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Fingernails

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It was a lovely day out today. Ethari had enjoyed most of it outside, roaming the village and the market and stopping often to chat with the other elves. It was peaceful, and there was a crisp, cool breeze flowing through the air. During the afternoon, he poled about in the garden for a while. Many of his flowers were blooming and he was finally getting some new fruits and vegetables. It was a couple hours until dinner now, and he had settled in at the sink with his basket of fresh-picked herbs, flowers, and food to rinse them off.

‘Runaan will have such fun with these tonight.’ Ethari thought happily, smiling to himself as he gently rinsed away.

Before long, there was a quick knock at the door, followed immediately by the sound of the door opening. He chuckled to himself and grabbed a towel to dry his hands, turning to face the impatient guest.

“Well, come on in, then.” He teased.

Rayla grinned cheekily at him as she approached, Callum following her cautiously, looking around as if he were scanning for enemies on the battlefield.

“Hey, whether you like it or not, this is still my home too!” She giggled as Ethari pulled her into a warm hug.

“That it is. It’s good to see you again, Rayla.” Ethari chuckled, turning to Callum, who straightened up quickly under his gaze, “You too, Callum. And relax, Runaan’s at a meeting. He won’t be back for a while still.”

Callum visibly released all his tension, relaxing his shoulders and sighing. He smiled shyly up at Ethari, tugging at the sleeve of his jacket.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to be so obvious.” He chuckled. Ethari smiled warmly and rested a strong, yet gentle hand on the boy’s shoulder, offering a reassuring squeeze.

“Don’t worry, it’s not uncommon for people to be intimidated by him. And with all your special situations? I don’t expect you to get along with him so easily.” He explained.

Callum offered a thankful smile as Ethari turned back to his rinsing, waving his hand to move the conversation along smoothly.

“Nevermind my hard-ass husband, though. Come, sit down you two. I just picked all of these! We’re having quite a harvest this season, I expect these will all taste wonderful! I’m afraid I won’t be able to offer much until Runaan gets home. I don’t cook the food I just grow it, heh. I can make some tea and biscuits, though, and I’ll cut up a couple fruits for you in the mean time.” Ethari rattled off distractedly as he rinsed a twisty, pink carrot.

Ethari began to ramble a bit about his day as Rayla and Callum sat down next to each other at the kitchen table and watched. The two of them shared a joking look, and Rayla shook her head and rolled her eyes with a helpless grin. The three of them made easy conversation for a while, Ethari using all his self-control not to ramble too much with his own replies and thoughts, and any tense or awkward atmosphere left in the room melted away.

As a comfortable silence fell over the kitchen, Callum and Rayla stared at their hands lying palms-down on the table, fingers gently caressing each other every now and then. Callum smiled softly to himself as his mind wandered through all of his lovely feelings for her, staring at her pale, pink fingers loosely interlacing with his own. Her nails were getting long, he noticed. He gently picked up her hand by her fingers and brought them up to his lips. He kissed them gently for a moment before wrapping their hands together and setting them back on the surface of the table. Rayla smiled softly at him, a light, magenta blush dusted her cheeks and ears. Suddenly, he had a thought, and his mouth moved before his brain could stop it.

“Ethari, what’s your favorite thing about Runaan?” He asked.

His cheeks heated up aggressively as Ethari paused his fruit-chopping, and Rayla stared at him questioningly. Ethari looked over his shoulder at him, a dark eyebrow raised.

“My... favorite thing about... Runaan?” He asked. Callum lowered his head and stared at the table, begging the question to run back into his mouth and disappear in his thoughts. He fidgeted with Rayla’s hand.

“Sorry, I-I don’t know why I-“

“Don’t apologize.”

Callum looked up at Ethari hesitantly. He was wearing the gentlest of smiles, and something twinkled in his warm, honey eyes.

“It’s a lovely question, I just wasn’t expecting it, that’s all.” He explained before closing his eyes for a moment and releasing a soft chuckle. “My favorite thing about Runaan, huh?”

Ethari turned around and leaned against the countertop, staring off into space in contemplation.

“Is it that hard to pick just one? Would you rather write him an essay instead?” Rayla teased.

Ethari laughed, shaking his head and offering a goofy, lopsided grin.

“I could fill every bookshelf in the world with the things I love about Runaan, a single essay could never do it justice.” He retorted jokingly.

Rayla rolled her eyes and groaned.

“You’re so sappy.” She whined. He chuckled, crossing his arms.

“I wasn’t always this way, he brings it out in me. You’ll understand one day. I rather think you already do.” He teased, raising an eyebrow at her and flashing a knowing smirk.

She blushed brightly and turned away from them both, grumbling and waving her free hand at him.

“Whatever, just get on with it.”

Ethari shook his head with a grin and turned his attention back to Callum.

“I was just considering what I wanted to say. Sometimes it’s easier just to say something dumb like ‘his eyes’ or ‘his passion and loyalty.’ Something that everyone understands easily. I always get strange looks when I tell people what I actually love the most about him.” He explained, rolling his eyes, “Lain and Tiadrin tease us both endlessly over it to this day.”

“What is it? If you don’t mind me asking, that is. It can’t be that strange, can it?” Callum wondered, curiosity piqued. Ethari smiled gently at him.

“He cuts his nails.”

Callum raised an inquisitive eyebrow at him, urging him to explain. Ethari obliged, considering his emotions deeply before continuing.

“It doesn’t seem like anything special at all, right? And it isn’t. There is absolutely nothing special about it. We all cut our nails. It’s not some deep, embarrassing secret we all try to hide. It’s just something you do every now and then. But, generally, people do it at home. That’s where most self-care and grooming habits take place. Not hidden, really, but not something you generally see from people.

“He may seem like this big, scary, gorgeous, unbreakable fortress of a man, but Runaan comes home and cuts his nails like everyone else. He brushes his hair every morning, and he smiles at the sunrise with his tea, and he does the laundry when it’s his turn, and he definitely whines about folding it.” Ethari chuckled, “But very few people get to see that, especially from him, and most don’t even think about it. They see him walking by in all his beautiful, precise, deadly glory, with his hair styled, and his clothes ironed, and his weapons perfectly polished, and his nails cut and clean. The best version of himself, with all his pretty illusions. Runaan’s got miles of walls laden with all sorts of tricks and traps and pointy things guarding who he really is. So much that even he gets confused about who he is sometimes.

“But I get to see him put them all up. I get to see him at his worst, at his middle, at his best, and everything in between. He even lets me help him. I get to paint on his markings when they fade, and I get to cut his hair, and I get to take care of him when he’s ill or injured. He’s real. And he cuts his nails. And I get to see it. It’s my favorite thing...” Ethari trailed off, gazing down at his arms crossed in front of his chest.

He shook his head and raised a hand to rub at one of his rapidly heating cheeks.

“The more I try to put it into words, the more I see why people give me funny looks when I talk about it.” He chuckled timidly, turning back to his work and shuffling some fruit onto a couple of small plates, mumbling to himself, “Moon above, Runaan, the things you do to me.”

Callum smiled warmly and shook his head.

“No, no, I understand what you mean.” He turned to lock eyes with Rayla. “I feel the same about Rayla.”

Ethari turned halfway to find them gazing into each others’ eyes lovingly. He watched silently as Callum continued, a soft, lopsided smile growing slowly across his face.

“She’s absolutely amazing. All grace and talent and good humor. She’s perfect, and she’s real, too. And I get to see all of it. She complains about meetings and makes the bed perfectly every day and she has the worst bedhead in the mornings.” He teased.

Rayla rolled her eyes and flicked his nose lightly. He squeezed her hand softly, and she returned the gesture as he raised their interlaced fingers to eye-level, glancing at them before smirking up at her.

“And she needs to cut her nails.” He grinned. She released a dramatic sighed and pulled her hand away from him, shoving him playfully by the shoulders.

Ethari chuckled, his chest filling with emotion as he watched them flirt and tease each other in such a familiar way. Callum blushed bright red when he remembered Ethari was watching. He shifted awkwardly and offered a shy smile. Ethari smiled as he picked up the two plates of fruit he had prepared and brought them to the table.

“You said it beautifully, Callum.” He said, setting the plates down in front of each of them and shooting Rayla a knowing glance and smirk, “That’s exactly how I’ve always felt about Runaan.” He turned to head back to the counter to grab the tray of tea and biscuits he had prepared before Rayla could react.

“Ethari!” She cried in exasperation.

He paused as he turned back towards them with the tray in his hands, the same teasing smirk on his face. She raised her eyebrows at him, as if to ask what he was trying to say. He only grinned and winked at her as he returned to the table to set the tray in the middle. She didn’t take her eyes off of him, and Callum looked between the two in utter confusion. The door opening on the other side of the room broke the silence, and everyone looked up towards it. Ethari beamed at Runaan, who stood in the entrance staring at the guests in the kitchen, and wasted no time shuffling over to him.

“Welcome home, love!” He greeted enthusiastically.

Ethari wrapped his arms around Runaan’s waist to squeeze him for a moment before shifting them to rest on his hips. He kissed him on the cheek pleasantly, and Runaan leaned into his touch and smiled at him, tearing his gaze away from the human in his house. Runaan ran his hands up Ethari’s arms and squeezed his large biceps.

“Hello.” He replied. Ethari snorted.

“That’s all? ‘Hello?’ That’s all you’ve been dying to tell me today?” He teased, pinching Runaan’s sides.

Runaan squirmed and rolled his eyes, but still offered a gentle nuzzle against his nose and a tiny chuckle. Ethari raised his hands to gently remove Runaan’s hair cuffs and undo some of his braid.

“Not much to say, really.” He huffed.

Ethari stepped aside, allowing him to continue into the house and shutting the door behind him. He trailed after him into the kitchen again, heading back to his fruits as Runaan stopped to greet Rayla, mussing up her hair and giving her a quick kiss between her horns. He nodded stiffly at Callum in greeting, trying his best to appear friendly but only coming off as uncomfortable.

“Rough day?” Ethari asked, his voice soft. Runaan shook his head.

“No, just another pointless meeting. They could have just written a letter about it and been done with it without wasting a whole day.”

“I’m sorry, love. At least it was nice out, yes? Come, sit down and relax, I’ll fix you a plate.”

Runaan snorted, flashing a small, playful smirk.

“You sure about that? You’re a bit of a disaster in the kitchen, darling heart.” He teased, walking up to Ethari and poking his side gently.

Ethari swatted him away, rolling his eyes, but returning an equally playful smile.

“Shut up, I’m just cutting up some fruit. I can’t possibly mess it up too bad.” He laughed.

“You’d find a way. I suspect that just being in the kitchen throws off your arcanum.”

“Go sit down before I’m forced to punish you for this mockery.”

Runaan raised a single, white brow. He narrowed his eyes seductively, a hot, new intensity rising to replace their usual coolness.

“Punish me, huh? Maybe I’ll stay standing, in that case.”

Rayla made an exaggerated gagging noise.

“Get a room!” She complained.

Runaan turned to her and chuckled and Ethari smacked his ass lightly before turning back to the fresh plate of fruit he was making.

“Go sit, we’re upsetting the children.” He giggled.

Runaan made his way to the table as Ethari began to rattle on about his day and the harvest he had gotten. Runaan went to sit across from Rayla, as far away from Callum as possible, but paused. He took a breath and decided to sit across from Callum instead, watching the boy intently for any signs of disapproval. Callum just waved toward the chair, inviting him to sit.

“We were just talking about you, actually.” Ethari said.

Runaan turned and stared at him.

“What about me?” He asked slowly.

Ethari grinned, shooting Callum and Rayla a sneaky look, and brought Runaan’s plate to him.

“Callum asked what my favorite thing about you is.” He said, taking a seat next to his husband.

Callum’s blush began to bud across his cheeks again as Runaan turned a questioning look at him. Ethari jumped in instead.

“You already know what I told him. He actually understood my lovesick ramblings, though.” He leaned an elbow on the table and rested his cheek against his fist, stealing a slice of fruit off his plate and turning to Callum with an innocent smile, “Indulge a forgetful old craftsman, Callum, what was it you said about Rayla?”

Callum’s blush bloomed into a full, dark maroon. Rayla stared at him and Runaan turned his questioning gaze on his husband. Ethari just waved them all off, keeping his eyes on Callum. As the boy stuttered through his recount of what he told Ethari earlier, Runaan studied him and his words intensely. He also kept an eye on Rayla’s reactions. Ethari just watched Callum with a smile, his eyes flicking towards his husband as Callum finished. Runaan paused for a moment, taking in everything he had just witnessed before turning to Ethari. He wore a knowing smirk. The two of them exchanged several silent facial expressions for a moment, none of which either Rayla or Callum could read. Ethari gave him a look and Runaan immediately became flustered, shooting several looks back at him. After a moment of their secret conversation, Ethari groaned loudly and dropped his loose fist onto the table, rolling his eyes. He pushed himself up from the table and began gathering some empty dishes.

“I’m tired of you.” He sighed dramatically.

Ethari turned with the dishes in one hand, pushed in his chair, and started toward the sink. As he passed behind Runaan, he ran his empty hand up the side of his husband’s head, tangling in his long, silky hair. He pushed it up over his horns to the other side, so it tangled and draped across his face messily. Runaan swatted at his hand, but Ethari was already at the sink.

“Hey!” Runaan complained as he desperately attempted to fix his messy locks.

“Sorry, sorry~” Ethari replied in a teasing sing-song voice. Runaan huffed and turned his seat out more so he could face his husband.

“Ethari!” He snapped.

Ethari turned to him with exaggeratedly wide eyes. Runaan raised his eyebrows, waving an upturned palm in front of himself. They shared some more expressions before Runaan groaned and rubbed his face.

“You’re the worst.”

“You’re my only competition.”

“What is happening?” Rayla finally interjected, waving her hands in exasperation. Runaan shook his head as Ethari laughed.

“I’m trying to get your dense father to understand something. Don’t mind us, though, we’ll stop now. We’d be here all night otherwise.” He teased. Runaan huffed, crossing his arms.

“I know what you’re trying to say Ethari, I just don’t understand where you’re trying to go with this.” He retorted. Ethari shook his head.

“That’s exactly the point, love.”

“Then what is it!” Runaan whined.

“Hey, I said we’d stop for now.” Ethari reminded him. They exchange a couple final looks before Ethari turned back to the dishes, “Now, come get started on dinner. Rayla, Callum, will you be staying?”

“That’s what we’d planned, if it’s alright with you two.” Rayla answered.

“Always.” He replied warmly.