so, SO very sorry. The short of a long, depressing story is that everything crashed and went to hell: mental health, physical health, life, career, hobbies, social life, you name it. To be quite frank, I'm honestly rather surprised to still be alive at this point. But that's not anything that anyone needs to worry about, or something I want to bother any of you with. What I do want to do is not only apologize for my absence, but to profusely thank any of you who come back to read this. I'll be slow going; just like any injury, it takes a while of practice and therapy to get back to where you were in the first place. I've done some minor writing and some RP with friends (my FFXIV version of Lysander has gotten some nice development, and his backstory is on my AO3 account if you want to catch that), but it's taken me a bit to remember how this world and story goes. I'll update as I can, hopefully twice a week, at least once a week.

                          Also, during my "recuperation" I've been jotting down notes for a fourth book, taking place shortly after Vox Arcana. I want to pursue it, but that all depends on if 1) I ever finish book 3, and 2) there's any interest. Once more, many, MANY apologies, and thank you all deeply for returning.//

                          Alex’s phone rang just as he grabbed for the door handle, and he answered it as he swung into the cab and closed the door against the cold. “Hey grandma, what’s up? Uh-hunh. Oh, cool, thanks! I’ll drop Elliott at the store real fast and be right back. A’kay, cool, love you too.” He hung up, put the phone in a cup holder and buckled up, which Elliott had already done.

                          “It appears to be a busy morning for you already,” Elliott observed as the engine turned over.

                          “A bit, I need to run by the house real fast, y’mind if I drop you off and pick you up when you’re done?”

                          Elliott smiled and shook his head. “Not a bother at all. I don’t need terribly much, so I should be all of five or ten minutes at most.”

                          No new snow had fallen in a few days, so any route that had been shoveled were safe to walk or drive upon, as there was no ice or anything that could cause falls or trouble. Alex stopped at the store to let Elliott out, and the author stood aside while Alex drove off before entering the store. He sighed with relief at the warmth inside, and unwound his scarf and removed his gloves, putting them into his pockets while he slung the shopping bag over his shoulder. As he had said, he knew exactly what he had needed, and even with a bit of pleasant small talk with Pierre, he had been right about his timing. Paying for his groceries, he picked up his bag and smiled when Abigail walked over, grinning when she saw him.

                          “Oh, hey, Elliott, you’re heading back to Lys’s place?”

                          Hefting the bag over his shoulder, he nodded. “Correct, I needed to make a quick run for supplies. He is awake right now, and Sam is…keeping him company.”

                          Abigail laughed at the mental image of this and folded her arms across her chest. “If Sam’s there then Lys is probably close to begging for the sweet release of death right about now.”

                          “That would be unsurprising.”

                          “Hey, mind if I head back with you? I was gonna drop by anyway, figure I might as well give you the company.”

                          With a glance at the door, Elliott thought about it for a moment. “The both of us would enjoy that, but Alex gave me a ride down here, and he should be back right now if he isn’t here already.”

                          “Oh shit, really?” she asked, ignoring the disapproving look from her father for her language, “lemme get my coat real fast.” She disappeared at a flat run, returning in half a minute, pulling on a coat as she held her gloves in her teeth and a scarf draped across her shoulders. “Cool, got my stuff, let’s go. Back later, dad!”

                          The extra passenger was unexpected but not a bother, and in fact useful, as Alex had picked up his own cargo.

                          “Freakin’ yes, cookies!” Abigail exclaimed, holding the plate in her lap once she had buckled herself in, “your grandma is the best.”

                          Elliott was next to get seated and buckled, and Alex pulled away, heading back to the farm. All three of them were almost ravenous from being trapped in the cabin with freshly-baked cookies like that, and it took no small amount of willpower to not tuck into them immediately. The truck parked, they dismounted and let themselves into the house, taking a moment to remove excess garments.

                          “Love, you’re back?” asked a weak, slightly-muffled voice from the bedroom.

                          We are, yes,” Elliott replied, stepping aside to let Abigail trot past him. He heard her and Sam enthusiastically greet each other, and grunt of exertion, likely from Abigail giving Lysander a boisterous hug. Having hung up his garments, he poked his head into the bedroom to find that, like Sam had done earlier, she was draped across him and ruffling his hair. Elliott smiled at the look of “please help me” that Lysander gave to him. “I picked up a passenger on the way home, dear,” he chuckled, “I’ll let the three of you have fun while I put away the groceries.”

                          “Is this karma?” the sick man asked, “’cause I’m not sure what I did but I already regret it.”

                          Elliott laughed warmly and picked up the shopping bag, going to the kitchen to unload it. The cookies were on the kitchen table, and Alex was trying to start some coffee to go with it. “Hey, so, I put on some water, but I don’t remember how much coffee to add. We usually use an automatic coffee pot at home.”

                          Quick instructions were given as Elliott put away some things and pulled out others, getting ready to make lunch. Having smelled both cookies and coffee, Sam bounded into the kitchen, looking hopeful. “Awww yeah, granny Evie’s cookies, having you all as besties kicks ass. Can I grab one now?”

                          “Go right ahead,” Elliott replied, “coffee will be ready in a minute, and lunch in about half an hour, less if I have assistance.”

                          Sam paused as he reached for a cookie. “I could help, but I don’t wanna set the kitchen on fire again. What’cha making?”

                          “Curry. He requested something spicy, and it is quick and simple enough to make.”

                          “So in revenge for setting the kitchen on fire you’re setting me on fire? Eh, fair enough. What can I do?”

                          Surprised at how quickly and enthusiastically Sam had volunteered, Elliott was slow to reply at first, but found a few things with which Sam could assist, and as soon as Abigail had also left Lysander alone, conscripted her as well. She glanced at the cookies and coffee and gestured to the bedroom. “Go spend a bit of time with him, Elliott, I’ll get a couple of things prepped for you.”

                          Without further prodding he poured two cups of coffee and put some cookies on a saucer to take with him. Lysander initially shot him a tired glance but immediately perked up when he saw who it was, and especially so when he saw what was in his hands. “Oh wow, I thought I smelled something great. I’ve got to send Evelyn a card or something.”

                          The sweet snack did good things for his spirits (though they were already better for his friends visiting), and he picked up his phone to tinker around when Elliott collected their empty cops and the saucer. “Lunch will be ready shortly.”

                          “What’s on the menu?”

                          “I thought that a curry would hit the spot.”

                          “…You are amazing, love.”

                          Elliott returned to the kitchen once more and found that everything was ready for him to cook, and his three “assistants” had gathered around the table for drinks and cookies. In short order, lunch was made and served, appreciated by everyone. Lysander ate two plates with immense satisfaction, already looking better. Abigail and Sam caught a ride back into town with Alex after lunch once they helped with cleaning up, and Elliott was left to himself in a suddenly-quiet house. He didn’t mind it, as the company and help had been useful, but he was glad for a bit of a respite.

                          Checking in on his partner once more, he was relieved to see him sleeping again and stifled a yawn of his own. He unbuttoned his waistcoat and set it aside to lay back down on the couch for a nap, finding himself unexpectedly tired. This lasted until late afternoon, when Xander woke him, patting him gently on the cheek with one claw slightly out, the way he always did when he wanted food and they were asleep. Sighing, he got up to feed their pet and start on dinner, then stopped short as he considered that thought again.

                          Their pet, not simply Lysander’s…

                          The next day was much as the one before it, with Sebastian dropping in this time, and the next day had Haley visiting. Alex stopped in to help again both days, and Elliott found himself settling into a strange but comfortable routine. Lysander was no longer reticent about accepting everyone’s assistance and was looking better every day. The evening of the third night Elliott felt a bit lazy and couldn’t be bothered to change into the sleepwear, simply discarding his waistcoat and flopping onto the couch. It was a comfortable one, so he didn’t mind it, and he knew that Lysander needed a bed to himself to recuperate, but that didn’t mean that he didn’t miss being there for him.

                          He felt something gentle brush across his face and woke blearily. Lysander was sitting next to him, drawing back his hand, looking a little sheepish. Apologizing for waking him, the recently-recuperated man urged Elliott to go back to sleep, but seeing his partner back to health wiped away any last vestiges of sleep, and upon observing it he earned a smile of relief that sent a warm rush of contentment through him.

                          “If you hadn’t been here I’d still be sick, and likely worse,” Lysander sighed, holding Elliott’s hand against his face, “thanks for everything. I know you don’t want repayment, but I’ll find a way to make it up to you.”

                          This touch, Elliott had ached for it for only a few days, but it felt as though it had been months. His partner’s breath was that of teeth unbrushed for several days, his clothes rumpled and worn from sweating and thrashing about from fever, and his hair disheveled and matted with sweat, but he didn’t care, he was ecstatic to know that Lysander had completely recovered and the knot of worry in his chest and tension in his gut finally released their grip, flooding him with relief.

                          Suddenly, he was caught with the need to do more than just touch him, and his smile reflected it as he hugged his partner close, delighting in the gasp he received as he nibbled on the ginger man’s ear. “Then I shall demand payment in your touch. It has been half a week since I could hold you, and even longer since I have been able to have you.”

                          Lysander found Elliott’s intimate affection amusing but welcome, and as neither of them wanted to wait, began undressing Lysander right then and there. It was a quick affair, just enough to sate their desires for the moment and make up a little for lost time, but that didn’t stop them from taking a very extended shower as well. (Though in fairness Lysander did feel particularly filthy after three days sick and enjoyed the luxury of Elliott’s gentle massaging as well as the hot, humid air that helped to clear the last of the congestion from his lungs.)

                          Even after getting cleaned up, Elliott tried not to be clingy, but found it difficult to not touch or hug Lysander in some fashion. Lysander returned from putting the bedding in the laundry and commented upon it, laughing as Elliott held him from behind and nuzzled his neck, sighing with contentment. “Can you begrudge me the desire to make up for lost time in showing you affection?” he asked, once again nibbling on an ear, and smiling at the giggle it produced.

                          “Not at all, and you’re not the only one feeling energetic. After it’s light enough to see I want to get back into the greenhouse and take care of things, then walk with you back to your cabin. I figure you want to get back, at least to drop off everything you brought up here.” He sighed and stretched his arms over his head. “And I need a walk so bad. It’s ugly and cold out, but I’ve been stuck in bed too long and need to stretch my legs a bit.”

                          Nodding, Elliott put on a clean work shirt. “Much as I have enjoyed my stay here, it is time to return. Fortunately, your garden hasn’t suffered as much as you might fear, as I have done what I can. There is much I did not do but that was a lack of certainty as to what you’d like done, not due to apathy.”

                          It was his turn to smile when Lysander hugged him around the waist. “Thanks, love, that’s a load off of my mind.”

                          He finished dressing in less than a minute, shrugging into a warm coat while Elliott did the same, and the both of them winced at the bite of the chill compared to the warmth that they had just left. While Lysander had been reassured by Elliott’s statement, he didn’t completely relax until he’d had the chance to make a quick patrol of the greenhouse. The things about which Elliott hadn’t been sure to tinker with he asked about, and Lysander was happy to fill him in. The author allowed himself a smile that not only had he done well in anticipating his partner’s expectations, but that he’d done a decent job of what he had harvested.

                          Bundling up again, they returned back to the house, though the copper-haired man did linger a little. “You know, I really do want to put in roses one day, over there, I’m thinking. They’re supposed to thrive in this climate.”

                          Elliott couldn’t help but grin as he slipped an arm around Lysander’s waist for a quick hug. “That they do,” he chuckled, and the other man grinned right back in response, recognizing the subtle nod. He then remarked aloud that Elliott had brought his rose with him and that it seemed to be healthy.

                          “The both of us required skilled and dedicated care, and we now bloom with vigor and beauty,” replied Elliott, opening the door for them both, and laughing at the eye-roll that Lysander gave him.

                          Beauty, hunh?” he smirked, hanging up his coat, “you’re more handsome, I think, but I will happily take credit for both of you doing so well.”

                          Partway through getting undressed Lysander remembered the laundry and darted out of the room to put the sheets in the dryer, and by the time he returned Elliott was halfway dressed himself, carefully buttoning up his shirt. “I have everything ready to leave,” he commented, fastening the buttons on his wrists, “everything was re-packed as soon as I was done with it, so I wouldn’t leave belongings scattered everywhere.” The waistcoat was next, which he shrugged into as he left the room. “I’ll get ‘suited up,’ take your time, dear.”

                          Lysander wasn’t far behind him, tying his hair back haphazardly as he had a certain lack of buttons comparatively. “Good to go, love, just need boots and all of the stuff I need to not freeze off what little of an ass I have.”

                          The morning was a little brighter but no less cold as they walked, and while Elliott didn’t mind it as much as his partner did, he noticed that for once Lysander was less annoyed by it, having been cloistered for several days as he had been. Holding hands and each carrying one backpack, they walked without hurry, enjoying both the silence and each other’s company. In short order they were at the cabin, but their stay lasted the time it took to drop the bags just inside the door. Elliott did, however, take a moment to carefully put the rose back on the table, glad that it had survived the journey back and forth.

                          It was still just early enough that the town was still collectively asleep for the most part, so the only sounds were that of waves breaking upon sand, the whistle of wind as it encountered something around which it could blow, and the soft crunch of boots in chilled sand. The mutual silence was unbroken as they strolled, delighting in the scents and flavors that their environment provided for them. Then, Lysander broke away to investigate something that shone with a reflected flash of light. Excavating the half-buried item, he made a noise of interest, holding up a large seashell.

                          “Oh nifty, look at that, what’s it called again, ‘mother of pearl,’ if I remember correctly?” Elliott peered at the smooth, pearlescent object and nodded assent, just as intrigued. “That’s lovely, and a big one, too. That reminds me of something…” Handing it over to Elliott, he put his elbow in his hand and his chin in the other, trying to recall something. “Oh yeah, some old tradition here in town that grandpa told me about ages ago. Something about a legend or a tradition called a ‘Mermaid Pendant,’ supposed to have been used for engagements, I think.”

                          Elliott almost dropped the item, barely able to suppress a chuckle while he hid a smile. He had been thinking of the same thing! Lewis had told him about the same legend the year previous when he’d been collecting stories while learning about the town, and then the seed of an idea sprouted roots just as Lysander crossed his arms across his chest, still thinking.

                          “Damn, it’s been forever, and I was too young to appreciate it at the time, so I didn’t pay much attention. I guess I’ll have to ask dad or Lewis, ‘cause it’s gonna itch at me until I remember.” Something occurred to him and he turned quite red as he waved his hands at Elliott. “I-! That is, I didn’t mean that- I just remembered something and had to chase the thread and-“

                          Unable to hide the smile any further, Elliott allowed it to take over, feeling a rush of warmth, knowing that his partner had considered the same thing. “It’s fine, my dear, I understand,” he reassured, taking one of Lysander’s gloved hands and kissing it, “your life is dedicated to knowing and telling stories, so it is natural that you’d remember something like that when finding an item like this, as well as being perplexed from being unable to recall the entire tale.” Suddenly feeling mischievous, an idea came to him. “I would like to hear of this local legend as well, it sounds unique and intriguing. Though you are delightfully cute when flustered.”

                          Ah! That smile! Lysander blushed even harder, but that sunny, loving smile was proof that he was delighted by Elliott’s words. Clearing his throat awkwardly and straightening his coat, Lysander suggested that they resume their walk, and in doing so did not see Elliott surreptitiously pocket the shell. Trying to change the subject, the musician wondered aloud what would be a good idea for dinner that night as they continued down the beach. Elliott listened with half an ear and murmured responses as he thought, rubbing the shell with his thumb. He had an idea…
                            Last edited: Mar 12, 2018
                            611, Minimanta and MagicallyClueless like this.
                          • Minimanta

                            Minimanta Spaceman Spiff

                            Hoo-boy, I had just started back in school last time you posted! Not gonna lie, didn't expect you to pick this up again, so this was a nice surprise :D
                            I completely understand why you haven't posted though, it's tough to get anything done when life is rough. I hope you'll heal well from whatever you went through :)
                              Risukage likes this.
                            • MagicallyClueless

                              MagicallyClueless Black Hole Surfer

                              glad to see you around! i hope you're recovering well
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                              • Kid Absurdity

                                Kid Absurdity Big Damn Hero

                                I'm glad you're writing again, but moreso that you're getting into a headspace for it. I hope things improve for you and continue to, and I wish you the best. You don't owe us your story but we're glad to have it.


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                                • Risukage

                                  Risukage Existential Complex

                                  I almost didn't expect to pick it back up again, either, and maaaaan, I've felt SO guilty about it. I've actually had a couple of dreams last week where Elliott was some kind of villain and I/Lys was trying to stop his evil plan, and I get the sneaking suspicion it was my subconscious telling me to write again or else. Thankfully, it not only feels good, but natural to write again.

                                  Thanks! And now that I'm back I need to binge your story from the beginning, 'cause I can't remember where I left off! As for me, I'm getting better now that winter is finally DEAD. I usually don't like yard work, but it was FINALLY sunny (the perils of the Pacific Northwest) and I was able to get out and get SO much done. I've not had the energy or drive for that sort of thing in ages.

                                  Ta, luv. I've been getting back into it by doing some RP stuff with my FFXIV incarnation of Lys, and it's helped a lot, kinda like physical therapy. And I do owe everyone the story, 'cause people read it and gave me feedback, and there's few things worse than a story that doesn't end properly. For everyone who clicks this link, even if they don't say anything or click the "like" button, I'm giving you an ending to this story because you all deserve it. :)

                                  And yeah, I also had a good laugh when I was copying it here for posting that I came back to an interesting chapter number. :rofl:
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                                  • Risukage

                                    Risukage Existential Complex

                                    //Getting the hang of this "writing" thing again, and I seem to still be pretty good at it! It is also half past four in the morning, so I'm'a go to sleep now and check for errors when I wake up. :rofl://

                                    Lysander still had energy left, but not enough tolerance for the cold, so after another half an hour he dragged Elliott back into town. They ended up going back to Lysander’s house for a quick coffee to warm up, so Lysander could message the band via Chatter, and to retrieve Resonance, which he’d totally forgotten that morning. While he put together the coffee Elliott surreptitiously messaged Leah, asking if she might be free the next day to discuss a project. He was almost unable to hide both her reply and his smile as he got a positive and enthusiastic response. They sipped their coffee, wincing a little at the pain of sensation returning to cold-numbed fingers and toes. Lysander also took the time to pack a quick overnight bag as well, voicing his intent to stay the night with Elliott.

                                    “I can’t be assed to put the sheets back on the bed right now, and I’ve already spent three or four days in it. Not for fun reasons, either,” he justified, putting his coat and cold weather gear back on again. Elliott insisted upon carrying his bag since Lysander had Resonance, and while the copper-haired man initially resisted, playful, warm kisses finally convinced him otherwise. “Oh fine then, be a caring boyfriend. Let’s get going.”

                                    Practice usually happened later, but everyone was up earlier than usual for various reasons, so they converged upon the community center right around the same time shortly after lunch. Lysander unlocked the front doors and strode in quickly, rubbing his arms. “Sodding hell, I’ll never get used to winter. The wind’s got teeth, and nothing I wear seems to keep it out.” He took off his coat and gear, hanging it up, then wandered over to the table. Just as Elliott had divested himself of his own coat he nearly got hit with the door as it swung wide, admitting not only a rush of cold air but the rest of the band. Lysander’s initial grimace at the chill was quickly replaced at the sight of his friends, and he put Resonance down, sitting on the edge of the table instead of properly on a chair. Elliott made a mental note to try to get him to break that habit one of these days, mother would have a conniption fit if he did that at her house…

                                    Sam made a beeline for his friend, shedding gear and items as though they were being ablated off of him. He hugged Lysander around the waist and buried his face in his friend’s chest for a moment, giggling happily. “You’re alive, dude, whoo!” Pulling away a little, he gave him his customary electric grin. “Sorry about the kitchen, we really weren’t trying to make a mess, it just happened.”

                                    With a shrug, Lysander hugged Sam to himself again, giggling. “I just want to know how you and Haley managed to burn water. I mean, damn, that takes talent.” Sam was the next to shrug, professing honestly that the method was unknown to all of them, and that he regretted not being able to get photos before Elliott had extinguished the blaze. “Well, no harm, no foul,” Lysander sighed, sweeping the room with his own smile, making it just a bit warmer in there. “Thanks for dropping in to visit, all of you, I really needed the company, even if I could only take it in small doses.”

                                    Putting his fists on his hips, Sam looked pleased with himself. “S’all good, dude, it feels great that we were able to do something.”

                                    Elliott recognized the smile of pure mischief that his partner wore, and he folded his arms across his chest as he smiled to himself, wondering what sort of shenanigans that he had in store. Tapping Sam on the forehead, Lysander pouted in mock insult. “And I distinctly recall you offering kisses to help me get better. Really now, you wanted to get sick, or did you know that I’d turn you down because of it and therefore felt safe in your suggestion?”

                                    Yet again Sam shrugged, trying to look bored. “Eh, I thought it would be funny and that you needed a laugh. Besides, I’ve already kissed you before and it wasn’t anything special.”

                                    Biting his lip and hiding a smirk behind his hand, Elliott saw the flash of insulted challenge flicker across Lysander’s face before that old, flirty, dangerous smile appeared. “Is that so? Nothing special? I’m almost insulted.” With delicate movements, he slowly ran his fingertips along Sam’s jaw, starting along the shell of his ear and stopping just under his chin. Sam had not been expecting anything like this, nor had he ever thought he’d be on the receiving end of one of those smiles. Now intrigued, Elliott watched the exchange with fascination, seeing from the outside to which only he had ever been privy, and he could see how he had fallen for it; the way his eyes crinkled a little at the corners and lit up, how the hazel color got just a bit warmer and softer, lips that begged to be kissed… He snapped out of his thoughts, feeling a little silly for losing himself like that, and flicked a quick glance at Abigail and Sebastian to make sure they hadn’t noticed. Fortunately, their attention was completely on Sam and Lysander, and the both of them looked like they were going to hurt themselves trying not to laugh.

                                    Lysander leaned forward just a tiny bit more, gently brushing a stray lock of hair out of Sam’s face, almost but not quite touching him, his voice deep and rich. “I should be insulted, but now that I think of it, you’ve never had the privilege of my skills and attention, so you wouldn’t know. I can’t be angry or annoyed. Rather, I feel that I need to show you how special it can be. And how special you are as well…” The last words were almost whispered, barely any space left between them, and once more Elliott again feared that he’d ruin the moment by laughing once he saw Sam’s face, as the younger man was completely lost in Lysander’s spell; leaning forward as well, hands on Lysander’s waist, lips slightly parted, and with a distant but happy look. Before Sam could do anything else, the grin of mischief reasserted itself. “And you totally failed your Willpower save.”

                                    Somewhat confused, it took Sam a few seconds to remember where he was and what was going on, as well as his and Lysander’s relative positions. Small squeaks came from Sebastian and Abigail as they tried their hardest to keep quiet, and Elliott’s smile was simply fond and amused. Sam blinked a few times and then pouted with irritation. “Oh, that’s cold, dude. You know what? TICKLES OF DOOM.”

                                    Too close to get away, Lysander was helpless as Sam put an arm around his waist, pressing himself against him. The smile vanished and was replaced with dread as he tried unsuccessfully to pull away. “What? No! Shit! Ahh!”

                                    Due to proximity and leverage, Sam was in the perfect position to tickle without mercy, and he exacted his vengeance with glee. Even though Lysander was larger and stronger, there wasn’t anything he could do without hurting his friend, and in a few seconds he was laughing too hard to fight back properly anyway. Swearing comically through tears, he was freed once Sam had decided that his revenge was complete. Sam swaggered away, stretching casually and yawning, and Lysander insulted him one final time as he completely missed trying to sit in a chair and landed on the floor.

                                    Elliott strolled over to him and kissed the top of his head as he helped him to his feet. “Come now, dear, you really did bring that upon yourself.”

                                    As he wiped away tears and caught his breath, Lysander held onto Elliott for a few seconds as he found his balance again. “Yeah, still totally worth it, though. Sam, I wish you could have seen your face just then, oh wow.” He giggled again, looking extremely amused. “You were totally into it for a moment.”

                                    Having found a can of soda in his bag, Sam grinned at his friend, not the least bit bothered. “I think I get the idea. No wonder you got so much ass in college. You are downright hypnotic.”

                                    This produced a round of laughter from everyone, at which point they began getting ready for practice. Haley and Alex showed up a little bit later, also expressing their delight at seeing Lysander healthy again, and Elliott sat on the piano bench a little way away to watch everyone’s interactions, strangely intrigued.

                                    How naturally he gathers them around himself. Genuinely interested in them and their health, always encouraging and uplifting. I cannot help but find myself an outsider to this group, despite their acceptance and welcoming of me, and I do not know how to rectify that without drastically changing who I am or being untrue to myself. They have never been dismissive or unfriendly, but at the same time I feel as though I must retreat to the background. My own background is so different from theirs, will I ever be able to properly relate to them?

                                    His thoughts were interrupted when he gasped and nearly fell off of the bench, having felt something unexpectedly cold against his cheek. Sebastian huffed a quiet chuckle as he held out the can of coffee that he’d used on him a moment earlier. “Hey, Beethoven, here. Thought you could use something to drink while we got set up. I called you a couple of times but you zoned out hard. What’s on your mind?”

                                    Taking the proffered can, he opened it and took a sip, surprised to like the slightly-sweetened coffee with cream. “Ah, thank you, this is unexpectedly delicious. Oh, I mean… It is quite tasty- Damn.” He pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed, prompting a noise of inquiry from Sebastian as he sipped his own drink. A little embarrassed, Elliott held the can in both hands, looking around the room at his friends. “I am trying to be more…relatable. I come off as too stuffy and pompous, and I aspire to be more like Lysander in that- Oh bugger, there I go again, that’s what I’m talking about.” Rubbing the back of his neck, he stared at the floor, not sure how to continue.

                                    Sebastian chuckled again and cuffed Elliott on the shoulder playfully. “If we didn’t like you we wouldn’t be your friends, dude. And you’re not pompous or a blowhard or anything. You’re you. We like you for who you are. If you tried to be different you’d be, well, wrong.” He sipped his coffee and shrugged. “Look, you two are the writers. You tell me what words to use. In fact, we’re sometimes kinda intimidated whether we want to admit it or not. You dress nicely, you speak with distinction, you’ve got good manners...” Taking another sip, he grinned at Elliott. “Hell, most of the time we’re not sure why you slum it with us. You could have any company you want and you still want to hang out with us. But you’re not desperate about it or trying too hard to be ‘cool.’ We should have reached out to you a lot sooner than we did, but we didn’t think you’d accept.”

                                    Elliott momentarily forgot about his drink. “That’s… Really? I never thought that…” He smiled and shook his head. “I never thought that I was worth knowing. But Lysander helped me see that I was wrong about that. And you’ve shown me that I am a friend worth having as well. Thank you, Sebastian.”

                                    “Any time.” They clinked together their cans in a mock toast, and Sebastian was reminded of something. “Oh, yeah, so when are you moving in with him?”

                                    Yet again, Elliott was taken completely aback. “I… Half a moment, I think I missed part of the conversation somewhere.”

                                    “Not really, it’s just that when you were taking care of him you looked really comfortable. Like…” Sebastian finished the last of his coffee and swirled the last drops around the inside of the can as he thought. “It’s not like you looked like a housewife or anything, but you looked completely at home. You knew where everything was, you took care of all of the chores and cooking and stuff, and you looked out for him, making sure he had his meds when he needed them and kicking us out when Lys needed sleep. To be honest, Sam, Abby, and I have a running bet going, but she’s totally convinced you’re gonna propose to him at the Feast of the Winter Star or something. I keep telling her that she’s wrong, you’re probably gonna hold out a while longer, but still… You looked happy, like you’d found your home and place in life, if that makes sense.”

                                    Finishing his own coffee, Elliott held it loosely between his fingers as he watched Lysander and Sam standing at Sebastian’s synth, poking keys for tones as they looked over the music, trying to get the lyrics and harmony between them figured out. “It’s that obvious? I do want to move in, to share everything with him, to build a future.” He remembered the shell in his pocket and smiled warmly. “I cannot imagine life without him. We have already spent so much time in each other’s company. And beds. Thus far, there is little that we have not yet shared, and our relationship only grows stronger.”

                                    Sebastian clapped him on the back and took the empty cans as he stood, tossing them in the recycling bin. “Best of luck to the both of you. Not gonna lie, either, we’re all a bit jealous, too. You two aren’t my type, but damn if I wouldn’t think twice if either of you propositioned me.”

                                    A few hours later they all departed the community center, with Lysander and Elliott trudging south through the snow, though at least paths had been shoveled though the town square and other high-traffic areas. The bridge over the river, however, only had their tracks from that morning across it, and as such they traversed it carefully, seeking to avoid the sort of fall that Elliott had taken the year previous. Lysander wasted no time in taking off his coat and boots once indoors, then set about kindling a fire. The cabin was decently insulated, but it had been unused the last few days, and as such there was a bit of a bite inside. Elliott began pulling things out of the fridge and pantry to make dinner, but he paused when Lysander flopped on his back on the fluffy rug in front of the fireplace, as the fire had just caught and was crackling merrily.

                                    “Much, much better. I’ll help you with food in a few, but I just want a few minutes to warm back up. Mmm. This is nice…”

                                    Elliott couldn’t help but smile, and felt a romantic rush as he eased himself down near his partner, kissing a line from his shoulder to his ear. Gasping, Lysander grabbed Elliott’s shirt with both hands, shivering at the touch. Hips between Lysander’s legs, Elliott draped himself atop his partner, kissing him softly and toying with his hair. He wasn’t intending to take this much further than simple touching and kissing, and Lysander seemed to be in the same mood; just a bit of amorous warmth between them in private. He felt fingers slide into his own hair, playing with it as well, and Lysander pulled away to pull him down.

                                    “I love you,” he whispered, hugging him and melting into his touch.

                                    Elliott wrapped both arms around him, squeezing him tightly. “I love you, too, my dearest.”

                                    The next morning Elliott woke first, pulling the covers back over them a bit more. It wasn’t cold in there, but it was much nicer under the blankets, and he wanted to lay there a little longer before they had to get up. Lysander was still sound asleep, and Elliott took the opportunity to run his hands over his partner’s body, memorizing every curve and line and crevice. Gentle as it was, it still woke the other man, and he pressed gentle kisses to his cheek as he snuggled closer against Elliott.

                                    “Hey love, sleep well?”

                                    “That I did. Yourself?”

                                    Yawning, Lysander pulled the covers even more closely over them. “Slept great. Much better than I’d had the last couple of days. Though I hate to be a killjoy, I need to get back home so I can deal with the garden.”

                                    “That isn’t a bother, I have tasks to accomplish myself. Let us shower and be about our separate ways.”

                                    Their “separate ways” happened after a nice, hot shower, and a nice, hot cup of coffee, after which Lysander packed his bag, grabbed Resonance, kissed Elliott, and darted outside, swearing softly at the cold. Elliott shook his head and finished getting geared up, and upon ensuring that the shell was in his pocket, left the cabin. He followed the usual track north across the river, but instead of following the road into town like usual, he made a turn west, along the road that ran in front of Sam’s and Haley’s homes. At this point in the morning they were all going to be asleep, so his errand would still be a secret a bit longer.

                                    Passing Marnie’s ranch, the small house by the river poked out of the foliage just south of it, and Elliott trudged through the snow, following the path that Leah had dug out but been slightly snowed back in overnight. He knocked on the door, almost not getting the third one in before the door swung inward. “Elliott! C’mon in! I’ve got tea on. You said you’ve got a project for me?” She hugged him fondly and broke free to put the teapot on the table, next to the cups, honey, and cream.

                                    He hung up his coat and scarf, removing the shell from his pocket as he took a seat at the table while Leah poured them both a cup. “That I do. Do you recall the legend of the Mermaid Pendant?”

                                    “Oh? Yeah, that’s an old legend, but-” She saw the shell in his hand and put her hands over her mouth, eyes wide, and bounced in her chair. “Ohmigosh, ohmigosh, eeee! You’re really going to ask him?”

                                    He put the shell on the table in front of her, blushing a little, but still smiling, and added honey and cream to his tea. “I’m not sure when, but yes. I’ve not asked his parents for their blessing, but they and my parents have got along well, and mother and father seem fond of him already. I’m… I was thinking… You know that guitar pick necklace that he always wears?”

                                    Leah now wore a look of intense focus, holding the shell in both hands and rubbing her thumbs over it, turning it this way and that in the light. “Hmm, yeah, that would… If I use the… Then that should…” She looked up at him, looking determined and excited. “I’ve got some dremel tools that I’ve been dying to use and this will be perfect. And a guitar pick? That’s… I think I could get three out of this. That’ll give me a bit to work with in case something goes wrong or I wanna try a few different things. But it needs a bit…more. Something personal.”

                                    Taking a long drink of his tea, Elliott considered this, then blushed again. Leah noticed this and prompted him to speak his mind. “Ah, that is… It is a little silly, but… I was thinking of something like a sunflower and a rose, but that might be a bit much, or silly, or-”

                                    Gasping again, she clapped and giggled. “Oh, I know exactly what to do! This is going to be the best engagement gift ever.”

                                    “Brilliant! This won’t be a problem for you? Oh, and of payment, what do you charge for this sort of thing?”

                                    She shook her head and drank her tea with one hand as she examined the shell in the other. “Not a problem at all. I need something new to give me a break, and I tend to charge based on the difficulty of the commission, length of time it takes, the like. Once I get my tools and do a bit of tinkering I can get you a quote. You don’t mind waiting until tonight?”

                                    “Take your time! I am in no hurry,” he reassured, “this is a project that cannot be rushed, and a unique one at that. Whatever you need, in resources, time, or payment, name it and it will be yours.”

                                    With one last glance and nod, she put the shell on the table and smiled at him. “I’ll message you later tonight, then. And don’t worry, I won’t blab, this will be our secret. Can I go ahead and say ‘congratulations’ right now?”

                                    For the third time Elliott blushed, but laughed all the same. “I think that it would be appropriate, yes, and you get the honor of being the first to do so.”

                                    “Well! Congratulations in advance, then.” She put a hand over his, her smile as wide as it could possibly be. “You two are great for each other, and I’m so happy for you both. You deserve this.”

                                    Elliott was without a reply for a moment, but nodded and put a hand over hers in return. “Thank you, for your kind words, for what you are about to make, and for being a friend even when I neglected visiting with you.”

                                    “It’s okay. You’re worth it.”
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