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nature’s crescendo

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“Do you think they know?” Sasha asks, keeping her voice low. Grizzop turns to her, hand wrapped around the handle of his pint, and raises an eyebrow.

“Who?” he asks, and Sasha sighs, frustrated.

“You know,” she mutters, and tilts her head until it’s not-so-subtly pointing at where Zolf and Hamid are standing together at the bar, arguing about who’s meant to pay for the next round. “Think either of them have a clue?”

Grizzop glances over at them and rolls his eyes. “Oh, you mean the two lovestruck idiots over there? No. Not in the slightest.”

Sasha sighs, again, which really seems to be the mood of the evening as far as she’s concerned. Shame. “I almost wonder if we should… you know… tell them? Feels… I mean, like, had a mate once, right? Did a dance around this girl they liked, and then they never brought it up, so I never brought it up cause I figured they knew , and I mean this was years before they even confessed and then it were too late and I just -“ Sasha pauses, having slightly lost the thread. “Dunno, mate, don’t want the two of them to keep this up for years.”

Grizzop considers her for a second, fingernails tapping on the edge of his glass. “I mean, we could just tell them. Shove ‘em in a closet, wait until Hamid’s fit to burst… wouldn’t take long, honestly. D’you think it’d work?”

Sasha thinks about it for a second, weighing the pros and cons in her head, but ultimately shakes her head. “Zolf’d break the door down.” She isn’t certain of it, and if he did he’d probably help fix it up afterward, but it’s what she would do if forced to confront her emotions, and she and Zolf are more alike than people realise, sometimes. 

It’s a conundrum for sure; she knows that Zolf has feelings for Hamid, Grizzop knows Zolf has feelings for Hamid, hell, even Brock has picked up on it and he barely spends any time around either of them. And it’s clear that Hamid feels the same way in return, it’s just… Sasha rubs her temples. The only two who don’t know that Zolf and Hamid are madly into each other is, ironically, Zolf and Hamid , but it’s been this way for a few months (more, maybe? She isn’t sure) and neither her nor Grizzop nor Azu have any idea about what to actually do about it.

“Maybe we take the chances with the door,” Sasha mumbles, and Grizzop perks up. “Think Zolf would, like, break Azu’s door? Could - dunno, throw a party. Convince them. Lock it.” 

Grizzop shrugs. “Would Azu let that happen?”

Sasha thinks for a moment, because Azu is fundamentally a nicer person than both her and Grizzop, but also… she’s told Sasha she’s started to get well sad about Hamid’s longing sighs at their weekly coffee dates, so maybe she’ll be in too. 

It’s a start, at least. “Maybe we -“

“What are you two talking about?” Hamid asks brightly, setting down a tray of drinks on the edge of the table. 

Sasha makes a slicing motion along her throat that Hamid doesn’t notice, and Grizzop pastes a smile on his face.

“Er - nothing much,” he says, speaking too quickly to be natural. Sasha grabs one of the pints and chugs, downing nearly half the drink in one go. “Never better, er - gods, Sasha, weather’s been a right tit recently, yeah? Weird, that.”

“O….kay?” Hamid says, giving them both a weird look but not commenting on it. “Zolf’s just - he’s paying Gragg, talked me out of it, er - enjoy!”

Sasha gives Grizzop a wink, and Grizzop makes a complicated sign with his fingers that they’d long ago decided meant an agreement. 

She’ll talk it over with Azu tonight.

 

 

Zolf stops working on the farm when the sun begins to set, if for no other reason than the lowered visibility makes the chance of an accident happening even higher. He sets down the trowel he was using and wipes his hands on his jeans before grabbing onto the edge of the workbench to help himself up, stretching his back. 

He trudges out of the barn, locking the door behind him, and starts to make his way up through the fields to the house. As he gets closer, he notices lights shining on the lawn, coming through his windows, and he freezes for a moment. He knows he didn’t leave the light on, and the house is always dark when he comes back from a day working in the fields. For a moment, he wonders if someone’s broken in, and glances around to see if there’s a pitchfork around that he can use; turns out there’s not, cause Zolf actually puts his tools away in their proper place, but there is a familiar car in the driveway, and all the stress bleeds out of his body. 

He walks up to the door, ready to sit down and not get up until he has to go to bed. It’s been a long day in the fields, and his legs are both aching. He can’t wait to get the prosthetic off and give himself a bit of a break

“Oi, get out of my refrigerator,” Zolf calls loudly as he pushes the door open and steps into the house. There’s a thunk , and then Feryn swears, loudly, surfacing from the refrigerator and rubbing the back of his head as he glares daggers at Zolf.

“Warn a guy,” he complains, and then tosses a beer over to Zolf as he makes his way toward the kitchen. Zolf catches it, raising his eyebrow at Feryn.

“Don’t go rooting around where you don’t belong,” Zolf warns, but there’s no real heat behind it. He twists open the top of the beer bottle and takes a swig, setting it down gently on the table as he slumps into a chair.

“Your fault for giving me a key.” Feryn follows his move, shutting the door behind him as he joins Zolf at the table. Zolf gives him a cursory nod before focusing on his leg, starting to remove the prosthetic. The second it’s off, he gives a sigh of relief; his leg still hurts but, well, less, now. 

“So, what brings you here at this hour of night?” Zolf asks, massaging the end of his limb to get the blood flowing around it again. “Thought you’d be off adventuring. Full moon’s coming up, and I know you’re running low on materials.”

“We gotta talk,” Feryn says, and there’s an uncharacteristically serious look on his face when Zolf finally looks up at him. 

“Er - something wrong?” Zolf asks, running through the options in his mind. 

“S’about Hamid,” Feryn says, and Zolf freezes, before pasting an unconcerned look on his face.  

“What d’you mean?” he asks, careful to keep his tone as level as possible.

“I mean,” Feryn says, drawing the words out like he’s not sure Zolf can understand him. “You’re completely gone on him, mate. Hook, line, sinker.”

Zolf splutters for a moment, but Feryn’s always been the one to see through him as though it’s nothing, so he just ends up sighing and resting his head on his arms on the table. 

“Am I that obvious?” he mutters, flicking a little piece of dried food or dust or some particulate that he can see on the table.

Feryn shrugs. “Not to him, apparently. But you’re not exactly subtle , Zolf.”

Zolf groans and buries his head in his arms, because he knows he’s not but there’s a difference between knowing you’re not being subtle and being called on it. And he was trying, to, because he didn’t want to make things weird for Hamid, broadcasting his obviously unrequited crush to the masses, but - gods. If Feryn knows, that means Sasha knows, and he’s almost surprised that she hasn’t come around to slap some sense into him too. 

“Just kill me,” he says, twisting his ring around and around on his finger until Feryn gives his hand a pointed look. It’s a nervous habit, one they both share, but Zolf has rubbed his finger raw enough times that Feryn tries to get him to stop where he can. 

“Look, it’s not that bad,” Feryn tries to console, but Zolf just gives him a dead-eyed stare. “Okay, it’s bad, you’re turning all sappy, but - it’s not something you need to be embarrassed about, mate, it’s natural to have a crush.”

“How would you know,” Zolf mutters, because there’s just something about interacting with your older brother sometimes that makes you feel like you’re a surly teenager again. Feryn just rolls his eyes and cuffs him on the back of the head. 

“I’m older than you, I always know better,” Feryn says, and Zolf scoffs. “Oi! I tell you, the disrespect.”

Zolf takes another swig of his beer, downing it as he weighs the pros and cons of dumping it on Feryn. Seems a waste of beer, honestly. His nerves are still racing, though, heart just this side of pounding as he tries to calm himself down. 

“Okay, but -“

“Zolf, mate,” Feryn cuts him off, clapping a hand on his shoulder. “You deserve to be happy, too.”

Zolf glances up at him, chewing on his lip. “I just - I don’t want to -“ he cuts himself off, sighing as he rubs a hand over his face. “Say I tell Hamid I - like him more than a friend - gods, that sounds so juvenile - and he doesn’t feel the same and everything is just… awkward. Forever. Then where will I be?”

“Do you really think Hamid - Hamid - would cut you out like that?” Feryn asks, raising an eyebrow disbelievingly at Zolf.

“I - no - I dunno, maybe! It’s - Feryn, I haven’t felt this way about someone since the Navy, I just - I don’t want to fuck it up.” Zolf’s head sinks even further into his arms as he feels himself start to spiral, bleeding out into a thousand different what-if’s.

Feryn’s hand clamps down on his shoulder, tight, and squeezes until Zolf looks up at him. 

“Alright. None of that. For what it’s worth?” he says, pointing at the scarf that Hamid loaned Zolf in January (Zolf just… hasn’t gotten around to bringing it back yet. Keeps forgetting it’s there, honestly) and then shrugging. “Think you’ve got a good chance he’s gone on you, too.”

Zolf can feel the blush spreading across his cheeks, a bright red glow that he can’t quite hide as much as he wishes he could.

“Yeah?” he asks, no louder than a whisper, and the amount of hope in his tone would feel completely ridiculous in any other scenario.

Feryn reaches over and musses Zolf’s hair, making it look like even more of a bird’s nest than it used to. “Can’t say for certain - nothing is, you know - but… I’ve seen the way he looks at you too, mate. There’s something there.”

Zolf bites his lip and bats Feryn’s hand away, but it’s more going through the motions than actually thinking about it. If Feryn is right… well, then Zolf has a lot less to worry about than he thought. 

“Thanks,” Zolf says, eventually, because he knows why Feryn brought it up, even if emotional conversations had never been either of their forte. 

Feryn pulls him into a rough hug. “Love you, Zolf,” he says, and Zolf tightens the grip he has on the back of Feryn’s flannel. 

“Y - yeah,” he says, throat feeling tight all of a sudden as fear and excitement and anticipation all roll around in his stomach. He’s got… a lot to think about, honestly, with all this swimming about in his skull. Lot of options to consider, lots of decisions to finally make. Well. One decision, at the least. One big one. “Love you too.”

 

 

Saira closes her eyes as she lays down in front of the fan gently blowing cool air into her face. Cairo has always been ridiculously hot in the summers, and this one is no different. She’s been sweating all day, and her tightly-curled hair has been pulled up in a headwrap to keep it off her neck. It’s strange, really - she almost misses London, which isn’t an emotion she’s really used to, but right now she’d almost take the gray and dreary weather over the heat of Cairo. 

She sighs, rolling over and spreading out on the bed. Her windows are open, and there’s a nice breeze coming in, but it’s not enough to offset the heat. She really should get up and close the window, but the heat has sapped her energy and she really can’t be bothered. 

Her phone rings, nearly drowned out by the fan, and Saira glances down at it, spotting her sister’s face (it’s a terrible candid, honestly, and Aziza set it as that purposefully) lighting up the screen. 

“Hey, Ziz,” Saira says, turning the fan down a notch as she puts the phone on speaker. She lays it down next to her head as she rests her chin on her arms. “What’s up?”

“Have you spoken to Hamid recently?” Aziza asks, and Saira thinks back to the last time she’d spoken to him.

“Not… really?” she says, frowning slightly. “We texted the other day, but that was more about potential plans for him to come back home for a week or two. Haven’t spoken in a bit.”

“He texted me about Zolf four times this weekend,” Aziza says, and Saira groans. Hamid’s interest in Zolf had been abundantly clear to both of them when they’d gone to visit, but neither Saira nor Aziza were going to push Hamid when he said he didn’t know how Zolf felt.

Honestly. Saira loves Hamid, he’s her little brother and she would do anything for him, but sometimes he can be so oblivious she just wants to shake him. 

“You think he realises Zolf likes him back?” Aziza asks, and Saira shakes her head before remembering she’s on the phone.

“If he didn’t when we visited, then he probably still doesn’t. Wouldn’t he have told us if anything had happened?” she asks, but there’s a smidge of doubt in the back of her mind.

“I don’t think he would have been able to keep quiet, if I’m being honest.”

Saira considers it for a moment. Aziza is probably right; Hamid’s always been notoriously bad at keeping secrets unless it was something incredibly important, and this doesn’t fall under that header. 

“Maybe someone can talk some sense into him,” Saira says, twirling a ribbon she’s picked up around her fingers. 

“Maybe he can,” Aziza responds, laughing a bit, and Saira joins her. She’s not sure if Aziza means Hamid or Zolf - she thinks the former, but honestly, it’s anyone’s guess. Regardless, she does just want Hamid to be happy , and she doesn’t know what else either of them can really do to help from this far away. 

“We just have to hope he does, I guess,” Saira says with a sigh. “Love you, Ziz.”

“Love you too, Saira,” Aziza says, and hangs up. 

Saira glances at the darkened screen of the phone and throws her arm over her eyes. Gods. She hopes Hamid figures it out soon, for his own sake if nothing else.

 

 

Hamid takes a deep breath before he knocks on Azu and Sasha’s door. It’s still bright outside. the days stretching longer as they move into the summer, and the sky is drenched in a beautiful golden color that Hamid’s never stopped being awed by since he first moved here. 

He shouldn’t be nervous, he thinks as he listens to Azu moving around inside the house. He’s done this numerous times, he and Azu have coffee every week together, but his heart is pounding in his chest. The footsteps get closer to the door as he waits, rocking back and forth on the balls of his feet, and then Azu appears on the other side, pulling the door open.

“Oh, hello Hamid!” Azu greets, stepping out onto the stoop to pull him into a tight hug. She’s in a soft house dress, a gorgeous blue color with a pretty rectangle and triangle pattern stretching across the front. Hamid hugs back, only lingering for a moment before Azu pulls back. “Sasha’s down at the store, would you like to come in? I just finished dinner, but there’s a lot left if you’d like to have some,” 

Hamid shakes his head, stepping inside. “Thank you,” he says. “I just ate as well, but I appreciate it!”

Azu leads the way to the kitchen and Hamid follows after taking his shoes off and leaving them by the door. 

“Would you like some tea? The water’s almost ready,” she says, and Hamid nods as he goes and sits at the table. 

“Yes, please - thank you.” He rests his arms on the table and slowly lowers his chin to rest on them, watching as she bustles around the kitchen.

Azu and Sasha’s house always smells comforting. He isn’t sure what it is, what mix of candles or incense or what they have, but anytime he’s been over, he just feels warm.

“Are you looking forward to the Dance of the Moonlight Jellies next week?” Azu asks, grabbing a box of tea out of the cupboard as the teakettle starts to whistle. 

“Oh, gods, that’s next week...” Hamid realises, face blanching. He’ll have to go, of course, not that he would ever miss it. Last year was - was amazing for a number of reasons. Maybe this year, he and Zolf could - gods, that's it, isn’t it? It was last year that Hamid realised just how much he cared for Zolf, sitting together on a dock far away from everyone else. He can still feel the warmth as Zolf draped his coat around his shoulders, can still remember how Zolf’s face looked as the lights of the jellyfish reflected off of it, and -

“Hamid? You looked lost in thought for a moment, are you alright?” Azu asks, setting a teacup down on the table in front of him. She sits in the seat next to him, giving him a concerned look, and Hamid gives her a weak smile in return.

“I’m fine, really, don’t worry,” he says, but Azu doesn’t completely look like she believes him. He doesn’t really know how to articulate that he and Zolf are stuck in this… awkward will-they-won’t-they dance that is slowly starting to do his head in, so he just gives Azu a helpless glance. 

“How did you know you liked Sasha?” Hamid asks, staring down at his hands. “I - I’m sorry if that’s invasive, you don’t have to -“

“It’s alright, Hamid,” Azu says with a gentle smile. “I don’t mind. I moved here about… four years ago, now. You remember I told you about asking Sasha out?”

Hamid nods; it had been during the town fair, and he’d only been a little jealous at how easily it had worked out for both of them. 

“Well,” Azu continues. “It started a little earlier than that. I would… I would be going out of my way to spend time with her, and offering to help more than usual. Any time I was with her, I would feel… lighter. As though nothing could touch me, as long as she and I were together. It was - it’s a wonderful feeling, you know. I still have it, for her. Even all these years later.”

“I’m glad,” Hamid says, and he really is. Sasha and Azu are… it’s clear how much they love each other, how much they would do for one another. 

“Is this about Zolf?” Azu asks, gently, reaching out and placing her hand on top of his. Hamid looks up at her, feeling almost helpless, and nods.

“I - I really like him, Azu,” he admits, and Azu squeezes his hand. “I mean - I thought I did for a while, that it was just a crush and it would go away but… it’s - it feels deeper than that, now, and I - I don’t want to ruin anything.”

Azu considers him for a moment, biting her lip as she examines him, and then sighs. “Hamid…” she starts, pausing as she gathers her thoughts. She does this a lot, thinks before she speaks, something Hamid’s never really had a lot of skill in. “Why do you think you will ruin anything?”

Hamid shrugs. “I mean, what if he doesn’t feel the same way back? What if - I don’t know, what if everything is just incredibly awkward between us and then we… we drift apart and we’re never as close again? I don’t - I don’t want that, Azu, I would… rather be his friend than confess and have everything change. And that’s fine, I’m happy to be his friend! We’re - we’re very good friends, and I like spending time with him as friends, but I’m not sure if -“

Azu squeezes Hamid’s hand again. “Breathe,” she says, calm as anything, and something about her tone reminds Hamid of Saira. She was always the best at walking him through his panic attacks, the best at pulling him back to himself when he felt spread across a thousand universes. 

He listens to Azu, and to the quiet whisper of Saira in the back of his mind, and breathes. It isn’t long before his breaths become steady and calm again, and although he can’t quite get rid of the tinge of anxiety in his chest, it becomes manageable.

“Thank you,” he says, and Azu smiles, letting go of his hand to grab his teacup.

“I’ll get you some more,” she says.

Hamid wonders again how he got so lucky to have a friend like her. It doesn’t take her long to pour them both another glass of tea, and when she sets it in front of Hamid, he wraps his hands around it for something to hold on to. The warmth bleeds through the cup and into his hands, and he feels lulled into a sense of security, of comfort.

Azu takes a sip of her own tea, and Hamid follows suit, blowing gently on the top. He doesn’t let go as he puts the cup down, staring into the dark liquid as he tries to sort through his thoughts.

“Do you mind if I ask a question?” Azu says, and Hamid shakes his head.

“No, go ahead,” he says, and Azu shifts in her seat.

“How would you feel if I told you I think Zolf likes you too?” Azu says, and Hamid can feel his heart skip a beat. 

“I’d ask you why,” he says, and as much as the hope blooming in his chest feels like a betrayal, he can’t tamp it down as much as he wants to. 

“There’s… something in his eyes. He gets softer, almost, when you aren’t paying attention. His eyes seem to seek you out. And he relaxes, when they do find you. As though just knowing you’re there is enough. He smiles more around you, too. I’m not sure he even realises it.”

Hamid swallows heavily. “Really?”

“Did you never notice?” Azu asks, but it’s not malicious, not in the way those types of questions usually are. It’s just… genuine curiosity.

He laughs, weakly. “I’ve never been that good at figuring out how people feel about me,” he says, glancing down at the floor as he hunches his shoulders up. It’s - he’s not looking for reassurance, or anything; he knows that it’s always been easier for him to manage other people’s emotions and examine his own than really be able to understand how people feel about him, truly. It’s part of the reason why he was so blind to how awful Gideon and Liliana were for so long - not that it’s his fault, considering how they manipulated him, but he does wish that he’d listened to Saira a bit more when she’d warned him about them. 

“I think…” Azu trails off for a moment. “I don’t want to tell you what you should do. But I think you should consider it. Keeping your feelings locked away will only end up hurting you more in the long run. It’s healthier to share them, even if you don’t know what the outcome will be,” she finishes, giving Hamid an encouraging grin. She has a point, really, and the hope is still burning away in Hamid’s chest from the sheer idea that Zolf might be interested in return.

“Maybe… maybe I will,” Hamid says, thinking about Zolf sharing his coat, about the small carved dragon that he keeps close to his bed, about the look on Zolf’s face when Hamid’s magic danced around them… his chest is warm, and he can’t keep the smile from spreading across his face as he looks up at Azu. She’s looking at him with a smile on her face as well, and she looks proud when he catches her eye. 

He doesn’t know how he’s going to do it, but - but he’s going to tell Zolf how he feels. Soon.