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Love Isn't Easy

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Rohan felt like a complete tool. It had been a decent day by villa standards, and when Garnet had come over to sit with him, he'd been looking forward to a good chat; he liked the redhead... not just fancied her... and enjoyed hanging out with her. Okay, so he may have still been a little annoyed she'd ended up with Levi, instead of being with Jake who clearly adored her, so maybe saying he wished Jake could find someone was a little bit of a dig, but he certainly didn't expect Garnet to suddenly burst into tears.

“Hey, hey... what's wrong?” he asked, soothingly.

As he spoke, Rohan gathered her up in his arms and rocked her gently as she cried. Thankfully, Garnet was a quiet crier, so they didn't attract attention, but he could still feel her tears sliding across his bare chest. He felt awful. He really hadn't meant to upset her like this.

“Ro... I...” Garnet hiccuped, before taking a shuddering breath. “Ro... I'm fucking halfway to being in love with Jake. And I want him to be happy, but it fucking hurts to know I'm going to have to watch him with someone else.”

“Then why the hell are you with Levi?” he asked, exasperatedly.

“Because Jake broke up with me,” she sobbed. “Half the time we were together, he was telling me I should be with other people. And then I had to go on that stupid shitty date and I chose Levi, because Jake made it real clear he thought we should be seeing other people. But I was so happy to just get back and into bed with him, and then the next morning he breaks up with me, even though I told him it would never just be friendship between me and him. But then Levi picked me when all I wanted was Jake, and I'm stuck with a possessive ass I don't want to be with, whilst being torn apart every time I hang out with Jake. Because on one hand I just want to spend time with him, if all I'm ever going to be is a friend, and on the other it's fucking torture because... because...”

She burst into tears again and all Rohan could do was hug her tighter. This was a bloody mess and a half, because Jake had convinced himself just about anyone was better suited for Garnet than he was, and whilst Rohan would have loved a chance with the usually vivacious redhead, Jake was his bro and he just couldn't do that to the guy. So he'd also let Levi snap her up, not realising how miserable she was. But now he knew, there was no way he was going to sit by and let it continue. Jake was crazy about Garnet, and she was mad on him. In all honesty, Rohan could have probably just told her about Jake's true feelings and given her a nudge in the guys direction. However, he knew Jake had dropped the ball here, since Garnet honestly thought he didn't want her. Which meant that unless the guy did something to prove otherwise, she'd probably always doubt, so Rohan was certain that Jake had to be the one to make the first move. Unfortunately, he hadn't a clue what he could do to get his mate to see what he needed to do, without breaking Garnet's trust by basically reporting this whole conversation, but there was no way he'd break her trust like that. She was letting him see her at her most vulnerable, and Rohan refused to betray her like that. So far now, all he could do was hold her close as she cried, and hope he'd be able to come up with a plan to help his friends as soon as possible.

 

Chapter Text

Watching Lottie equally pour the cocktail out into the five waiting glasses was oddly relaxing. Seren had made a hasty beeline for the kitchen when she found Kassam laughing and chatting to Hannah... again... as her and Gary tried to push each other into the pool. She wasn't exactly upset about it, but she couldn't deny it seemed like their relationship was drawing to a natural conclusion. He just hadn't seemed that interested lately, and honestly, Seren was a little passed caring. She wasn't the type of woman to go pining after guys, and she wasn't going to bust her gut trying to make a relationship work that wasn't. So she'd headed to the kitchen and found Bobby and Lottie in the middle of some cocktail making stand off, and had decided to join Hope and Noah propping up the bar. The conversation between the five of them had flowed pretty easily, until there was raucous laughter from the pool followed by a loud splash. Seren turned towards the noise, not entirely surprised to find that Hannah had somehow convince Kassam to jump into the water with her and Gary.

“You know, not being funny, but I reckon there are definitely guys in here who are more into you than Kassam,” Hope said, surprisingly kindly.

Seren studied the other woman for a moment, as she took a sip of the Love Island Ice Tea that Lottie had just made her. Her and Hope hadn't always seen eye to eye, mostly because the business woman had been suspicious of the quick friendship she'd formed with Noah, but ever since Casa Amor she'd been a bit more mellow.

“Alright... I'll bite,” Seren smiled. “Give me names.”

“I think Gary fancies you,” Hope said, before glancing at Lottie a little guiltily. “Sorry hun.”

Lottie sighed. “I know he does, but me and Seren have already talked about it.”

“I'm not going there,” she assured, moving around the countered to hug her friend. “I only see him as a mate, and even if I didn't... girls before guys, right?”

“Thanks, Babe,” the blue haired beauty smiled, hugging her back.

“Henrik definitely has a thing for you,” Hope continued.

“Yeah, and I've already had words,” Noah muttered. His partner looked at him in shock, but he merely shrugged. “He's followed Seren around a little relentlessly tonight. I didn't want him to make her uncomfortable.”

Seren reached across the kitchen counter and gave his hand a quick squeeze. “Thanks hun, it's been a little too much.”

“Are you okay?” Bobby asked, his hand resting warmly on her shoulder. “Do you need one of us to stick close by?”

Without even thinking, she tilted her head to give him a quick kiss on the cheek. “That's really sweet of you, I'm not really planning on going anywhere alone, but thank you.”

“Oh... and maybe Bobby,” Hope stated, giving a truly shit-eating-grin.

He frowned at the woman. “Now hang on a minute...”

All eyes turned to him, including Seren's and a faint blush suddenly dusted Bobby's cheeks; it made his freckles stand out even more from his golden complexion, and not for the first time, she thought he was gorgeous. His amber eyes flicked to each of them in turn, until his gaze finally locked with hers. Seren gave him a small smile, and her heart lurched when he sighed... the sound full of resignation... before he glanced at the floor. In a split second his whole demeanour changed, from the happy-go-lucky guy they all knew and adored, to someone so full of resignation that he almost looked like a lamb to the slaughter.

“Yeah... okay. Fine,” he muttered. “Guilty.”

Seren was about to say something to him, but of course Henrik chose that moment to join them in the kitchen. She tensed without really meaning to... the guy was genuinely starting to make her uncomfortable... and she stepped closer to Bobby without even thinking. He looked at her with obvious concern, before wrapping his arm securely around her shoulders; immediately making her feel safer.

“Want to go dance, Lass?” he asked.

“I'd love to,” Seren smiled, wrapping her arm around his waist.

“What happened to Kassam?” Henrik asked, looking between her and Bobby.

She shrugged as she let Bobby guide her around the counter but didn't bother to reply. Kassam had been spending a lot of time around Hannah since she came back, and before that Chelsea had been making a major play for him as well. He hadn't strayed... to her knowledge at least... but Seren couldn't deny Hope hadn't exactly been wrong when she hinted Kassam didn't seem all that into her now he was at the villa. He was still nice to her, but she couldn't help feeling like she'd been played a little; but considering she'd come back and found Rahim coupled up with Shannon, before he moved onto Jo, she didn't regret bringing him back. However, they obviously weren't right for each other, and she'd been trying to figure out who she could recouple with. In all honesty, Bobby had always been someone she was really interested in, but he'd insisted so many times that he only saw the girls as really attractive friends, that she hadn't thought to pursue the attraction. His confession in the kitchen certainly changed that. So after being dragged into a giggly salsa with Marisol, Seren pulled Bobby onto the impromptu dance floor, draping her arms around his shoulders and swaying seductively to the rhythm. He followed her movements, their bodies flush as his hands slowly wandered down her back.

“You're so sexy,” Bobby murmured, a small blush colouring his cheeks. “I love how you move.”

The urge to say something suggestive had her biting her physically biting her lip.

“What's that look for,” he chuckled, a small smirk tugging at his lips.

Seren shook her head. She knew Bobby valued loyalty, and even though her and Kassam were going nowhere, they were still coupled together. She didn't want to put Bobby in a difficult or uncomfortable position, so instead of admitting all the filthy places her mind had run off to, Seren tilted her head so she could seductively whisper in his ear:

“Hopefully after the next recoupling, I'll be able to tell you.”

 

Chapter Text

Their blades clashed loudly, metal on metal ringing out over the usual sounds that filled the Shadow Den. In all honesty, Jax was finding it a little difficult not to be distracted by the flash of lace that kept peaking out beneath Celeste's leather jacket, whenever she countered one of his strikes. However, he couldn't deny he found sparing with her oddly exhilarating. It had been pretty obvious she knew some sort of martial arts from the moment they squared off against each other in the training ring, but Jax was impressed with how quickly she was picking up the techniques he used whilst wielding his katana.

When she'd called asking for help earlier that night, and he'd seen the state of her and her friend... fancy dresses ripped and covered in blood... Jax had assumed Celeste just wanted somewhere safe to lay low for a bit. Which of course he'd given her without hesitation, even if she still worked for Raines, and her best friend was a member of that bastard's clan. But whilst that was part of it, Celeste had been far more worried about warning him of the added danger his Clanless were now facing thanks to the latest feral attack, which Jax really appreciated. So he'd persuaded Elena to trade clothes with her and her friend, and sent the newly turned vampire to the feeding room, whilst he offered to cook for Celeste himself; stunned by the radiant smile she'd given him when she accepted the invitation.

In all honesty, Jax had been attracted to Celeste the moment he first saw her walking out of Raines Corporation. She was utterly stunning with her porcelain skin, sparkling green eyes, and gorgeous auburn waves that she usually wore in a French twist; and felt like silk against his fingers the night she'd let him feed on her. That night had changed everything for him, he could no longer think of Celeste as a potential spy against their enemies. He'd never expected her to be so open minded about the Clanless, he hadn't expected her to sit on the floor in her fancy dress to play with Lula, he hadn't expected her to hug the little girl and tell her she wasn't a monster, and he certainly hadn't expected her to immediately offer her blood the moment she realised he was hurt. He'd led her into a separate room away from the others then, pulling her far closer than he'd needed too, as he'd gently brush her hair away from the elegant column of her throat, before carefully sinking his fangs into her delicate skin. Though the moment he pulled away after drinking his fill, Celeste had cupped his cheek and despite seeming a little dazed, still asked if he felt better. In all honesty, it took more willpower than Jax cared to admit, not to kiss her right there and then.

And perhaps it hadn't been the 'right' thing to do, but Celeste hadn't seemed upset when Lula revealed he'd been following her the past few days, so of course he checked in on her later that night; wanting to make sure she got back to work okay, consider he'd saved her from the Baron. But despite the commotion he saw outside Raines' building, Celeste never called like Jax expected... wanted... her to. So of course he'd had to go check on her the following evening, and was far happier than he should have been, when she slipped away from her boss without hesitation, just to go for a walk with him. They'd ended up holding hands as they meandered through Central Park, discussing a few of the problems and concerns they were each dealing with; the fact Celeste adamantly wanted to help the Clanless however she could, meant more to him than she'd ever know, as did the way she gave him her number 'in case' he needed her. It had made a smile want to form on his lips as they walked back, but despite the hopeful... happy... mood Celeste had put him in, Jax hadn't expected her to hug him at the end of their walk, or admit she wanted to see him again. He'd hugged her back, savouring the way she felt in his arms, though he tried to play it cool, despite the way his heart pounded.

Jax had talked himself out of texting or calling Celeste at least a dozen times since then, before she'd called him, asking for help. So although it wasn't the situation he'd imagined them being in, he tried to simply enjoy her company; even if the topic of conversation was pretty heavy. Hearing what Celeste had gone through at the ball... what she'd seen, what she'd survived, what she'd done to try protect others... had been harrowing and inspiring. She was a human thrown into the world of vampires, but she'd done more than most vampires ever did to help. She was a marvel. He'd offered her weapons training without really thinking, not expecting Celeste to hug him tightly, tears glistening in her captivating eyes as she hurriedly accepted. Which was how he found himself sparing with her; still surprised she'd chosen a katana similar to the one he wielded.

They traded several more blows, the clang of steal on steal ringing loudly, before Jax swung downwards. He expected her to block, and planned to sweep a foot out, intending to knock her off balance and send her to the mats. However, Celeste deflected the strike as she stepped closer to him, though Jax only had a split second to appreciate their bodies pressed together, before she suddenly grabbed his dominant arm. In one quick movement, she twisted, pulling him over her shoulder. His katana clattered to the floor, and Jax only managed to suck in one winded breath, before Celeste was straddling his chest; pining him to the mat. Her katana ever so slightly rested against the side of his neck, prompting him to smile up at her. He was impressed... among other things.


“You know, I never asked if you wanted dessert earlier...”

Celeste laughed as she got up and offered her hand to Jax. She really hadn't expected that move to work so well on him, and she was quietly pleased that she'd seemingly impressed him; hopefully it meant he'd give her more lessons on fighting with a katana, since it felt a lot better to have a weapon in her hands, instead of having to rely on punching and kicking. But that was a discussion for another time, since Celeste was more than happy to follow Jax back up to his 'room'. She didn't care that it was a converted office, the space was welcoming and she loved the sting lights that lit the room with a soft glow. Though when he began to head towards the little kitchenette, Celeste curled her hand around his bicep, gently tugging so he faced her again. She took a moment to simply appreciate how he looked in the warm light; his black hair and currently dark eyes, his handsome face and the sexy stubble he was rocking. It was obvious he was of Asian decent, and she couldn't help admire the contrast of their complexions, when she reached up with her free hand to cup his face. In all honesty, she'd wanted to kiss him the moment she'd first felt his lips on her throat, and as he took a step closer to her, Celeste was certain the attraction was mutual.

So she closed the distance, at first just brushing her lips against his, giving him chance to pull away if it wasn't what he wanted. But then Jax surged forward, his hands finding her hips as he sought to deepen their kiss. Celeste readily granted his silent request, tasting a hint of the soda they'd shared at dinner, as their tongues started a fevered dance. He pulled her impossibly close, letting her feel his obvious arousal, even as he stepped back and sank down on to the beat up couch that sat against the wall; tugging her with him, until she was straddling his lap. Celeste could smell the musky notes of Jax' cologne as he kissed her urgently, before his lips trailed down her throat and across her collarbone. His large, calloused hands pushed her leather jacket off her shoulders, and Celeste let it fall to the floor, leaving her in the barely modest, lace top she was wearing underneath and a black pencil skirt, that had bunched up to her thighs thanks to their position.

“That outfit...” he murmured, against her skin.

“What about it?” she asked, carding her hands through his hair.

“Well, you look incredible in it... but it's a bit much for the occasion,” Jax replied.

Celeste huffed a breathless laugh, as he lightly grazed his teeth across her pulse point. “I'm not the only one a little overdressed.”

Their eyes remained locked as they stood from the couch and slowly undressed each other, caressing and stroking each new piece of revealed skin with exploring touches, before Jax suddenly swept Celeste up into his strong arms. His eyes were red and his fangs extended, his gaze sweeping over her hungrily, as he gently lay her on the futon he obviously used as a bed. Celeste let her hands wandered over his broad shoulders and the toned expanse of his torso, her fingertips occasionally tracing the scars she found, as Jax leant down to capture her lips again; his fangs teasingly grazing her bottom lip, nipping ever so gently, before he propped himself above her again.

“I want you. So badly. Ever since we met,” he whispered.

She wrapped her legs around his hips, pulling him closer, his body a delicious weight on top of hers. She ran her hands through his soft hair, murmuring her assurance that she wanted him too, though had to muffle her moan of delight by pressing her lips to the crook of his neck, when he began to rock his hips against her; brushing against her most sensitive bundle of nerves.

“And here I thought I was the vampire,” he teased.

Just for that, Celeste began to suck and nibble on the juncture where his neck met his shoulder, making Jax gasp as she gave him a love bite, and she couldn't help smiling against his skin. She rolled her hips, glad that he understood her silent demand, and she arched her back as he pressed closer... deeper... sliding to the hilt. Celeste lightly tugged his hair, earning her an appreciative groan, as she guided Jax to look at her. A brief look of surprise flashed across his handsome face, though he soon rested his forehead against her; giving Celeste the distinct impression he thought she'd be put off by his red eyes. So she cupped his face with one hand, keeping their gazes locked, whilst the other laced with his, as she met him thrust for thrust. Jax' whole body was trembling with obvious restraint as he moved with her, prompting Celeste to run her thumb across his cheekbone.

“You're holding back,” she stated, not breaking their rhythm.

“I don't want to hurt you,” he replied, his voice strained.

“I trust you.”

Jax slammed his hand against the wall behind the bed at her words, hunching over Celeste to protect her from the brick dust and debris that fell, as his thrusts became more powerful. He moved to drape one of her legs over his forearm, the change in angle letting him hit the exact spot that made her toes curl. She threw back her head, exposing her throat to his hot mouth and he kissed her skin hungrily. A familiar heat was rapidly building, and her hands scrambled for purchase on his back as he drove her closer to the edge.

“Celeste... please... I...” Jax begged.

She wasn't entirely sure what he was asking, but she moaned her agreement anyway. One of his hands slipped between them, his thumb circling her most sensitive bundle of nerves in time to his powerful thrusts. Celeste moaned again, the words 'so close' and Jax' name mingled somewhere in the sound, before he settled his lips over her pulse point. His fangs sank into her throat, the dual pleasure-pain the perfect combination coupled with everything else he was doing to her. And as she pulsed around him, Jax found his own release, buried to the hilt. She held him close as they both tried to catch their breaths, and she smiled contentedly, as she felt him press several feather light kisses across her neck and collarbone.

“I didn't hurt you, did I?” he asked, finally propping himself to look at her with his now dark eyes.

“Not at all,” she assured, kissing him sweetly. “I loved every second of it.”

Jax' smile was surprisingly soft as he gently rolled them onto their sides, his strong arms wrapping around her almost protectively. Chuckling lightly, Celeste reached up to brush some brick dust from his hair, though before she could drape her arm back around him, Jax caught her hand, pressing kisses to her palm and inner wrist.

“Thank you,” she continued, quietly. “Not just for this... which was admittedly amazing... but for everything. Because of you, I feel safe.”

His answering smile made her heart race, but he had butterflies racing around her stomach when he whispered:

“I'm here for you, Celeste. Always.”

 

Chapter Text

Celeste set down a glass of neat whiskey in front of the well built, attractive man with long brown hair that was propping up the bar. For all intents and purposes, he was just a random who'd wandered in on opening night, but he'd come back every night for the past week; never caused trouble, didn't talk much, just kept himself to himself. She'd learnt his name was Cal and in all honesty, if she wasn't already extremely happy in her relationship, Celeste would have probably flirted with him just so he'd turn those soulful brown eyes to her... which was apparently her one true weakness, considering how often she found herself lost in Jax' eyes.

“Rough day?” she asked, kindly.

“Saw my ex with her new girlfriend today,” he sighed.

“Guessing it wasn't a good break up?”

Cal huffed a quiet laugh. “Are there ever?”

“Hmmm... I think that depends on how you look back on them,” Celeste suggested.

“Sounds like a story...”

“Well, since you seem in need of a laugh, I'll tell you,” she smiled. “So I was set up on this blind date by a friend of mine a while back. Guy's name was Zepher and he was lovely. Handsome, funny, kind, a real gentleman... and I mean, not even going for a kiss at the end of a date type of thing. Still, we went on a couple of dates, everything seemed to be going pretty good... expect, no sign of a kiss. Well, turns out this mutual friend of ours didn't know Zepher all that well, and she'd sort of overlooked a key piece of information.”

“Was he gay?” Cal asked, finally smiling.

“No. He was asexual,” Celeste explained.

“That's not so bad.”

“And aromantic,” she concluded.

“Ah...” he replied, obviously trying not to laugh.

“Ah, indeed,” she chuckled. “Which was made even funnier, considering my first kiss was actually with this mutual friend of ours... Ivy. Who happens to be the same as Zepher, so yeah... that's a thing.”

“You don't have much luck, do you?” Cal grinned.

“Hey! I was proposed to just last week!” she protested, smirking.

Cal's smile dropped as he glanced at her ringless finger. “You turned Jax down?”

Celeste laughed, but not unkindly. “I don't think we've been together long enough for Jax to be proposing.”

“Then what...?”

“You know Luc that owns the costume shop up on Bourbon Street? He was so drunk during Mardi Gras, that he got down on one knee and proposed to me!” she explained, trying to keep a straight face.

“What did Jax say?” Cal asked, smiling again.

“Not a lot, he was too busy laughing!”

They talked for a little while longer, until the bar started to get busy. Though Celeste waved Cal off when he tried to pay for his whiskey, insisting it was on the house, which earned her a hug from the towering guy; and she breathed in the pleasant, woody smell of his aftershave. However, before he left, the bell above the door chimed, but instead of more patrons coming in, Celeste's new rival... in the loosest sense of the word... Garrus strolled in carrying a crate that rattled and clinked.

“So this is where you've been hiding, Cal,” the fae greeted the werewolf, before turning to her. “Delivery guy dropped this off earlier, only just realised it's addressed to you.”

“I was wondering when they'd turn up,” she stated, kissing the fae on the cheek. “Thanks for bringing them. How's it going with Krom?”

“Good. Real good,” Garrus replied, smiling softly. “But the poor dear can't mix a cocktail to save his life, so I can't afford to stay, lest he accidentally poisons one of the clientele.”

Laughing, Celeste waved goodbye to both men before glancing at her watch. Jax had gone to the airport to pick up their sisters, who by some strange coincidence, were dating each other. It always amused her to think about, since her adopted sister had met her girlfriend: Juliana during a masquerade ball in Rome, whilst Celeste had literally bumped into Jax when they'd both been visiting the Eiffel Tower one evening, when they'd both been in Paris for work. He'd invited her for a drink as an apology, and they'd been together even since... or at least dating ever since, considering he often had to leave New Orleans in order to check on his Vampire clan back in New York; which wasn't as weird as it could have been, since Celeste was aptly a moon attuned Elementalist, who'd moved to New Orleans after graduating from Penderghast college. However, despite his ties to New York, Jax had been able to spend more time with her lately... and had been indispensable whilst she'd set up her new bar... since he'd appointed her best friend Nikhil as his second in command, and from their regular conversations, it seemed the Shadow Den and Clan Matsuo were still thriving. Which meant Celeste had been debating asking Jax to move in with her, though she planned on getting Olivia and Juliana's opinions first.

 

Chapter Text

Gaia didn't even wait for Atlas and Zeph to finish talking, before she was racing across campus to the medical unit. She vaguely wondered if she should have gotten changed from her Thief uniform before going to see him, since Beckett was always so particular with the way he looked, but in all honesty, Gaia just needed to see him.

She still couldn't believe he'd risked so much to rescue her from Kane; that he'd managed to rip a rift into the very wards that protected the college, creating a portal so he could reach her. They'd battled Kane together, Beckett's conjured shield protecting them long enough for Gaia to Daze Kane, then use Refractory magic which bought Beckett the chance to open another rift for them to escape through. She'd thrown her arms around his shoulders to moment they'd crashed back into the Thief stadium, hugging him briefly but fiercely, before pulling back to check him for injuries. But he'd collapsed before she could, his back absolutely slashed to ribbons and losing so much blood, that Gaia had been almost convinced he was going to die. But then the college Dean was there, assuring her that Beckett would be okay, and since she trusted Swan, she'd numbly done as instructed and not followed when he was taken to the medical unit. She'd gone to the lake, trying to blink back tears and stop her hands from shaking, when her sister: Atlas had found her. The rest of their friends had quickly followed, and Griffin had wasted no time in pulling her into a tight embrace. But for once, Gaia hadn't found comfort in her not-quite-boyfriend's arms. All she could think about was Beckett, about what he'd risked and how he'd been hurt because of her, so when the sentry came to inform Gaia he was awake and asking for her, she couldn't help bolting. Her pace had barely slowed to a jog as she made her way through medical, to the room she'd been directed to, and Gaia barely acknowledged that his sister: Katrina was in the room, as she hurried over to his bedside.

Beckett smiled tiredly when he saw her. “Gaia, you came.”

Unable to help herself, she cupped his handsome face in her hands, before she pressed her lips to his forehead; tears running silently down her cheeks. “Of course I came,” she replied, stepping back to look at his sister. “I hope I'm not interrupting anything.”

“Not at all,” Katrina smiled. “Please come sit with us.”

Gaia returned the smile somewhat shakily, but perched on the bedside as the professor took hold of one of her still trembling hands. Without thinking, she reached out with her other to hold Beckett's, and felt slightly relieved when she could feel how strong his grip was, once he'd laced their fingers together. Katrina looked between them, positively beaming, though Gaia tried not to think about it. They weren't together, after all. In fact, even though she'd been the first person to befriend Beckett at the beginning of college, he'd been a bit of a jerk all throughout their school year, right up until they'd confronted Raife with Atlas and the rest of their friends. He'd obviously mellowed out a lot over the Summer break, and she couldn't deny that they'd had some wonderful times together... just the two of them... this term; some of them shockingly romantic like the Botanical Gardens and the Fountain of Serenity, that could have been dates if she hadn't been in not-quite-a-relationship with Griffin. But they were just friends, regardless of the mixed up feelings Gaia felt for Beckett, and the worrying amount of times she'd wondered what it would be like to kiss him. Thankfully, Katrina didn't press the matter, and instead stunned Beckett by explaining she'd nominated him for the Uirtus Award he coveted so much, whilst another professor had recommend him for a medal of excellence. Gaia had squeezed Beckett's hand, grinning at him proudly, until his sister took her leave, though not before she'd called over her shoulder:

"You two are so cute together.”

Beckett blushed furiously, whilst running his free hand down his face. “I'm sorry about Katrina... jumping to conclusions. But regardless, I'm glad you're here.”

“You scared me,” Gaia admitted, quietly. “Swan said you had shrapnel in your back! Are you really okay?”

“I'm fine. Kane must have used a version of the Slicing spell, and used the metal of my shield to attack as we fled through the portal,” he replied, his thumb running over her knuckles. “I didn't realise it until the adrenaline started to wear off, at which point I'd lost a fair amount of blood.”

Fresh tears welled in Gaia's eyes as she looked at him. “I am so sorry you got hurt because of me.”

“Honestly, I'm fine. All I have left is some minor dizziness, which will be gone within the hour.”

Despite the fact that Beckett was trying to reassure her, the way he clenched his jaw as he tried to move, and the way he grimaced when the sun shone through the window directly in his face told a different story. Gaia shielded his eyes with her free hand, whilst she used her Sun-attuned magic to diffuse the light in the room to a soft golden glow, before she started to gently card her fingers through his uncharacteristically messy hair.

“I'm so relieved that you're safe,” he stated, smiling surprisingly gently at her. “I didn't have enough time to confirm it in the arena.”

“Of course I'm safe, I had you to tag team with,” she replied, returning his smile. “The second you showed up, I knew everything would be fine.”

“I'd never done portal magic to that degree, but I just knew I had to try, for you. I could sense where you were...” Beckett explained, moving their joined hands until they rested over his heart, even as he blushed. “It was more than your magick I felt. It was... you. Your warmth, your brightness. I... followed my heart to you. It led me straight to where you were, through wards and all.”

“You're making me really want to kiss you,” she admitted in a whisper, her gaze searching his face.

“I'm hardly going to say no,” he murmured, somehow sounding both wary and hopefully.

Gaia cupped Beckett's cheek in her palm, and watched how his eyes slid shut even before she'd fully leant towards him. She pressed her lips to his lightly, unsurprised by how soft they where, and breathed in the citrus notes of his fresh smelling cologne, as his arm tentatively slid around her waist. She gave him another gentle kiss, then another, before teasingly licking the seam of his lips. Beckett gave a quiet groan, before he readily granted her silent request. Their tongues started a languid dance, and Gaia tried to pour the best of her mixed up feelings into the kiss. Though despite the urge to kiss him breathless, in a 'thank the Ether you're alive' type of way, she made sure to keep it soft and gentle, tender and affectionate. She hadn't a clue what she was going to do with the newly discovered depths of her feelings for him, but she wanted to make sure Beckett knew she truly cared about him.

“Never scare me like that again,” Gaia murmured against his lips. “No more passing out in front of me. No more getting hurt. Promise me.”

“For you, I'd promise almost anything,” he replied, resting his forehead against hers. “But I can't promise I won't do everything in my power to protect you.”

Gaia let out a shaky breath, as she ran her hand through his ash-brown hair. “I guess I can't really say anything, since I'd do the same for you.”

Chapter Text

Mina gave Kamilah a tentative smile when she shut the bedroom door, before pulling out the elastic that she'd stuffed her mahogany curls into. They bounced free around her face as she turned to face Adrian, unable to keep the small smile on her lips. After what he'd just told them about his family... regardless of the fact it happened centuries ago... Mina couldn't help worrying about him. Right then she didn't care that he was her boss, she didn't care that he was an damn immortal vampire, right then as she looked into his brown eyes, all she saw was a man that had suffered far too much; and that was ignoring the fact that he'd been tortured just yesterday. So Mina crossed the distance between them, and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, hugging him close. Adrian practically melted into her embrace, his arms slipping around her waist and holding her tight.

“I'm glad you're joining me, Mina,” he said, quietly.

“I didn't want you to be alone,” she replied. “Though if you'd prefer me to go...”

“No, I'd like you to stay,” Adrian admitted, stepping away from her slightly.

His hands smoothed down her arms until his fingers laced with hers, though he hesitated for a moment, before silently leading her towards the beautifully carved bed. They sat together, their hands still clasped tightly, and Mina could clearly see the pain but also the appreciation in Adrian's eyes.

“We ought to get some rest,” he stated.

“Do you need a hand?” she asked, very aware that it had only been a few hours since he'd jumped out of a high-rise window.

“I should be fi...”

Adrian didn't even manage to finish his sentence before wincing in pain. Honestly, Mina barely managed to stop herself rolling her eyes; human, vampire, obviously all men were just plain obstinate regardless of what they were. So she helped him out of his grey jacket and black waistcoat, and waited for him to remove his black tie and unbutton his white shirt, before helping him shrug that off too. Thankfully, Adrian managed to remove his shoes, socks and slacks without her aid, and whilst Mina folded his clothes on top of the chest of draws, she heard the sheets and throws rustle, indicating he'd slipped into bed. She undressed herself quickly, dropping the tan coloured padded vest over her boots and socks, before folding her black long sleeve and khakis next to Adrian's clothes. Even though he was trying to be subtle, Mina caught the way he kept glancing at her out the corner of his eye, so as she sat on the edge of the bed with her back to him, a small smile pulled at her lips; even though Adrian was her boss, he was an incredibly handsome man with a well toned body, it was impossible not to be somewhat attracted to him. Though what was more important was the fact he was a good man. He was kind and thoughtful, and had promised to help the Clanless vampires. She trusted him. So Mina only hesitated for a moment before she unclasped her bra... because there was no way she'd sleep with the underwire... and let it drop to the floor, before she lifted the covers to slip in beside Adrian.

“Kamilah wasn't joking about the cold,” she stated, suppressing a shiver.

“Kamilah rarely jokes,” he replied, smiling softly. “But we can cuddle, if you like?”

Mina huffed a small laugh, before slinking an arm around his waist, prompting Adrian to pull her close. She curled her body against his, feeling surprisingly at ease as she rested her head on his shoulder. This near to him, she could still smell the spicy notes of his cologne, that were faint beneath the scent of blood that still clung to him and the fresh smell of the pine trees, from the forest they'd walked through. Adrian manoeuvred his other arm beneath her neck, before rolling onto his side, so their torsos were flush. Mina refused to let him know how shockingly good it felt to feel his chilled skin pressed against hers, though that didn't stop her from tangling her legs with his, or tilting her head back to smile at him.

“You seem to be feeling better. Physically, at least,” she observed.

“I am. It's almost like I can actually feel my body rebuilding itself from the inside,” he explained. “All my muscles feel coiled, tense...”

Without really thinking, Mina moved her hands to start gently kneading his neck, shoulders and biceps. His whole body shivered slightly at her ministrations, and his eyes momentarily slipped shut as a contented sounding sigh escaped him.

“That's...”

“Good?” she prompted.

“Yes.”

“Roll onto your front,” Mina suggested.

Adrian gave her a questioning look.

“Just trust me.”

“I do,” he assured, before complying with her request.

Mina draped the covers over her shoulders to stave off the cold air, as she straddled his hips; quickly rubbing her hands together to warm them up, as she leant over to start massaging the obviously tense muscles of his toned back. She used her thumbs and knuckles to carefully work out the knots, whilst her fingers and palms smoothed away the remaining tension. She could visible see Adrian relaxing under her hands; his eyes closed and a small smile pulling at his lips. Mina dragged her palms down either side of his spine, before nimbly climbing off and settling down beside him, pulling the covers up to their shoulders once more. He rolled onto his side to face her again, one arm curling around her waist, whilst his other hand gently cupped her face. His gaze was thoughtful as he looked at her.

“What are you think?” Mina asked, reaching up to slowly card her fingers through his brown hair.

“Just that... I haven't felt this way in a while,” Adrian replied, quietly. “I've been... intimate, of course. But you make me feel something else. You're special, Mina. I want you to know that I... I really care for you.”

“I care about you too,” she replied, honestly. “But whatever else we are, or could be, you're my friend, Adrian. I'm here for you, no matter what. I hope you realise that.”

His eyes searched hers for a moment, before he leant forward to press a soft, almost tentative kiss to her lips, before pressing another one to her forehead. Mina gave Adrian a gentle smile, her hand sliding from his hair to cradle his face, her thumb lightly stroking across his cheek bone.

“I'll always be here for you, Mina,” he whispered, resting his forehead against hers. “Always.”

 

Chapter Text

Strange yet rhythmic noises pulled Aideen out of the safe house and out into the gardens, where she found Damien... unexpectedly topless... chopping wood in the bright moonlight. Unable to help herself, she leant against the door frame and simply admired the muscles of his toned back and strong arms, as he brought the axe down and split the log perfectly in two. Of course, Aideen felt a little guilty about ogling him; Damien was her best friend after her cousin Nadia, not to mention she was technically still dating Hayden... or Jayden, as the newly self-aware android had chosen to be called... but at least they'd both agreed to keep their options open, whilst he discovered who he was in light of the shocking revelation about not being human. So really, Aideen only really had to feel bad about ogling Damien because he was her friend, but when it came to Private Investigator Damien Nazario, it was really hard not to admire him.

The PI was classically handsome, with his bronze skin, chiselled jaw, perfectly groomed stubble and deep chocolate eyes. He was tall and well built, with a killer... albeit rare... smile. Aideen loved to teasingly run her fingers through his thick chestnut hair when they'd both had one too many, which usually resulted in him ruffling her hair in retaliation, turning her copper waves into a riot of tangled curls. Really, Damien was almost Aideen's exact opposite. He was tall where she was short. He was broad and well built whilst she was lithe and slender. He was bronzed perfection and she was porcelain pale and covered in freckles. His eyes were deep and soulful where hers were a bright sky blue. But then again, Aideen's mother was an Irish immigrant that had married the all-American boy, whilst Damien's was an Italian American who'd married a Puerto Rican. He was also the pessimist to her optimist, and she adored him for it.

“Ay bendito...” he muttered, as he split another log.

“I guess that's cheaper than therapy,” Aideen said, announcing her presence.

Damien flinch, before looking over his shoulder. “Oh! Hey 'Deen.”

“I feel like I should be commenting on the whole 'chopping wood whilst shirtless' thing going on right now, quite the rugged and manly aesthetic,” she teased, staying on the doorstep to avoid getting splinters in her bare feet. “But what I really want to know is what did that wood ever do to you? Did you have some traumatic experience in a forest as a kid or something?”

“Yes, and now all trees must feel my wrath,” he replied, his trademark smirk making a brief appearance before he sighed. “I'm really not in the mood, Aideen. I'm sorry.”

“There's no need to apologise, Dee,” she assured. “Everyone's having a rough night, and that dinner was... intense.”

Intense was an understatement. Aideen hadn't liked Alana the moment they unexpectedly met in the safe house, and not just because she was Damien's ex-girlfriend; an ex that had clearly broken his heart and made him cynical about love. She looked like a bitch, and the moment she'd opened her mouth had proven she was a bitch... which was further cemented when the woman grinned, when Nadia had accused her of being the reason Damien was such a pessimist. Everything about Alana made Aideen feel wary. She didn't trust her at all, and that was all before the woman started being even more of an asshole to Damien during dinner.

“It was definitely not how I expected this to go,” he stated, angrily chopping another log.

“Do you want to talk about it? Or not talk about it?” she asked, wondering if the safehouse had any rum they could do shots with. “Bad jokes and companionship are all I got... especially when this stupid dress doesn't have pockets... but they're yours if you want them.”


Damien wedged the axe blade into the stump he was using as a chopping block, before finally turning to face Aideen. She still looked wonderful in the purple lace dress that clung to her petite figure, and in the moonlight she almost looked like one of the fae creatures from her last novel; stood there with bare feet, and her copper coloured hair hanging in loose waves down to her waist.

“That's... sweet. But I'll stick to chopping wood. You don't need me burdening you with my problems,” he replied.

“You could never be a burden, Dee,” she said, seriously, before grinning at him. “Though watching Mr Hard Boiled PI doing manual labour... such a heavy burden for me to bear. How will I cope?”

“It's not that... there are things you don't know. When you're around, Aideen, I... there are things I've been meaning to...” He trailed off, running his hands through his hair in frustration before turning back to the axe. “Forget it. You don't need to worry about me, 'Deen. I'll be fine.”

“I'm not going anywhere,” Aideen stated, gently. “And the only reason I'm not over there giving you a hug right now, is because I don't want you lecturing me when I inevitably get a tonne of splinters in my feet.”

Damien huffed a quiet laugh, knowing she was right. He would lecture her if she got hurt doing something so daft.

“You're my friend, Dee. I adore you,” she continued, quietly. “So let me worry about you.”

He opened his mouth to argue as he turned to look at her again, intending to tell Aideen he wasn't worth the effort, before he noticed she'd already sat down on the doorstep, her legs curled to the side and her head resting back against the old wood; making it perfectly clear she had no intention of leaving him to brood. A small sigh escaped Damien's lips as he shook his head. He didn't know what he'd done to deserve someone like her in his life, but Aideen was far too good for him... to him. She was his light at the end of the tunnel, and she didn't even know.

“Why don't we take a walk?” he suggested, as a burst of laughter sounded from somewhere in the house.

She gave her bare feet a pointed look. “Give me a few minutes to get changed?”


Aideen hurried to get ready... donning her own jeans and flat ankle boots, but grabbing a clean tank top from the closet and a man's jumper from the chest of draws... though stopped long enough to grab a flashlight from the kitchen, before rejoining Damien outside; almost disappointed that he'd pulled on a long sleeve tee. She tossed him the torch, figuring he actually knew the Germanic forest that surrounded the safehouse, then linked her arm with his because if she did happen to trip over something in the dark, she was determined to take Damien with her. The walk was his idea after all. But thankfully the path they followed was fairly even, and the moonlight helped illuminate the quiet forest. Aideen let out a soft, almost contented sigh. The only sounds to be heard were their footsteps, the snuffling of some fox or badger in the undergrowth, and the lone hoot of an owl somewhere in the distance. Really, it was the first time since Hayden... Jayden... had collapsed nearly a week ago, that Aideen felt herself begin to relax. However, as much as she appreciated the tranquillity, she knew Damien.

“You do realise I know you well enough to recognise when you're stalling,” she said, squeezing his forearm gently.

Damien huffed a strained laugh. “Am I that obvious?”

“Hey, this is a lovely distraction, and I'm happy to keep playing along if you really want, but I think you had something on your mind,” Aideen stated, but not unkindly.

“Being here after all this time is... hard,” he explained, taking a seat on a fallen log. “I hated the person I was back then. I never want to be that person again.”

She quietly sat down beside him, not wanting to break his train of thought now he was finally opening up. It was hard to just listen, knowing Damien was still so torn up about the things he was talking about, but Aideen held her tongue and let him get whatever he wanted off his chest. However, when he paused to take in a ragged breath, she couldn't help reaching for his hand. His palm was warm and calloused as it slipped against her, and their fingers entwined perfectly, as she gave his hand a comforting squeeze.

“I was a mess when I got back to the States,” Damien continued, looking at their joined hands. “All I did was wallow in my own guilt. You don't know how much your friendship meant to me. You invited me places. Got me to laugh. Kept me from drinking alone.”

“Dee... I'm here for you. You know that,” she replied, sincerely.

“I do know,” he reassured, giving her a small smile. “You've always been there when I needed you. The one constant good thing in my life... and I almost lost you.”

Unsure what to say to that, Aideen moved her free hand to rest across the back of his that held hers, whilst she rested her head on his shoulder.

“I couldn't live with myself if something happened to you, and I'd been too much of a coward not to tell you how I felt.”

Her heart was suddenly hammering, as she sat back to look at him. “What do you mean?”

Damien studied her for a long, drawn out moment, his eyes seeming to search hers. “I care about you, 'Deen. More than I've ever cared about anyone. No matter how dark my life gets, you're always there, lighting it up again. You're... you're everything, Aideen.”

Without thinking, she reached up to cup his cheek, but Damien caught her fingers; his curling around hers, and he brought them down until their clasped hands rested over his heart.

“And I know you're with Hayden now,” he continued, sombrely. “You've already got your 'perfect match', but I...”

“It's not like that,” Aideen interrupted, gently. “I can't lie, he's important to me, but... we've both just learned he's an android. Things are a bit of a mess, in all honesty, so we've decided to keep things open. Not exclusive. To give us both some breathing room to wrap our heads around it all, give us both the chance to work out what we want from each other.”

“That's... smart,” Damien agreed, hesitantly. “And maybe I'm being selfish, burdening you with this now of all times.”

“You could never be a burden, Dee.”

He shook his head. “This is the worst timing. You're already dealing with so many revelations, you don't need another one. But I just...” His gaze blatantly flicked down to her mouth, before he met her eyes again. “I couldn't go another day without telling you how I feel. Not when I realised how easily I could lose you.”


One moment he was stupidly confessing how he felt for his best friend, half convinced he'd screwed their friendship up forever, and that Aideen would never be comfortable around him again. The next, Damien had his arms inexplicably full with the red haired beauty, as her intoxicating lips pressed sweetly against his. He flinched in surprise, before melting into her; a small noise... somewhere between a groan and a sigh... escaping him as Aideen coaxed him to deepen their kiss. He'd lost count of the times he'd imagined what it would be like to kiss her, to hold her in his arms, but his imagination didn't do the reality justice. Damien could smell the floral scent of her perfume, that mixed with the earthy tones from the forest around them, and tasted a hint of the wine they'd had at dinner, as their tongues shared a languid dance. His lips trembled slightly as they finally pulled away from each other, and he kept his eyes closed... willing away the unwarranted tears that threatened to prick his eyes... as he rested his forehead against Aideen's. Whatever he'd expected from confessing his feelings, this wasn't it, which was beyond anything he'd hoped for.

“You didn't have to do that,” Damien stated, his voice rough with emotion.

“Dee, I've wanted you for a long time,” she replied, a hint of laughter in her voice. “I've dropped several hints over the years, some just as blatant as the one at Nadia's party the other week. I'd gotten to the point I just accepted you didn't feel the same.”

He huffed a disbelieving laugh, before hugging her close. “We're a couple of idiots, aren't we.”

Her lips grazed his jaw. “More like for a PI, you're awfully oblivious... I'm glad you told me, and in case it wasn't obvious, I care about you too. But we don't need to figure out everything all at once.”

“Yeah... if this is going to happen, I want to do it right,” he agreed, his heart racing as he pulled away just far enough to meet her eyes.

“So we're taking it slow then?” she smiled, her hands toying with the hair at the nape of his neck.

“I've waited four years to kiss you, 'Deen. I think I've more than proven my patience,” Damien teased, feeling lighter than he had in a long time, despite the perilous situation they were all still in.

Aideen brushed another gentle kiss to his lips, before whispering against his mouth: “Good answer. Because I think you're definitely worth the wait.”

Chapter Text

In all honesty, Aideen didn't think there was a more tragic person than Dames. The identity crisis he was going through was almost Shakespearean in nature, and yet he remained one of the most caring people she'd ever met; and not just because he'd been based on Damien. Aideen could still remember Dames' hastily covered compliment earlier in the evening, after Alana had gotten her to change into a new outfit for their mission, and the way he'd smiled at her shyly when she'd thanked him. It had further confused how she felt about him, simultaneously making her want to hug him, and leaving her feeling like she'd been punched in the gut. It was still so disconcerting to look at a face identical to Damien's... to hear Damien's voice and see his mannerisms... on someone who wasn't him. It was why she'd accidentality called his name when she'd walked into the lounge of their Tokyo apartment, after slipping out of Jayden's arms and leaving him peacefully sleeping, and saw Dames tidying up Sloane's desk.

“Afraid not,” he whispered, dejectedly.

Without thinking, Aideen crossed the distance and pulled him into a hug. “Sorry. I guess I'm more out of it than I thought. I didn't think anyone else was up.”

He relaxed into her embrace for a fraction of a second, before stepping away. “I don't understand the science behind when this body needs rest and when it doesn't, but... I guess tonight it doesn't.”

“Same, to be honest,” she said, smiling tentatively.

Every interaction with Dames seemed to have the same nervous undercurrent to it; ever since he'd realised he wasn't actually Damien, when they'd been at the Louvre and he couldn't describe how he felt about the paintings. The same undercurrent had been there when they'd sat beside one of Paris' canals, and discussed the fact they'd had sex before they'd realised he was an android and not the real Damien. He'd seemed so shocked that she didn't regret it, that she wasn't ashamed of it. But nothing more had ever been said on the matter, even though Aideen knew Dames had feelings for her... after all, he'd been programmed to think he was Damien... and she hadn't a clue what to think or feel. He looked like Damien, acted like Damien most of the time, but was also his own person who was so undeniably sweet and thoughtful. Just looking at him broke Aideen's heart, though not just because he wasn't Damien. Dames was so obviously lost and confused, that her heart went out to him. She hated not knowing how to make him feel better.

He gave a weary sigh, as he tossed the wires he'd been untangling back onto the desk. “I was trying to be useful.”

“Dames... what's wrong?” she asked, trying to reign in the urge to reach for him again.

“You mean besides everything?”

Aideen offered him a tight lipped smile and a small shrug. “Well, yeah... besides that.”

“I know I'm not... I'm not the real thing. Not your Damien,” he said, quietly, his fists clenched. “But I am. I remember every moment of our friendship, of my job on the force, of growing up with my sisters. The details are hazy, but... I feel as if they really happened to me.”

“Sloane said they targeted your emotional memory over facts,” she replied, trying not to think about their friend also stating Dames only had months until his computerised brain couldn't handle new memories, meaning he would most likely overload. That he'd die.

“I wish they'd stuck to facts,” he stated, angrily. “Wouldn't I be more useful as a spy, if I didn't care so much about you guys? If I didn't spend every waking second wanting to pull you closer to me? If I didn't remember what it felt like to kiss you... and want to kiss you again every times I see you?”

“Dames... can I hug you?” Aideen asked, tears pricking her eyes. She didn't want to push, but desperately wanted to hold him. To try offer some sort of comfort.

“Sure,” he replied, his voice cracking slightly.

Further tears welled in her eyes as she carefully curled her arms around him; though she kept the hug loose, until Dames slowly began to relax. She pulled him close then, embracing him tightly as he buried his face in the crook of her neck. He let out a shaky breath before she felt several hot tears land on her collarbone, and her own began to silently roll down her cheeks as she hugged him fiercely, once he finally wrapped his arms around her fully.

“I'm sorry... I know you all miss him, and I...” Dames said, his tone thick with emotion. “I'm committed to our rescue mission. Trust me, I'll give one hundred percent to rescue... the real Damien. But... I feel like Damien. I am Damien. His life is all I have. After tonight, that life will belong to someone else. I guess it's been like that since day one, but... I just want to be myself again.”

She squeezed him even tighter. “I may not know what you're going through, but I hope you know that I'm here for you.”

“I know... you'd do anything for Damien,” he replied, quietly.

It felt like someone had stabbed her in the heart, and Aideen stepped back just far enough so she could cradle his face in her hands as she spoke. “I'm talking about you, Dames. I'm here for you.”

Dames made a noise that was part groan, part sob. “Stop being nice to me. You're going to make me cry even more.”

Aideen choked on her own sob, as she wound her arms back around him. “Who's crying? I don't see any crying. Just very stoic handling of emotions.”

He laughed, rich and genuine, as he hugged her back without hesitation. “Get some rest, Aideen. I'll be fine.”

“Not a chance. There is no way I'm leaving you alone,” she argued, stepping away and capturing his hands with hers. “No matter what else is going on, you're my friend, Dames. I know you're hurting and I want to help, but I can't unless you let me.”

“I... really just want to hold you,” he admitted, brokenly. “And I know that's the sappiest thing and that I can't, but...”

A small sad yet understanding smile pulled at Aideen's lips as she gently pulled Dames towards the sofa. It was so reminiscent of what Damien had said on the train in Russia, before their first time together, that the memory flared unbidden like an unexpected punch to the gut. It also hurt to know that Dames was fighting against his programming, just to ensure she felt comfortable, no matter how much pain it brought him; regardless of how wonderful her Damien was, Aideen refused to think that his acquired memories were the only thing making Dames so thoughtful. He was his own person, and an amazing one at that. She genuinely cared for him, and hoped there'd be some solution that would ensure both Damien and Dames were safe and happy when all was said and done. After everything that had happened, they both deserved it... as did Jayden, Steve and any of the other androids out there. But that was a thought for another time. Right there and then, all that mattered was Dames, and it was hard not to notice how his hands shook as he shrugged out of his jacket. So Aideen helped him unfasten his tie as he kicked off his shoes, before she coaxed him to lay down on the couch with her; his ear pressed against her heartbeat and his arm curled protectively around her waist, whilst her legs rested over his and her arm wrapped around his shoulders.

“I'm sorry,” he murmured.

“None of this is your fault,” she soothed. “And as soon as we have Damien back, Sloane can start figuring out a way to extend your memory...”

“You shouldn't waste time...”

“It's not a waste of time!” Aideen whispered, vehemently. “You're our friend, Dames. You're not expendable, no matter what Eros thinks.”

“I... thank you...” He trailed off, though lifted his head to look at her. “After everything... I didn't think...”

Without thinking, she began to card her fingers through his hair. “Always. You're one of us now, and we're here for you. I'm here for you. But we should probably get some rest, we've got a big day tomorrow.”

Dames sighed, though settled back down to rest his head on her shoulder. “I'll do everything I can to get your Damien back, Aideen. I promise.”

 

Chapter Text

“Isn't it true that you've become romantically involved with Kate's own brother, Flynn O'Malley?”

Flynn grit his teeth, his hands clenching into fists. His heart had been pounding ever since April had taken the stand as a character reference for Kate; looking every bit the New York professional that she was, in the crisp all white suit she was wearing, and her ginger hair pulled up in some fancy twist. But the moment when the DA suggested April's character was questionable, had made Flynn twice as angry as he'd already been because of this sham of a pre-trial; Kate was victim, whilst Walsh was a dirty cop on the Stirling's payroll, they shouldn't be in a court room, his sister should be at home resting from her ordeal. But hearing that April's character was being called into question because of him, made Flynn feel furious and defeated all at once. He'd known the moment they'd met that she was too good for him. He'd known it every time they'd teamed up to look for Kate. He'd known it every time they'd hung out. He'd known it when he'd finally worked up the courage to kiss her the first time, down on the beach. He'd known it when she'd let him kiss him again at the fireworks display. And he'd certainly known it last night, when she accepted his invitation to go back to his place. But hearing that bastard DA use him as a way to discredit her, felt like a kick in the gut.

April blinked at the DA in surprise. What the hell had her private life got anything to do with Kate's pre-trail? And if he was trying to discredit her for being bias... which was pretty much what every character witness was, someone who knew Kate and therefore was obviously bias... then why not call into question that fact that she'd been her best friend in college? Why was being 'romantically involved' with Flynn something to question her character over? Yes, he was an ex-con for grand theft auto when he was a stupid, hot-head eighteen year old. But he'd served his time, and April was a big believer that someone's past shouldn't define them; hell, her karate sensei was an ex-con and she'd been one of the nicest women April had ever met. Besides, Flynn had been nothing but good to her since they'd met, despite the harrowing circumstances they'd endured since first discovering Kate had been kidnapped. A tentative partnership whilst looking for clues had grown into a solid friendship, then turned into something more that had culminated in last night. She wasn't ashamed that they were 'involved', even though it had been obvious from the moment she'd first learnt he'd been to jail, that Flynn had expected her to shun him for it. And now some asshole DA was trying to use their relationship... April wasn't exactly sure what their relationship was, but it was as good a description as any right then... as a way to character assassinate her, and she refused to let it happen; she'd also reported far too many trials, and dealt with far too many cops and lawyers as an investigative journalist to let some elitist bastard intimidate her.

“Can I ask what baring this has on Kate's hearing?” she asked, perfectly composed.

“Answer the question! Yes or No,” the DA snapped.

“Objection!” Grant interrupted. “Relevance?”

“The relevance is her bias!” the DA continued, angrily. “Miss O'Neil is so tangled up with the O'Malleys at this point, she'd practically one of them!”

“I was under the impression that even family members could act as character witnesses in a court of law,” April said, calm and collected.

Grant offered her the slightest smile of approval before turning to the judge. “Mr Hornby is badgering the witness. Objection!”

The judge nodded gravelly. “Sustained! I will not let my courtroom become a circus. Consider this your last warning, Mac.”

“Understood,” the DA acknowledged, obviously begrudgingly. “No further questions.”

Flynn's hands were still clenched into fists, but he watched stunned as April elegantly rose from her seat, her head held high as if she wasn't at all ashamed by her association with him, before she came to sit beside him again. Without an ounce of hesitation, April's slender fingers coaxed his hand nearest to her open, and her fingers entwined with his regardless of the sideways looks several people in the room were giving them. In all honesty, Flynn was stunned. Since reuniting with his little sister, he'd heard countless stories about April from Kate, so he'd already liked her before they'd even met; despite the fact he was a little sceptical that someone could be as wonderful as his sister had said. But meeting April had made Flynn realise that everything Kate had told him about the woman was true. She was gorgeous, intelligent, quick witted, thoughtful, patient and kind. It wasn't hard to see why Kate adored April as much as she did, and regardless of his belief that the only person he could rely on was himself, Flynn has found himself quickly trusting April. From there, it hadn't been much of a leap to start falling for her, despite never imagining he'd ever stand a chance; especially when someone like Grant Emerson was also obviously interested. But by some miracle, April had seen something in him worth noticing, and Flynn clung onto her hand like the lifeline it was.

“That... that was...” he began to whisper.

“I'm sorry,” she murmured back. “Please know I'm not ashamed of whatever we are, but it really has no baring on Kate's hearing.”

Shaking his head in disbelief, Flynn raised April's hand to his lips and silently kissed her knuckles. In a town like Birchport, a phrase like 'even family' would have the gossip mongers' tongues wagging for weeks. Whatever they were, April cared enough to stand up for Kate, and that was all that mattered to Flynn. He couldn't believe she thought he'd be upset. She'd been working tirelessly to get his sister justice, she'd never once judged him or his actions, and she'd been unwavering in her support of both him and Kate. Flynn genuinely didn't think he could have gotten through any of the shit-show without her; certainly not without punching Walsh or one of the Stirlings at any rate. April's level-headedness, not to mention her patient and caring nature when they were alone, had kept him from losing it more times than Flynn could count. He'd do anything for her, so being grateful that she'd tried to keep it professional up on the witness stand wasn't hard at all. However, he wasn't sure if April understood his gesture, but she offered him a tentative smile all the same, and her thumb swept soothingly over his knuckles as he lowered their joint hands back to his lap. In all honesty, Flynn had very little faith in the hearing... even with their friend working as Kate's lawyer... but he hadn't a doubt that whatever occurred, April would help him through it. And even if the worst happened, he knew she'd help him get justice for Kate. They were in this together.

 

Chapter Text

Adrian's head snapped up at the sound of the door opening, and his red tinged eyes immediately focused on the figure of Mina. He'd only hired her that afternoon, and he'd had high hopes for the obviously intelligent and engaging woman. She had so much potential. But now as a trickle of Nicole's blood dripped from his mouth, Adrian knew what was going to happen. She'd freak out, probably scream, and very likely try and run. Meaning he'd have to chase her, which would frighten her. He'd most likely have to drag her to get her memory wiped, and then he'd have to argue with Nicole about the risk of keeping Mina as his PA. However, against all of Adrian's expectations, as he stood up to address... confront... the woman, he realised she wasn't reacting at all how he expected her to. Because despite the fact that finding him with his fangs sunk into his Vice President's neck must have been a shock, only a vague look of surprised flashed across Mina's pretty face, before she schooled her features again. Her chocolate eyes met his without hesitation, even as she ran a hand through her mahogany hair, and Adrian watched a little dazed... still a little drunk on the sweet blood he'd just drank... as her corkscrew curls bounced back into place. Then Mina pulled a small vial out of her skirt pocket, and held it up between her thumb and index finger for him to see the red powder inside.

“I didn't mean to... disturb you, but I forgot to give this to you earlier,” she said, perfectly calmly. “I'll leave it on my desk and see you tomorrow.”

With that, Mina turned and walked away without a backward glance, her high-heels clicking against the marble tiles in an unhurried rhythm; so Adrian at least knew she wasn't running away, and he couldn't help mulling over that fact, as he helped Nicole back to her feet.

“That one's going to be trouble,” the blonde complained.

“I don't think she is,” he replied, almost absent-mindedly, before he hurried after Mina.


Mina wasn't at all surprised that one minute she was heading for the elevator, and the next Adrian was standing in front of her; thankfully with his eyes a normal shade of brown, and no fangs in sight. She had just seen him drinking someone's blood, so the man... vampire... having superhuman speed was just a blip on the radar at the moment. In all honesty, Mina was still trying to decide if she'd somehow managed to inhale some particles of the Mandrake Root, because up until a few minutes ago, she'd been going about her life safe in the knowledge that fantastical things like vampires didn't exist, yet now she was trying to wrap her head around the fact she worked for one. It just didn't seem possible, and in all honesty, Mina was trying not to panic. But her dad had always taught her to be logical first, and that 'freaking out' was best done after the crisis had passed.

“Mina, I...”

“So... how does it work exactly,” she asked, interrupting whatever Adrian was about to say.

He looked taken-a-back for a moment, before he smiled. “Curious?”

“Just trying to wrap my head around it,” Mina replied, truthfully.

“I'd be happy to explain...” he stated, sounding surprisingly hopeful. “Though I do have another meeting to attend. If you're not busy tonight, you could come with me. I'd pay overtime.”

Mina raised an eyebrow and considered her boss. From everything that was available publicly about Adrian Raines and his company, to how he'd treated her professionally, and the way he'd been during their private dinner, she got the impression he was a good man... vampire... person. Even now she knew what he was, Mina didn't feel threatened or intimidated by him; not like that creep Lester who'd been in the meeting earlier, and gave off serious 'bad touch' vibes. She liked to think she was a good judge of character. Her mom had brought her up to trust her gut instinct about people, and even though she couldn't really explain it, Mina was convinced she had nothing to fear from Adrian.

“Okay,” she agreed. “Let's go.”

“Just like that?” he asked, seeming part shocked and part thankful.

“I'm sorry, am I reacting wrong? Should I be more scared?” Mina countered, fighting the urge to smirk. “How about... oh eek! Help! A vampire! Stay back, you monster!”

Adrian actually snorted with laughter.

“How was that? Any better?” she queried, glibly.

“... no,” he replied, failing to repress a grin.

Without thinking, she reached out and rested her hand on his forearm. “Look, I'm not going to lie. This is... kinda strange, and I can't deny I'm still wondering if I've accidentally inhaled some of your mandrake root or something. But earlier, during my shift and later in the restaurant, you came across as a really good guy. Someone I'd like to get to know, and someone I'm sure I'll enjoy working with.”

“I never lied to you,” Adrian replied, sombrely. “Just... omitted some things. But I need you to know, what you saw between me and Nicole was completely consensual.”

“I'd guessed when I heard her talking as I left the room,” Mina admitted. “I also appreciate why you didn't tell me, I assume it's usually the type of knowledge that comes with trust. But for the record, even though it's still sinking in, it doesn't change my opinion of you. It'd be... kinda racists if it did, which would be a pretty dick move on my part.”

“Thank you,” he smiled. “And I'll answer any questions you might have, though before you ask... no, I don't sparkle.”

Unable to help herself, Mina grinned. “Oh good. I'd have had to seriously reconsider the whole 'not judging you' thing otherwise.”

Chapter Text

Jax honestly had no idea how long they'd been arguing, or more precisely, how long he and Sayeed had been arguing. The elder vampire had waltzed into the Shadow Den uninvited, and even though the woman insisted she was only there because she needed Celeste and Lily's help, it was a threat to the safety of every single Clanless vampire. But he'd agreed to hear Sayeed out, purely for Celeste's sake; Jax had known from the start he was in too deep with the beautiful redhead, and now that he knew what it was like to hold her, to be with her, he was a goner. Especially when Celeste stepped in between him and Sayeed, her captivating green eyes looking only at him, and lay her dainty hand gently over his heart.

“Jax, please listen when I tell you that Kamilah and Adrian are probably your best potential allies...” she implored.

“If you let us go, we can go with Kamilah to testify for Adrian. It'll strengthen that alliance...” Lily interjected.

“Without allies on the Council, we'll never get the Clanless accepted,” Celeste concluded.

Despite his anger, Jax' attention caught on her wording. We. So his gaze searched hers, trying to figure out if she really was on their side, or if she was just saying anything in the hopes of saving that pretty boy boss of hers. Because when all was said and done, Jax wasn't as concerned about Sayeed's trustworthiness... he'd never trust the Council... but after what they'd shared, he needed to know he could count on her; she'd become his Achilles heel. She had been from the moment they'd met, and even now as they stood on the precipice, he didn't think he really minded.

“Come on, Jax. Please trust me,” Celeste pleaded, her free hand reaching for his. “You know I want what's best for you. You know I'm sympathetic to your cause. Please, let us go with Kamilah.”

“We'll come back and help,” Lily added. “Pinky swear.”

“Even if I went through with this, I'd have a tough time explaining it to my people,” Jax replied, reluctantly.

Celeste squeezed his hand. “Please.”

He angled himself so only she could see his face and the worry he felt... for her. He'd warned Celeste not to trust the Council, and here was one member, asking her to stick her neck out for another; regardless of the fact the guy was her boss. Not to mention he'd seen the way Raines looked at Celeste... not that Jax could blame the man... but it added to his worry. Raines was everything he was not, and he'd be a liar if he tried to pretend he didn't feel a little threatened; they might not be an item, but he cared for Celeste. Though not only that, after Raines had sent her into the Baron's den with no real protection or back up, Jax was concerned that the guy would get her killed.

“And it would go against my better judgement...” he continued, his eyes still locked with Celeste's.

“You won't regret it,” Lily assured, laying a hand on his shoulder.

Jax took a deep breath, before exhaling slowly. “Fine. You're free to go, but don't take advantage of my trust.”

He really hadn't expected Celeste to surge forward suddenly, practically throwing her arms around his shoulders; hugging him tightly as she gave her assurances that she wasn't going to betray him. Almost reflexively, Jax held her closer, burying his face in the crook of her neck, fighting the urge to nuzzle the spot where his fangs had punctured her delicate throat, the two times he'd drank Celeste's sweet blood. She was a marvel, and he hated the thought he might never see her again; because anything could happen once she went to meet the Council.

“Listen. This has been... having you here...” He paused to clear his suddenly dry throat. “I hope we'll see each other again.”

Celeste pressed the sweetest to his lips, before murmuring: “Jax, I'll be back.”

“I'd like to believe that,” he admitted, quietly.

“I mean it, Jax,” she said, solemnly. “I'll come back for your people. For you. This is just the beginning...”

“Is that a promise?” he asked, his hands moving to cup her pretty face.

“I swear,” Celeste stated, cradling his palm to her cheek. “Besides, you have my number now too.”

Despite the situation, Jax' lips twitched to smile as she reminded him of that fact. Without thinking, he tilted his head to press a kiss on the inside of Celeste's wrist, before stepping away. For one last moment, Jax tried to commit the way she looked to memory, before he turned to the guards that had brought Sayeed in, and ordered them to direct the three women to an exit where they wouldn't be spotted by the angry crowd still milling about the market. Celeste was the last to leave, and on her way passed, her fingers lightly brushing against his. Unable to help himself, Jax gently caught her hand for a brief moment, and when she turned to face him, he raised Celeste's hand to his lips and pressed a kiss to her knuckles; whilst desperately hoping it wouldn't be the last time he saw her.


The whole 'trial' for Adrian had been a complete sham, but after downing the drink Kamilah had poured her, Celeste refused to sit around and accept their friend's fate. Thankfully, she wasn't the only one, and with Nicole surprisingly coming to their aid, Celeste suddenly had a plan. So she'd hurriedly changed from the outfit Kamilah had leant her for the trial... back into the leather and lace ensemble she'd gotten in the Shadow Den... then text Jax. Which was how Celeste found herself back in his room, hoping he cared enough about her to help; because she sure as hell didn't think she could pull off her plan alone.

“Let me get this straight. You want me to pretend to be your prisoner, so you can hand me over to the Baron?” he asked, incredulous.

“Yes,” she admitted, faking a confidence she didn't feel. “But only temporarily, and Kamilah will be handing me over too. Once we're in, we'll kill the lights, find Adrian, then get the hell out of there.”

“I'm sorry, but that's a terrible plan,” Jax argued, running his hands through his black hair. “If something goes wrong, and there's so many ways it can go wrong, we'll end up as the Baron's prisoners.”

“I know it's risky, but it's our only chance to save Adrian's life,” Celeste countered, on the verge of pleading.

“And why the hell would I risk it all for him?” he demanded, frowning.

“If you help save Adrian, you'll gain two allies,” Kamilah stated, calmly.

"Adrian's already sympathetic towards your cause,” Lily added. “And this would put him in your debt. He'd have to help your people.”

“She speaks the truth,” Kamilah agreed. “Adrian will honour this. And so would I.”

“How do I know you're not just making promises he won't keep?” Jax asked, angrily.

“You have my word. Adrian and I will defend you and your people,” Kamilah assured, patiently. “Our clans would ally with yours. Openly. Without hesitation.”

“What you're talking about... even if we pulled it off, there'd be consequences,” he mused, hesitantly. “The Baron would know we were behind it. There'd be war...”

“Eventually,” Kamilah nodded, solemnly. “But we'd buy ourselves the time we need. Time to clear Adrian's name and expose the truth.”

“We could break up the alliance of the other four clans... and turn them against the real enemy,” Lily stated, enthusiastically.

“This is our chance, Jax,” Celeste urged, reaching for his hand. “Our chance to shake up the order. To change how things are. To make a better world. But we need your help... I need your help.”

Jax' brown eyes regarded her closely. “Celeste, you're asking me to risk my life to save another man's.”

She swallowed thickly; guessing what he was implying... what he was asking, in a round about way. So she turned to the others, her eyes quickly flicking to towards the door. Kamilah understood instantly and gave a subtle nod, before ushering Lily out of the room. The moment the door shut behind her friends, Celeste turned back to Jax, and unable to help it, she surged forward and crashed her lips to his. He moaned quietly into her mouth, as his arms wrapped around her without hesitation, almost crushing her to his body. She pressed herself impossibly close, relishing the equal fervor Jax brought to their kiss. Though eventually, they had to pull away to breath, and Celeste took to opportunity to cradle his handsome face in her hands.

“It's not like that... with Adrian, I mean,” she murmured.

“What's it like then?” he asked, quietly.

“Jax, whatever is going on in your head, it's not like that,” Celeste insisted, resting her forehead against his. “Putting everything aside that you feel for Adrian, he's an innocent man about to die for a crime he didn't do. What could be more unjust than that?”

He hummed in agreement, even as he bowed his head and closed his eyes.

You're the one I'm interested in Jax, I thought I might have made that clear by now,” she continued, lightly stroking her thumbs across his cheekbones. “But I do care about Adrian, he's my friend as well as my boss. I can't sit by and let him die, especially when he's being set up. So I'm going to try free him either way, but I'd really appreciate your help. You're a badass, and I'd feel a lot better knowing you had my back in there.”

Jax sighed deeply, before glancing up at her; a hint of a smile tugging the corner of his mouth. “Don't make me regret this, Celeste...”

“It's a promise,” she vowed, tears pricking her eyes as she hugged him tight. “I adore you, you know.”

“I could get use to hearing that,” he admitted, gently.

Celeste pulled back enough to smile at him. “You should.”

He huffed a small laugh, as his hand found hers. “Come on. We better go find the others and figure out the details of this crazy plan of yours.”

“I really do appreciate this, Jax,” she stated.

His lips brushed hers briefly, before he opened the door. “I know... and I know you'd be doing the same for me, if the rolls were reversed.”

She gently squeezed his fingers. “In a heartbeat. I'll always have your back.”

Chapter Text

Gaia laughed breathlessly, as she ducked another snowball that Zeph aimed at her head. It was amazing that Shreya had invited all of Pend Pals to her mansion to celebrate the solstice, and even though Gaia had lived her Tuneless life in a place where it occasionally snowed, she'd never seen it in such abundance before. It was like a winter wonderland, and she was loving every second of it; though that might something to do with the gorgeous, magically enchanted outfit Shreya had insisted on giving her as an early festive gift. The grey woollen plaid dress coupled with the white polo neck and black thermal tights were keeping her wonderfully warm. However, her winter boots where not as weather-appropriate as she'd first thought. Because one moment, Gaia was dodging the snowballs her twin: Atlas was aiming at her... melting them with her Sun magic before they struck... the next she found herself suddenly falling backwards after slipping on a patch of ice. Though before she could hit the ground, a pair of strong arms suddenly wrapped around her from behind, and Gaia smiled up at her not-exactly-a-boyfriend Griffin thankfully.

“Don't worry, I got you,” he grinned, setting her back on her feet.

But before Gaia could say more than a quick thank you, Beckett rushed over, taking hold of her hand in both of his. The gesture took her by surprised, because after their kiss whilst he recovered from the wounds Kane had inflicted, they'd both tried to shoe-horn themselves back into a purely platonic friendship.

“Gaia, are you alright?” he asked, hurriedly. “Shall I enchant your shoes to be slip resistant? Perhaps a ward around your entire body to protect you from falls?” Beckett paused, obviously realising he was holding her hand in front of their friends, since he promptly released her, as his ears flushed pink and he cleared his throat awkwardly. “I mean... Gaia, you have some powder on your shoulders from the snowball fight. Here. Allow me.”

His large hands gently swept off the snow, and although he'd been avoiding her gaze whilst he brushed her shoulders, the moment he stepped away, Beckett finally looked up and offered her a surprisingly soft smile. Gaia returned it without hesitation, her heart beginning to race as it had so many times since the beginning of their second year; but since she'd had a not-quite-a-thing with Griffin since first year, she hadn't acted on it; other than their 'thank the universe you're alive kiss'. However, that didn't stop Gaia from very briefly linking her little finger with his, as they followed the others who'd already begun to wander out of the courtyard, before letting go.

“I can't wait to see what vacation Beckett is like. How will you survive without a library to retreat to?” she teased.

“Well... I intend to spend as much time as possible with you. If... you're agreeable?” he replied, hesitantly.

“Yeah, I'd like that,” Gaia replied, gently.

“If that is the case, and whilst we're out of earshot of the others, I wanted to say that as always, your radiance puts the sun to shame,” Beckett smiled.

She shook her head in exasperation, though still smiled at him fondly. “You're such a dork at times... but thank you.”

Beckett opened his mouth to reply, but before he could, the others finally noticed they were lagging behind. Aster hurried over and linked her arm with Gaia's, profusely apologising for walking too fast, whilst Griffin quickly followed the wood nymph.

“Still feel like you're going to slip?” he asked, frowning slightly. “Maybe Beckett should cast that spell on your boots.”

“Just being cautious,” she assured.

“I'm sure Harrington wouldn't mind,” Atlas smirked, giving her a pointedly knowing look.

“It would really be no trouble,” Beckett insisted.

Gaia sighed, good-naturedly. “Would it make you feel better?”

“Yes.”

She tried not to wince at the way Griffin and Beckett answered the same thing, at the same time; whilst refusing to acknowledge the way her twin raised her eyebrow. Thankfully, Atlas kept her mouth shut, and Aster was Gaia's savour when she hugged her arm tighter whilst stating:

“I'd feel better too. I was so scared when I saw you fall.”

“I'd also prefer it,” Shreya added, walking over. “I knew I should have gotten you some snow boots, I'm sorry.”

“Guys, she's fine...” Atlas stated, rolling her eyes. “Stop babying her already.”

“I'm just not use to snow,” Gaia smiled. “Or not so much of it, anyway.”

“You're doing better than me. First time I saw this much snow was when Abuela took us skiing. I fell flat on my face the moment we stepped out of the lodge,” Zeph chuckled, as he joined them.

“To be fair, I'd have been on my ass if Griff hadn't caught me,” she pointed out.

“Then allow me to help keep you on your feet,” Beckett said, earnestly. “Otherwise you'll be at a disadvantage during the snowman battle.”

“Talking of battles...”

Atlas didn't bother finishing her sentence, and instead opted for leaping forward and smashing a surprise snowball into Beckett's face. Gaia bit her lip, trying not to laugh, as he spluttered at the unexpected attack, before conjuring icicles to hang from Atlas' eyebrows. Griffin joined in next, helping Beckett defend against a wall of snow that was sent their way, whilst Shreya pulled Aster to join forces with Atlas against the boys. Gaia just stood laughing at everyone's antics, before Zeph gently nudged her in the ribs.

“We're best friends, right?” he asked, quietly. “Like, we're all friends. But you're my best friend...”

“You know we are,” she replied, leaning against him.

“So you know you can talk to me?” he queried, pressing his shoulder into hers.

Gaia frowned as she glanced at him. “Zeph... what...?”

“Both Griffin and Beckett are good guys, in their own way,” he stated, his voice barely above a whisper. “And they both obviously care about you, as more than a friend... and before you say anything, I'm ARO not blind.”

“You know I wasn't even thinking that,” she stated, resting her head on his. “And yeah. I know. It's just... I like them both, and I don't know how to feel about that. So I'm just trying to figure it out in my own head.”

Zeph gave a hum of acknowledgement. “Good. I don't want anyone to get hurt, especially you. But I think you should all be on a equal playing fields. I mean, Beckett knows about Griffin, but does Griff know about Beckett?”

“I don't know,” she sighed. “But we also never discussed us being more than friends with benefits, so...”

“So talk about it,” he chuckled. “Get everyone on the same page, even if that page is 'I like you both and I don't know what to do about it'. At the end of the day, no one can fault you for being honest, and if someone does try, I'll show them why no one messes around with an Air-alt's best friend.”

Unable to help it, Gaia laughed; suddenly feeling lighter than she had in a long while. Zeph gave her a knowing smile, before promptly pushing her over into the snow bank just behind them. Not to be outdone, she conjured roots to push up through the frozen ground and tangle around his ankles, which sent Zeph crashing to the ground as well. Then feeling a surge of childish inspiration, Gaia started to make a snow angel.

“What are you doing?” Shreya called, suddenly.

“Are you stuck?” Griffin asked, laughter in his voice.

“It looks fun,” Aster gushed, before throwing herself down and mimicking Gaia's movements.

“It... does,” Atlas agreed, sounding shocked, before actually joining in.

“Snow angel,” Gaia stated, unabashed.

Beckett appeared above her, and offered his hand. “I've read about these. Should we see how you did.”

Chuckling, she let him haul her up, though couldn't help asking: “You read about snow angels?”

He cleared his throat, his ears flushing pink again. “With it being your first solstice since discovering you're Attuned, it seemed prudent not to miss any of your old traditions, whilst sharing ours with you.”

Without thinking, Gaia pushed up on her toes and lightly kissed his cheek. “You're still a dork, but very sweet. Thank you.”

“Talking of traditions, I want to show you my favourite,” Shreya announced, linking her arm with Gaia's.

The woman led the way across the grounds of her family home, until they reached a frozen lake decorated with stunning ice sculptures that apparently came alive once people were on the ice. Wanting to see them in action, Zeph proposed a race, and Gaia readily agreed; it had been a fair few years, but her adopted parents had let her have skating lessons with one of her cousins when they were kids. So Gaia took to the ice with ease, though her and Atlas had been pretty neck and neck, until she managed a surge of speed right at the end. However, the celebration didn't last long before one of Zeph's spells back fired, resulting in all of them landing in a heap on the ice. Thankfully, the worst anyone was walking away with was some bruises, and their raucous laughter finally propelled the statues to life. Gaia watched mesmerised as the icy pairs began to skate together; until a hand appeared in her peripheral. She turned to find Beckett regarding her intently, seeming equal parts hopeful and hesitant.

“Are you asking me to dance?” she smiled.

“It seems you've developed psychic abilities,” he chuckled, nervously.

Since Griffin was already off helping Aster with her skating technique, Gaia didn't feel at all guilty about setting her hand in Beckett's; his fingers curling around hers, and his small smile becoming a grin as he guided her away from the others. They skated surprisingly in sync with each other, easily gliding across the ice, as he exchanged holding her hand for wrapping his arm around her waist. Gaia leant into Beckett's side, following his momentum as his left hand took hold of hers, so he could guided her in a spin. Laughing delightedly, she closed her eyes to simply enjoy the moment, though opened them again when she felt his lips caress her knuckles. He offered her a small smile when he caught her gaze, his cheeks very noticeably pink.

“Are you blushing?” she asked, half thinking the flush was probably just from the cold.

“I can't help it when I'm around you, Gaia. You know that very well,” he replied, momentarily squeezing her tighter.

“Should I apologise?”

Beckett smiled at her indulgently, and for a moment, it felt like all her troubles were miles away. Especially when he whispered:

“Never.”

Chapter Text

Artemis buried her nose into her scarf, shivering despite her thick woollen coat, as she step out of Lythikos Keep and out into the wintery wonderland. Drake's arm immediately curled protectively around her shoulders, and she huddled into him gladly. They took a moment to simply look up at the clear night sky, with it's multitude of twinkling stars, and Artemis let the peacefulness wash over her. It had been a strange day. First arriving for a ball, only to discover that she, Drake, Liam, Hana and Maxwell were the only ones to attend. Her heart had gone out to Olivia, who'd evidently been trying not to let the hurt show, but in the end, they'd had a great time altogether out in the snow. The defeated Talon tree had looked magnificent after the group effort to decorate it, but now that Olivia had gone for an early night, and the others were off exploring their friend's home... with the duchess' permission, of course... Artemis was glad to have a moment alone with her new husband.

“I've got you, Hunter,” Drake smiled, softly.

“My gallant hero,” she retorted, though pushed up on her toes to kiss him sweetly.

“Not that I'm complaining, but I didn't do it for the thanks. Keeping my wife warm in The Land That Sun Forgot just seems like the right thing to do... and I can't believe this is our first festive season together,” he stated, kissing her temple.

And our first holiday as a married couple,” Artemis smiled, wrapping her arm around his waist.

“Is there any traditions you're looking forward to?” he asked.

“I've always been a fan of mistletoe,” she winked, mischievously.

Drake smiled at her indulgently, letting go of her shoulder and reaching for her hand instead; his thumb caressing over her understated wedding band, that was hidden beneath her thermal glove.

“Oh yeah? I've always been into the classic traditions,” he stated, nonchalantly. “And that one's about as classic as it gets.”

Chuckling, Artemis cuddle close as they began to walk through the empty but lavishly decorated courtyard. There were beautifully carved and artfully illuminated ice sculptures. Gold and silver bunting dripping with icicles, along with garlands of string lighting that cast a warm glow. There were fountains with their water frozen mid cascade, and sparkling snowdrifts banked along the recently salted brick paths. Snow was still steadily falling, dancing in flurries as a gentle breeze whispered through the deserted courtyard, and the only sound was their footsteps crunching along the frozen walkway. It felt like they were the only two people in the universe.

“It feels like the world ended right before a winter festival. I can't tell if it's pretty or eerie,” Drake murmured.

“Why not both?” Artemis asked, smiling up at him.

“Fair point,” Drake chuckled, quietly. “It's just funny to think that this is how we're spending our first real holiday together.”

“Oh, so all those apple related events weren't real holidays?” she retorted, earning her a withering look from her husband, that just made her laugh. “How do you usually celebrate?”

Drake sighed, frowning. “Last year was spent alone in a bar, I'd rather not repeat it.”

Without a word, Artemis rested her head on his shoulder as they walked, squeezing his hand tightly; she had first hand knowledge that spending the holidays alone weren't fun.

“Growing up, they were pretty amazing though,” he continued, his voice a little hoarse. “Dad always had to work the twenty-fifth, so he and Mom started holding 'Walker Christmas' the day after. It was my favourite day of the year, kind of our own private holiday.”

“Well, I'm looking forward to carrying on the tradition,” she whispered. “And this year there's Bartie to spoil.”

“There is that,” he smiled, kissing the top of her head. “At the end of the day, this holiday is all about warm food, having fun in the snow, and being with the people you love.”

“Then this year is going to be perfect,” Artemis assured, gently pulling him to a stop.

As Drake turned to face her, a snowflake landed on her cheek, which he gently wiped away, before cradling her face in his gloved hand. The snow whirled in a flurry around them, whipped up by the chilled breeze that was getting stronger. Unable to help it, Artemis shivered, and buried her face deeper into the folds of her scarf. Drake immediately took one of her hands in his, wrapping his free arm around her shoulders, before guiding her towards a group of igloos that were just visible at the edge of the courtyard. They ducked into the nearest one, which was surprisingly cosy inside; decked out with twinkle lights, plush floor cushions and seriously fluffy blankets. But Artemis had barely had chance to sit down and wrap a throw around her shoulders, when Drake tugged her to him. His eyes searched hers for a moment, before he slowly leant towards her, and a smile pulled at Artemis' lips as she met her husband half way. He smelt of pine and cedar, and she melted into him as he deepened their kiss. Though before long, they both had to pull away to breath.

“I can't believe how much has changed since my first time in Lythikos,” Artemis whispered, resting her forehead against his.

He huffed a quiet laugh. “Yeah. I had no idea the American racing me down ski slopes would turn out to be the love of my life.”

“Believe it or not, I had an inkling even back then,” she admitted, glancing up through the frozen skylight that had been built in the ceiling. “When you asked if I trusted you, before pushing me over in the snow so we could stargaze together.”

Drake was quiet for a long time, and when Artemis looked over at him, she found him looking at her with a faint look of amazement on his face; and though she'd never mention it, there were definitely a few unshed tears shimmering in his chocolate eyes.

“Hunter... I love you,” he murmured, his voice thick with emotion.

She cupped his face and brushed her lips softly against his, before quietly replying: “I love you too.”