Actions

Work Header

Home Free

Chapter Text

Sunday, February 14th, 2021
Balloch, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland

“Twilight. Really, Rayla? Twilight?”

“Yes!” Rayla crossed her arms, glaring, looking cuter than anyone should be allowed to, all pouty and grumpy-face, lit up by the blue light of the least romantic male lead in the history of ever. “You wanted a movie that wasn’t romantic! That’s it! It’s the least romantic movie I know!”

Well. That was true.

“And there’s a drinking game that goes with it!” Rayla continued, presenting a bottle of… something… with a flourish. “Every time Edward does something objectively creepy, you drink!”

Well, he had said he wanted to get drunk and forget that he was a chronically single art school drop out with no prospects, romantic or otherwise.

He hadn’t said that watching a movie, even if it was Twilight, with Rayla in their cottage was… pretty much his ideal way of spending any evening, including Valentine’s Day.

“Not whisky?” he asked. Rayla usually took every opportunity to give him shit about his baby-palate when it came to the Scottish way of hard liquor. He had been here for years and somehow his tastebuds had yet to acquire the taste for liquid campfire. He looked dubiously at the lime green and fuchsia bottle. “Pomegranate… licorice… liqueur.” Yeaaah, that sounded like another one of those acquired tastes he was unlikely to acquire.

“Yeah, some Scandinavian exchange students left it. And you don’t do shots of whisky, you heathen. You sip it, so you can pass out in the gutter secure in your own civility and grace.”

 


 

“No last-minute plans upgrade?” he asked. Unlike him, Rayla’s jobs brought her into frequent contact with people under 75. And she was amazingly beautiful and funny… surely someone had asked her.

“Yeeah, because my dream Valentine’s Day is spent having to entertain a drunk, hopefully-18-year-old in a stolen balmoral bonnet and ‘Thug Life’ t-shirt while my uterus tearing itself apart. Because that, Callum, is the current state of my body and dating life.”

Rayla turned to the snack selection, surveying the impressive array she had brought home, seeming to settle on nachos.

“No… last-minute plans upgrade for you either?” Rayla asked, dumping an entire bag of cheese on the nachos with as much grace as anyone had ever performed such an action.

Callum snorted. “The last person who flirted with me was 84 years old, and I’m pretty sure it was at least half motivated by the prospect of extra gravy. You signed up for a sure thing, when you offered to spend Valentine’s Day getting drunk and watching… Twillight, apparently… with me.”

“Sure thing, eh?” She waggled her eyebrows exaggeratedly.

“I mean, unless Agnes stops by and wants gravy-”

 


 

It was not going well. Or… it was. Depended on your success criteria.

It was 11pm, and so far they had failed at both the ‘getting drunk’ part and the ‘watching Twilight’ part of their ‘4Eva-Alone-No Romance-Allowed-Valentine’s-Shindig’, which was how Rayla had written it on their chalkboard schedule right under a memo to buy toilet paper.

Twilight was… what? 10 minutes in? They got to the first time Edward made a smoldering gaze type thing, and Rayla had insisted that that alone counted as creepy, so they had done their first, and emphatically last shot of the pomegranate-licorice monstrosity that Rayla had had such faith in she had procured no other alcohol.

So the getting-drunk had stalled, and they had never gotten around to restarting the movie either, because watching Twilight sober might just actually be… too sad a way to spend Valentine’s Day, so now it was just perma-paused on a close-up of vampire smoldering.

Pfft.

Talking to Rayla beat pretty much any movie, anyway.

Even if it was a pretty depressing conversation, because they had somehow ended up on the topic of the future and things, and she was only a few months away from being done with her thesis and getting a responsible-adult job and he was… not.

“I thought you liked your job?” Rayla asked, a bit baffled. The unspoken bit was clear to him… he had come here in the first place to attend Glasgow School of Arts, but why had he not gone back to Canada after he dropped out, if he didn’t even like his job here? Back to his family and his old friends and… his old life, where he hadn’t been all that happy, or ever really felt like he belonged.

Callum shrugged. His job was… he couldn’t really complain, he got off at 1.30pm every day, and it was not strenuous or stressful, and considering his complete lack of marketable skills, it even paid decently. “No one grows up wanting to deliver food to the elderly, Rayla. That’s literally no-one’s fantasy.”

“What did you want to be when you were little?” Rayla asked, leaning her chin on her hands. Her big, grey eyes were luminous in the creeper-face light.

“A wizard,” he snickered. “So not really helpful, that.”

“I wanted to be an assassin.” What, really? Rayla was so sweet. Of course she could probably kill a man with her pinky, but she wouldn’t. “What do you want now, Callum?” She wasn’t judging. Pretty much the first time someone had asked him that question without some kind of… expectation.

“I don’t think I want to be an artist. I want to… make art, sure. I want to draw and fill my garden with sculptures and shape my kids’ rice balls into funny shapes and-” He breathed deeply. This was such a terrible thing to say to the girl of your dreams, just put it out there how boring and unambitious you were. But… she was the girl of his dreams in the first place because of how unfailingly kind she was, under the snark and the questionable taste in alcohol. “And I didn’t… I wasn’t happy, Rayla. In art school. I thought I would be, I worked really hard to get in and then when I got there… I wasn’t cut out for it at all.”

“What are you talking about? I’ve seen your drawings, they’re amazing-”

“Yeah, my drawings are fine. Good enough for first and second year of art school, at least. It was… everything else. The weird competitive vibe. The having to crack some code to figure out what was meaningful and worthwhile and what was pointless grasping at symbolism-straws. And the life that would come after. Artists don’t often get regular jobs. I would have to worry all the time about getting enough work and have to always try to figure out how to make the kinds of things people want and market it the right way and sell it… and myself…” He sank forward, his head in his hands. “I’m not cut out for that.”

“No,” Rayla said thoughtfully. “That doesn’t really sound like you.”

“Aren’t you supposed to cheer me up and assure me I can do it?” he smirked half-heartedly.

“You have met me?” Yeah, he had. And Rayla didn’t wrap things up all pretty to make him feel better. She made him feel better because he never doubted her compliments or her friendship.

And because he loved her, but that was a whole nother thing.

 


 

It had been quiet for a while, in the now-familiar blue light of vampire-boy-face.

“Callum?” Rayla’s voice was soft now. “Do you need to be cut out for that stuff?”

“To make a living as an artist… yeah. A little bit.”

“No. Do you need it to be happy?”

Well.

No.

He had been as happy as he had ever been the past few years. He hadn’t worried about anything much. He had been as good at his job as it was possible to be and his boss was fond of him and the local pensioners were always happy to see him… very happy, in a few cases. And he came home every day just early afternoon and wasn’t too tired to get some drawing or sculpting in before dinner, and he had just made what he felt like because he wasn’t trying to accomplish anything.

And he’d come home every day to cottage he shared with the girl he was madly in love with, and… well, obviously she didn’t like him like that but she liked him and he got to spend time with her and know her, and spend Valentine’s Day with her not-getting-drunk and not-watching-Twilight.

“I just thought… I would know what I wanted by now,” he said. “You knew what you wanted since you were 7 years old.”

“I’m not all that… sure. And I’m… afraid. Of the future.” It was so quiet he could barely hear her. So quiet she could easily deny having said it at all.

“You might feel better about things in a few days,” Callum said diplomatically, rubbing between her shoulder blades in comfort. She had apologized (needlessly) before, for her period occasionally coming with a side of existential angst.

She put her head down in his lap.

“Yeah, I know… that time of the month. Probably just that good ol’ side dish of existential angst that comes with that.”

She curled around herself.

She could easily claim it was just cramps.

He wound his fingers through her hair until she unwound, her shoulders relaxing under his hands.

He laid back against the couch, but kept his hand in her soft hair.

He knew one thing he wanted, at least. He couldn’t quite say that though. She might not be all the way asleep.

“I know I want love,” he said, into the quiet darkness. “A family. Kids, maybe… probably. But mostly love. People around me I care about, who care about me.”

“Me too,” Rayla muttered.                                                                                                                                        

So quietly she could easily deny it.

But she didn’t.

Chapter Text

Monday, February 15th, 2021
Balloch, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland

It was take two of the twilight drinking game, and they had made it all the way to the sparkly vampire bit that had made Rayla laugh so hard she had spat beer all over their carpet and his pajama bottoms.

Granted, it was one of those beers that looked like normal ones at first glance but was actually 9% alcohol, and Rayla was on her fourth sooo… yeah. He should make sure she was fully awake and had had coffee, by the time he left for work tomorrow.

Her cheeks were flushed and she was just finding everything hilarious right now, and it was really contagious, so now none of them had paid attention to the movie for at least 20 minutes, because every time they tried, the dubious on-screen love birds did or said something… anything… and then one of them started laughing and then the other one was dragged down with them.

Rayla was gasping against his shoulder, getting her bearings.

“It’s… just… s-sparkles-” And she was off again, shaking so hard she slumped against him.

“You’re ruining our very romantic evening!” Callum mock-accused. “I was looking forward to watching Twilight with you all week!” He was. “I tried on four pairs of plaid pajama bottoms for this date!” Maybe he had. Three, at least, because the first pair had a weird stain and the second fit his butt weirdly. “I got my nails done!” He had cut his nails this morning, which might count. “I bought the finest imported beer!” Aldi’s finest German not-actually-Belgian no-brand Belgian Ale. It counted.

“Sorry-” She straightened up, clearing her throat and jumping to her feet. Just slightly unsteadily. “I will do my utmost to be the pinnacle of romance! I have watched-” She toggled the remote to see the progress slider. “52 minutes of intense romance tutorial! Prepare to be sniffed! Hardcore!”

You’re the one on your period! Shouldn’t I be sniffing you?”

“What, you some kinda creep?”

Oh.

He had smelled her hair yesterday… only kind of by accident, when he woke up with his face kind of… in it.

And he had watched her sleep too, after she dozed off in his lap and before he joined her. For like… half an hour. He hadn’t broken into her room to do it, true, but-

“Uh, Callum?” She poked his nose. “You do realize it’s a joke? You’re not really overthinking whether you’re a creep?

“…no-”

“Dummy. You’re super weird, but definitely not creepy. Totally different thing. You’re more likely to attract sparkly-” She cut off to sputtering giggles. “S-sparkly… vampire… stalkers,” she finished, gasping, struggling to even say the words. “-than become one! You have the required nice, brown hair and… denseness. And oh! You also don’t know how pretty you are!” What?! “Pretty sure those are the main… things.” She was probably drunker than he thought, he really shouldn’t read too much into this-

She plonked down on his lap, dramatically tossing her hair back.

Whatever he had wanted to say very abruptly left his brain.

 She ran her fingers along his throat. “I don’t have the strength to stay away from you anymore,” she proclaimed dramatically. “And then I bite you and make you a vampire, and we have sparkly, moody, dimly lit and very destructive sex. Right?”

“Uh. No.” That happened in the fourth book-

And damnit, why did he know that?

Right.

Claudia. 7th grade. Massive crush. That was how he knew that.

And now that knowledge would just stay with him forever and ever, because that was how his brain worked.

“What movie am I thinking of, then?” Rayla wondered, putting her head on his shoulder, just… staying in his lap like it was natural.

It really… always had been very easy to talk to her. Habit, even as his cheeks heated when her breath ghosted across his neck.

“I don’t know, Rayla,” he said. “I lack your apparently encyclopedic knowledge of vampire porn.”

“Pfft, you have encyclopedic knowledge of everything you’ve ever so much as glanced at. You still know all the bones of the hand, I bet.”

“So do you!”

“I’m almost a physical therapist! You helped me study for an exam one time, two years ago!”

“Two years-”

It really… had been two years. Two and a half, really, since he arrived here.

He had been an art student then, completely stressed out of his mind and miserable, living in Glasgow. He had taken the train just… any train, one weekend just needing to get away from the pressure and the people. He had gotten off when the train stopped and was gonna turn around to go back to where he definitely didn’t want to go, and started walking. It had been so quiet. Nice. He could see the hills and the loch. No one was shouting at anyone. And he had gone into a random pub for lunch, and the ‘spicy pie’ had miraculously actually been spicy, a first, for Scotland. And he had sat there and felt lighter than he had in years, and seen a note on the corkboard, someone named Rayla looking for a housemate.

And he had asked at the bar, and Rayla had happened to be working that day, so she had sat at his table for a chat and called him a heathen for his pie choice, but let him know that Barius appreciated it. No-one ordered his spicy pies, because they apparently had a ‘reputation’.

She snickered. “You know… people don’t usually… move to the Scottish countryside and get steady, sensible jobs as old-people-food delivery drivers, when they drop out of uni. They… I dunno. Go to Ibiza and get hammered? Go back-packing in Malaysia trying to find themselves? Call their parents and move back home when the money runs out?”

Yeah, he thought that was more along the lines of the rebellion his dad had expected from him. He had been… confused… when him and Ezran had visited. At least Ezran had liked it here.

“But here you are,” Rayla continued, thoughtful. “Here you… still are.”

“I know, super weird,” he said fondly, leaning his head on top of hers and feeling… pretty good about being here.”

Chapter Text

Tuesday, February 16th, 2021
Balloch, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland

Hangry.

Definitely hangry.

Rayla had had to go to work mildly hungover and with last-day-of-period tiredness, so he could imagine her day hadn’t been great.

“Why do you even want it?” Callum asked, gesturing at Easter chocolate… thing that was the cause of their disagreement.

The bunny was stale and sad, and the bottom was just slightly melted and all of it had that crystallized grey layer that was all gross to eat. Ezran would still eat it, of course, his stepdad had frequently bemoaned the lengths of both effort and indignity Ez would go to for sweets.

“Why do you want it?” Rayla grumbled.

She had had a long day too, Tuesday was two-job day, with the latter shift being at her least favorite job at the pub that she kept saying she would quit but didn’t because someone was sick or someone else just had a baby and Rayla was entirely too eager to sacrifice for random people she barely even liked.

And he knew her. Bickering with him about stuff that didn’t matter, like what constituted bread, and how spicy was too spicy - which to Rayla was almost any level of spice, and he was never bringing her to Hunan where his mom’s family was from, because she would very likely just die-

But she would enjoy the scenery and the hiking opportunities and… it would be really great to go there with her, actually he would like that very much, and he knew where to avoid the tourists, and where the most beautiful valleys and waterfalls were, and he did speak Chinese so he could ask for the baby-noodles for her-

Anyway, the point, before it got hopelessly lost on some completely hypothetical romantic holiday, was that arguing with him about dumb stuff always cheered her right up. And if she had come home and eaten the stale chocolate out of hangry desperation, she would have just gotten even more grumpy, because it was clearly past edible, even for someone as opposed to flavor as Rayla.

So it was principle really. He wasn’t lying when he said he wanted the chocolate.

I bought it,” he said. He definitely did. His memory was like that, and he remembered those horrifying chocolate eyes staring back at him from the supermarket shelf, the line ‘Easter chocolate bunny, the big one with the soulful eyes!’ on bottom of the shopping list… in Rayla’s handwriting. So… a flimsy argument.

“I asked you to! I wanted to gouge out those staring eyes and eat them, I remember!”

“But I bought it! And I’m pretty sure you didn’t pay me back-”

Uh oh.

Rayla absolutely didn’t do things like mooch off people, him least of all. That had been in the middle of her buried in finals stress-fog and she had been very broke and very busy and he had been neither, since he had already dropped out and was working his current, not-terribly-intense 30-hour work week. And he had neglected to ask her for money for a whole lot of small things she had forgotten because it wasn’t like he was hurting or she had ever been anything but generous. She had let him just… skip rent one month, right after he dropped out and lost his scholarship but before he got a job, and had insisted he not pay her back, and really, it would take a lifetime of chocolate bunnies-

“Fine, you can have it,” she said roughly, stalking out of the kitchen and into the living room.

He stuck his head around the corner and quickly back again.

She was curled up in her bad-mood chair.

Not good.

She was usually on the couch, where she could push her cold feet under his legs and lean against him and nudge him with her elbow and affectionately headbutt him. And as of yesterday, sit in his lap. That was new though. And probably a one-off.

It didn’t matter though, the point was that she was in self-imposed isolation in the chair where you couldn’t sit on the armrests, and it had a broken spring in the backrest so was uncomfortable, especially for someone skinny and still on her period. She always seemed to punish herself when she was already feeling terrible.

He looked at the terrible crystalized bunny. Not at all good enough for her. Even Rayla would know it would be terrible, that bunny was very possibly more of that… self-flagellation she did.

He was in a good enough mood for both of them, anyway, and started rummaging through their cupboards, because he could and would absolutely do better than that bunny.

Ezran had perfected the microwave chocolate cake at a very early age, because their dad had gotten wise around the time Ezran was 4 and had learned to climb onto the kitchen table to reach the high shelf, and not kept chocolate in the house at all after that. But they did have cocoa powder, sugar, butter and an internet connection, so really, it was a lost cause, keeping an enterprising boy like Ezran from indulging.

Callum scoffed at the recipe that came up when searching. Oil? Nah, butter. And you had to have a bit of salt. And they didn’t have any kind of chocolate, that was kind of the point, but they did have two not stale pieces of soft caramel, and that could go in the center and-

 


 

“Is that… cake?” Rayla sounded very suspicious, but at least she was looking at him. “Warm cake? It’s only been five minutes-”

“It’s couch-cake,” Callum said, preening in mock self-importance, as he sat down, pointedly in the couch that was comfortable and roomy. “The chair exile is incompatible with something this delicious.”

“Fine.”

She plopped down on the couch next to him, still a bit grumpy, but it wouldn’t last.

He knew her.

She ate her couch cake, and the hangriness left like it had never been.

Like magic, her little smile was.

It was quiet for a long time, because she was no longer hangry but definitely still tired. Comfortable quiet though.

When she laid down, she pushed her cold feet under his legs.

Same-old, same-old. He smiled, patting her ankle. She made a happy little sleepy noise that was… not same old.

He stroked across the skin where her sock had slipped down with his thumb. She hummed, low and satisfied. Definitely not same-old.

Had it… really been a date yesterday? Not just in his infatuated head?

He stopped touching her because… he should definitely be sure about that. He kept his hand resting against her ankle though.

There was more… quiet. His head was pretty damn active though, this time, even though he was outwardly leaning back against the couch, comfortable as anything.

Then her muzzy voice, soft and full of what his hopeful heart was so very eager to hear as… love.

“Callum, you are a fucking wizard, don’t let anyone tell you different.”

Chapter Text

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021
Kilpatrick Hills, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland

As it happened, February 17th was not ‘basically Spring’, once you got into the hills. The sap in the lowlands was proper snow up here.

Wet snow, but still… quite a lot of it.

It was a terrible idea and… it had been his idea.

Rayla always had a bunch of exercise she wanted to make up for when her period was over, and his boss being so chill, he had borrowed his own delivery van and picked her up after work to drive into the hills for a nice hike. He had meant for it to be romantic, because after last night he was… somewhat less assured that what he had been resigned to as unrequited love was… quite unrequited.

But this… this both hurt and was as far from romantic as it was possible to get.

His sock, and the rest of him for that matter, was… really smelly, because he had come straight from work and had been dressed too warmly for a brisk uphill hike with someone of Rayla’s fitness level.

And Rayla’s face was so much closer to the stank than he was, and it was also his stank and he knew other people’s stank always smelled worse than your own.

Rayla held his smelly sock up between two fingers. “We should leave this here, to attract predators while we make our escape,” Rayla quipped, but without soul. “You are a naïve Canadian, but you should know, Scotland is host to such fearsome beasts as badgers… and seals…”

She was 10 times funnier than any other human he knew, but not… without all of her in it. And this was half of her at best, making jokes.

“You realize we have grizzlies and cougars, Rayla- ow!”

“Sorry. It’s a mild sprain.”

That was not the end of the world, except that getting back down the hill to the road would be a pain of the literal kind, but Rayla looked… closed off. Not angry exactly but-

He reached out to touch her shoulder because he knew her, and this was… upset.

But she turned away, and her almost-physical-therapist hands probing his ankle and foot were all… professional.

 


 

“Rayla! You can’t carry me, please put me down before we have a worse accident-”

“Shut up, asshole, it’s romantic and shit.” Rayla snarled it at him. And it really wasn’t romantic, it hurt and he was too heavy for her in this terrain and she was going to fall and he didn’t want to physically pry loose out of fear of unbalancing her.

She was extremely strong, for someone so slight, but… she did wobble in a not terribly-assuring way, when the path got a bit steeper and less… path-y.

“Rayla-”

“What?! I’m just a bit preoccupied here!”

She stayed upright past the un-path-y bits.

“Let’s just… I can just lean on you the rest of the way?” he suggested, very sensibly, he thought.

“I can do it,” she said tightly, and hoisted him slightly higher up and kept walking.

Rayla could do basically everything she put her mind to, he had never met anyone quite so determined.

But not this. The wet snow was slippery and she was slightly built and he was a grown man and-

“You can-”

“I. Can. Do. It.”

But she couldn’t.

She slipped, as she was bound to.

It was all way too fast to register, except that her grunt when she hit the ground and he hit her rang in his head like a bell, and they were sliding now-

They skidded to a halt.

It took him far too long to get his bearings, before he realized Rayla was underneath him, squished into the snow, too still-

He quickly rolled off her and pulled her around to face him, panic rising like a sharp peak and then abruptly leaving again when she sputtered, spitting out snow.

“…you… you weren’t moving.” He had to force the words out, trying to get a proper breath.

“You were on top of me!”

Yeah… yeah. He was. Fair point.

“You… okay?” he gasped, his breath still not quite reclaimed.

“Fine.”

Shit, did she have any idea how scared he had been in that moment until she had moved-

But she did, because he had screamed pretty loudly when the ice layer had given out under him, and that was what the upset under the ridiculous-idiot-determination was.

There was mud on her nose and chin, clumps of snow in her hair, a mess of strands half in front of her face. He pulled his gloves off to reach out, brushing it away. There were reddened scratches on her left cheek from the icy bits that had mixed with the snow, not deep enough to bleed but her nose definitely was-

“I’m… sorry that I… thought I could carry you, and that I didn’t listen,” she said, but he didn’t care right now, it didn’t matter.

He gently tilted her head forward, rummaging though his jacket pockets for a handkerchief or something. He managed to produce a sanitary pad, because Rayla’s period just ended and his pocket were bigger. Well, it was absorbent and clean, and one of the soft ones, not the weird plasticky ones. And there was cotton-wool-like material inside, and he tore the surface open to get to it. It was pretty good fluff, all things considered.

“I’m sorry I used you as a toboggan, and that I’m about to stuff your own period products up your nose,” Callum said.

Rayla snickered, muffled by her knitted glove she was pressing against her nose.

He tilted Rayla’s head back up a bit to carefully stuff little tufts of the pad-fluff into her nostrils.

Then he stroked across her cold cheeks, gently across the abraded skin.

Something warm hit his hand.

“You realize you’re my best friend, dummy? By a very long shot?”

Oh.

He… hadn’t.

Rayla had grown up here and knew everyone, and had old friends from school that she had known her whole life.

Sure, she hung out with him a whole lot more than with all of them combined, but… they lived together, so-

He was alone over here, and hadn’t done an amazing job staying in touch with his old friends from back… home?

No. It wasn’t... really home anymore.

These wet, sludgy and majestic-predator-free hills… and his room back in the cottage with the little garden... the boring little town not small enough to be picturesque and not big enough to be any kind of cultural… and the complete idiot in his arms.

That was home.

“You’re a complete idiot,” Callum said, pulling her into a rough and smelly and very unromantic hug.

“I know,” she sniffled, muffled by the fluff and his jacket.

“I still love you.”

“I… I know that too.”

He really hadn’t specified how, and of course you loved your best-friend-in-the-whole-world by-a-longshot and-

And her face tilted up to look at him, her lips parting…

“AWRIGHT, WEANS!”                                                                          

Callum jumped, the moment very abruptly done for.

He would absolutely not let sweat or mud or blood or period-product-fluff or his throbbing foot or anything like that get in the way of possibly kissing Rayla for the first time, but… an audience?!

That was a dealbreaker.

“You okay there?” Oh it was Ruth from the harbor ice cream kiosk. And her husband.

Villads and Ruth were on a romantic walk too, a rather more successful one than theirs. Villads was blind and had made it down the hill with far more grace than them.

“Yeah,” Rayla said, looking up at them. “Just… a wee mishap.”

“Sometimes the water of life takes you somewhere you didnae expect,” Villads mused.

Oh, wasn’t that ever the truth.

“And sometimes it takes you where you were meant to be, aye?”

…Aye.

It did.

Chapter Text

Thursday, February 18th, 2021
Balloch, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland

“You killed a cactus.”

“Cacti have thorns!” Callum protested. “That wasn’t a cactus-”

“Cacti?! You’re lucky I’m such an understanding person. That’s toilet-dunking talk here in Scotland. Besides, it’s a succulent. Same thing, basically. And it’s dead now. You killed it. Tragically arrested development when it was just a bud, never reaching the full flower of adulthood.”

“I get distracted! You know that!” He always had projects and things, how did people remember things like watering plants, when they didn’t have the courtesy to remind you to until it was too late.

“Think of the children, Callum!” Rayla posed dramatically, hand to her chest and staring into the middle distance.

“What children?” he snorted.

Our children, of course! Who you will forget to water, and they will be dried up little husks in their cribs because of you!”

He sputtered, even though that was a pretty horrible mental image. Rayla’s sense of humor did tend to skirt the funny-horrible edge. “You don’t water children!”

You don’t. Obviously. And then woe be my fine genetic material, gone to waste for no fault of my own.”

She dropped backwards from where she had been sitting cross-legged on the floor inspecting his very-dead succulent, flopping down in a sunny spot, her hand dramatically thrown to her forehead.

The sunlight glinted off her almost white hair, spread around her head in artful disarray, and off the toned planes of her stomach.

Her sports bra was really not revealing at all. He had seen her in the little shorts plenty of times.

She had always been very pretty and very fit, and done her yoga-that-wasn’t-yoga exercises in the living room, and it wasn’t like he hadn’t noticed-

That she really was… very fine genetic mat-

No.

What the actual fuck was that? So creepy. Something you would see in the dankest corners of reddit.

What was wrong with him? He was just blatantly objectifying his best friend, just because she was pretty and he could see her stomach, like he hadn’t seen that lots of times before. A stomach really wasn’t a big deal. Not sexual at all-

Yeah, so specifically asserting to yourself that something ‘wasn’t sexual at all’ might just fall under the umbrella of ‘doth protest too much’.

He really had to do something. He was supposed to be working on a gift for Ezran’s 19th birthday, and how was he supposed to concentrate with Rayla sprawled on his floor like-

No.

Not like that.

Like she was tired, and the floor heating in his room actually worked and there was a convenient spot of sunlight to enjoy which was rare in winter, this far north… and she just happened to be half-naked because that was her regular not-yoga outfit-

And he really wanted to talk about yesterday, and what had almost happened, but she had been… wearing that, when he came home, and that really… didn’t make it easy to have a conversation with her, because where was he even supposed to look? He had liked her for a very long time, and gotten used to being around her, but it was like everything was just more noticeable now, after that almost-kiss, that electric feeling transcending the bloody sanitary-pad fluff sticking out of her nose and the sludgy snow in his underwear. And it was like that tension had never left at all, just built.

And why had she been talking about their children? That just made him think about how those hypothetical… very hypothetical, because it was really not a given that Rayla wanted to do the things with him you needed to do to make children, never mind the… having his babies bit and-

It was so confusing.

He groaned so loudly Rayla actually snapped her head up to look at him, her big grey eyes wide.

And now the image was really just… Rayla with some ridiculously beautiful little grey-eyed kid, reaching for him and calling him dada and that was very possibly much creepier than sexually objectifying her. He was 23. Not having children anytime soon. What was this even?

Creepy. It was creepy. And Rayla had started the thing about the children, and really, she should have known, she knew his head tended to take him for a ride.

“Your foot hurt?” Rayla asked, sitting up in concern.

“Not… much.” Pretty hard to assert that, with her fingers probing the joint, then up his tense calf muscles from walking weird all day because of his ankle. She was an almost-physical-therapist with deceptively strong dainty little hands, her touch was damn near magic. A pleased sigh escaped his throat. He had been so tense.

Rayla laid back down in the sunny spot, after she let go of his foot, scooching slightly to the side, and patting the space next to her, making room for both of them in the sunshine.

She smiled sweetly up at him, squinting against the sun, and it might have been the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

And… almost… all the things he wanted aligned, when he laid down next to her, his body becoming pleasantly heavy and relaxed.

Rayla’s fingers, threading between his… that really wasn’t sexual at all.

Whatever else she was to him, she was his best-friend-by-a-longshot who knew him, and knew when he needed taking out of his own head.

“Rayla?” he asked cautiously, after at least fifteen minutes of sunny floor time, although he wasn’t quite sure how long it had been, it was kinda… floaty.

Maybe he shouldn’t have interrupted it at all, but… lying here reminded him of his working floor heating, copious floor space and big glass door to the garden letting in the sunlight, none of which Rayla had in her room, even though he was the renter.

Because this had been her parents’ room and she hadn’t wanted to live in it, but stayed in the one that had been hers when she was little. She had barely even gone into his room, for the first year he had stayed here and been tense and all… controlled… when she did.

But here she was, on his floor, very relaxed.

Or… her floor, was the point. Because she should have the nice room, if she had changed her mind and wanted it. He had had it for years, and it was her cottage, only fair.

“What?” she asked.

“You… like it better in here now?”

“Oh,” she said thoughtfully. “Yeah, I guess I do. I don’t know. It feels different. It feels like… your room now.”

“You want it to be… your room?” he asked. “We can switch, if you-”

But she shook her head, grinning. “Nah. I like it like this.” She reached over to pluck a brown and very dead succulent flower thing from his hair. “Lounging around amidst of the shriveled corpses of your victims-”

“Rayla, I’m serious,” he sighed. She often… ran away from feelings, but sometimes it was better to stay in them.

“So was I,” she said firmly, but then her face and voice and whole being became soft. She turned to lie on her side, facing him, her forehead resting against his upper arm. “I really… do like it like this.”

Chapter Text

Friday, February 19th, 2021
Balloch, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland

“Wine?” Rayla presented the array of opened bottles from the pub, she had taken home. A much wider selection than her usual haul, he noted. “We had some high roller tourists the past few days. Ordered glasses of the good stuff. And there’s the regular leftovers too, on top of the fancy leftovers.”

“So, I’m making Coq au Vin tomorrow?” Callum grinned.

“I mean… if you want-

“You already bought a chicken, didn’t you?”

“You can make other things with a whole chicken!”

“Like…?”

“Whole chicken!”

“And you know how to make one?”

“Yes!” Rayla twirled on her stockinged feet, ending the pirouette with a flamboyant pose indicating the direction of the oven. “It goes in the oven!”

“I refuse to believe you ever cooked a whole chicken,” Callum snorted. “You lived a dangerously healthy existence, before I came into your life to enrich it with gravy and chicken skin.”

Callum glanced into the fridge. Oh nice, she had remembered the mushrooms this time. And…

“Rayla, you already parted the chicken. You can’t make whole chicken from a parted chicken.”

“But it’s so much fun with the cutting and the muscles and the little bones and joints-” The physical-therapisting and Rayla’s natural proclivity for knives at work.

“I’m not sewing a chicken back together so you can make whole chicken-”

“You’ll just have to make Coq au Vin then?” Rayla tilted her head, smirking, really such a not-innocent-at-all smile, and-

And it was not just him. She really was flirting with him. For gravy. Apparently his lot in life.

He was… okay with it really, in this instance.

And she was… she wasn’t sure, he could tell from how she was still keeping so light it so it could theoretically be a joke.

Very theoretically.

He possessed, according to Rayla, black-hole-levels of density, and even he knew this wasn’t about gravy. She definitely knew.

She had to know.

 


 

Rayla swirled her glass of mystery-fancy-wine, thoughtfully. She claimed you were supposed to do that, with fancy wine, and had insisted they use actual wine glasses, even though the food that went with the wine was instant noodles.

They were fancy instant noodles though, according to Rayla. They really weren’t, they were just better than Aldi cup noodles, which were the extent of her ramen experience before he… enriched her life with the selection on offer in literally any East Asian grocery store.

“See! Wizard!” Rayla claimed proudly, holding up the little cardboard noodle bucket.

“I literally just boiled an egg to go on top, Rayla. You’re too easily impressed.”

“I’m exactly the right level of impressed with you. You’re not impressed enough. You never were. But I intend to work on that. And your core strength. Maybe that second, those muscle groups are important. Then confidence third. Wine first though. Priorities, you see.”

Yeah, wine first. He might feel less nervous about… what he planned to talk about, after wine. Logical order of events, really.

 


 

“Wow… there’s… a lot of wine,” Callum laughed. He thought he had already had a lot, and they already put aside the Coq au Vin wine for tomorrow, and they had still barely made a dent.

“You didn’t have to try all of them,” Rayla giggled, her cheeks red.

He had to just… say it straight in a way that couldn’t be taken as anything else, that he had wanted to kiss her back at the foot of that hill and had for a long time. That was a pretty nerve-wracking thing to say, even if he was almost sure she liked him too. He had thought, a few glasses of the fancy wine, and he would feel a bit looser, and it would be easier.

‘A few’ had somehow become… well, technically it was a few, you could just fit a whole lot of wine in their wine glasses, if you filled them all the way to the top.

 


 

Callum got up to twirl to the music, less gracefully than Rayla had, but pfft… Rayla was dancing and he wanted to dance too.

Oh, why did he do that, you shouldn’t do that with a sprained ankle.

Ow.

But like… a very delayed and muffled ow.

“Ow,” he said.

Then Rayla was under his arm, taking the weight off. All sturdy and… pretty. So pretty. He kissed her pretty hair where his head leaned against the side of hers, while they walked to the couch.

She eased him down to sit, which was… good. Sitting was good. Standing was all spinny.

He leaned his head down on her shoulder, and she leaned against the top of his. Like the best pressure in the world.

“I love you,” he said, quietly, because her pretty ear was very close. “I really do.”

“I love you too, Callum.”

But she was still so relaxed that… he didn’t think she really got what he meant.

“Like… that, in case you… thought… I didn’t mean it like that,” he added. “I mean, not just like that but also like that.”

Rayla’s froze, sitting up and staring at him, wide-eyed, so now she was definitely getting what he meant.

But… he should still explain what that meant. It meant different things to different people, after all.

“Like… I really think we need Big Feelings Time. I do. I think you do too. I hope. Or this will be weird. But I don’t really think I am weird. Or… I know I’m weird. That’s a weird thing to argue, of course I’m super weird, we agreed. But I don’t think this is weird. I think I’m just in love with you. A lot. And that’s not weird at all, because… you’re very lovable. You know that, right? Or… you don’t. I know you so… I know you don’t know that. But I love you anyway. And it’s not the wine because… it’s been… a while. A year or maybe… how long ago was it… when you puked pisam… bong? The green banana stuff? You puked green banana stuff on me and the bathroom floor. And you said… ‘sorry Callum, ugghhrh’ …a barfy noise, is my point, but at least that one went in the toilet. And then you kinda smirked, and said in like… a Rayla kind of funny way, because we had watched ‘A Night to Remember’ the night before and you’re… really funny, even when you’re barfing… you said ‘Callum, you have to promise not to fall in love with me!’ all dramatic-like… like it was… so farfetched. You said that, and then it hit me that… I already had.”

“You… that’s… that’s almost a year and a half. You don’t… Callum-”

“You asked me… what I wanted, last Sunday? I’ll tell you. You should know because… ‘is important. And… ‘bout you. I want you. All of you and all the time. As much time as you’ll have me. I want you to move into the big room with me, I want it to be ours, and wake up with you every morning and… I want your babies, I think? My dumb head says so, it got all… spirally yesterday, and ended up at our babies, but…not like… that, and not right now and only if you wanna… but-”

He stopped, because she looked… upset. “You did promise me,” she said, almost an… accusation. “You did. I remember, because- I remember.” He was upsetting her. That wasn’t good. That was the opposite of what he wanted.

But he also needed to be honest with his feelings. The full truth. He was pretty much in too deep now anyway, there was no backtracking that-

“I know,” he said. “I lied. Made a promise I’d already broken.” He had pushed his feelings down and forced out a very fake-casual normal-response to her, because he had needed some time to digest things and… that really hadn’t been the time for a confession, anyway. Very probably, this wasn’t either.

No… Rayla’s face was… it was not the right time at all. “I… I can’t do this! WHAT IS THIS?! We haven’t even kissed! YOU CAN’T JUST SAY ALL THAT! Who just says what they’re feeling?!”

“I do,” he said, defiantly. “It’s romantic. So, deal with it.”

“I-it’s n-not-” she sobbed. And oh, he felt suddenly… way more sober. You couldn’t just be a sloppy drunk when Rayla was crying, that wasn’t right- “We’re… housemates, Callum! Don’t you- …I can’t-” She cut off to a very wet hiccup. “I can’t b-be that person… that you want… that whole… beautiful thing. I mess things up, don’t you get that-”

He reached for her, but she backed away, faster than he could follow, down the hallway to her childhood bedroom.

She stopped in the doorway though.

“I’m sorry, I… I- I have to… sleep. Think. Sober up. I can’t… I can’t have this conversation now, it’s 2am and I’m too drunk and you-” Yeeeah, if she was too drunk for this he was… too-too-too drunk for this.

“Okay,” he said.

She was letting him down easy. Clearly. She was kind and loved him, if not like that, and she would want to be sober for that, he really shouldn’t have… sprung that on her, or been so presump-

If he was too drunk for words like… the one he had just given up on halfway through, he was definitely too drunk for something this important.

He leaned against the wall, watching the door to her room close.

The lock clicked.

He couldn’t remember her ever… locking her door, except when she was changing, which had been for his sake, because he had gotten an eyeful a few weeks after moving in because she hadn’t even closed the door when she changed her shirt, and she hadn’t cared that much, he was the one who had freaked out. She had trusted him, and very quickly.

But now the door was locked, and he really didn’t think she usually took this long to change, and if she was crying in there because he upset her, or had locked the door because she wasn’t comfortable with him anymore-

Ow, this throat hurt now, like a poky ball was inside it. And… he was going back to the couch and the wine for a good long cry, if-

The lock unclicked.

The poky ball left, like incredibly relief.

But it was… it was not enough. She might have just been done changing for bed.

It was something though. A very big something.

She still trusted him.

He really needed… either less wine, or more, in him. Right now. This level sucked.

Callum went back to the couch, and filled his wine glass all the way to the top.

Chapter Text

Saturday, February 20th, 2021
Balloch, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland

“Uuhr… Rayla?” Callum mumbled sleepily, making his way to the waking world with a lot resistance and no grace at all.

She was sitting cross-legged in his computer chair, her chin resting in her hands. Watching him. Smiling, as she noticed him waking up.

“What are you doing in here?” he asked, smiling a bit too, despite his pounding head and the memories of… so many terrible choices returning to him. Because Rayla was here and smiling at him, and that alone was… so much better than the world he had feared he would wake up to.

“Watching you sleep, dummy.”

“Ehhr… why?”

“Because it’s romantic, come on, work with me here!”

“Are you still drunk?” He was pretty sure he had been a lot drunker than her, and he had very conclusively made it to ‘hungover’.

“Nope. I’m in love.”

“With…?”

She rolled her eyes, like this that was an outlandish question to ask your explicitly platonic housemate who seemed to have cracked enough to camp out in your room. “The idea of romance.” She spread her arms dramatically. “The fleeting beauty of the perfect moment. Adventure and things. The sound of catching a crisp apple. The triumphant feeling when you separate a chicken thigh right through the joint.” She looked down, suddenly bashful, a hesitant little smile on her face. “And… you. Mostly… the last one, really.” The bravado had entirely left her now. She was... blushing? “And for a long time, too. I remembered that day, with the pisang ambon, because when you promised that you wouldn’t fall in love with me… it… hurt.”

“You-” This was… a lot to take in, first thing in the morning with his head pounding from… yesterday-wine. A lot of yesterday-wine.

“Yep. Make of that as you will. I’m a bit of a mess, but you know that. And I was tipsy and I freaked out that you had some romantic idea of what I was like and you would get disillusioned about a week into a relationship with me and move out and… yeah. Brain spiral. Wine. Panic. Sense of my own worth as a person hitting the absolute crapper.”

“It probably wasn’t helpful how I… phrased it,” he said gently.

“No… you could have… saved the bit about our babies until after the second date like a normal person.”

But she was still smiling.

Callum got up, as if lifted by air, only remembering his pantslessness because Rayla’s gaze flickered down. It really didn’t matter at all. Any of it. At least, much less than other things, like that she liked him and was sure about it and thought his happiness was more important than him fulfilling some vague notion of potential he had always been told he had and liked him even after he had confessed his love to her in the absolute worst way he… actually couldn’t have imagined until after the verbal diarrhea had already explosively left the bane of his existence that was his mouth.

She was in love with him, and she was here, and not backing away as he drew closer.

“Rayla.”

He cupped her flushed cheeks, like seeing her for the first time.

In a way, he was. It was all real. He could actually kiss her… and should probably, because… he was heading for overthinking or verbal diarrhea again.

So he did kiss her, but gently, with as little… pressure as possible, letting them both… get used to this.

It didn’t take very long at all, that… getting used to it-

Oh, wow.

Wow, wow, wow.

They drew apart, but not far, resting his forehead against his. He had been wrong yesterday - this was the best pressure in the world.

“Wow-” She gasped.

He laughed, breathless as well. “That was my line.”

“I’m… dizzy-”

He put his arms all the way around her to steady her, although he didn’t feel all that steady himself. And his ankle hurt a bit, the dancing had been another in a long line of terrible ideas last night.

“Sit down with me?” Callum asked. “And… talk… maybe? Or kiss more? Or… we don’t really need to do either, right now. I… might need some coffee and the greasiest thing the chippy has on offer… before I feel like a person.”

“Maybe… lie down with you?” Rayla suggested. “I haven’t really… done that. All night.”

Oh damnit, Rayla. She really did look and feel exhausted, dark circles under her eyes and sagging against his shoulder. And she was cold too, she hadn’t brought a blanket into his room and her nightclothes left her arms and legs bare.

He scootched in on his bed to make room for her.

He didn’t put his arms around her and pull her close like he wanted, because that would be something new, too, cuddling here and like that and… he should give them both time to… get used to this.

That really didn’t take long at all, either.

Her cold feet pushed under his legs.

Same-old, except the feeling of bare skin and utter elation.

She sighed, low and pleased, when he stroked her tangled hair until she unwound, relaxing against his pillow, her eyelids fluttering shut.

She should sleep. He could watch her sleep for a while, that really wouldn’t bother him at all, she looked ridiculously cute when she slept, anyway. And it was romantic. Apparently.

Her eyes cracked open half-way.

“Callum?” she muttered sleepily. “Did you put ice cream in the noodle bucket last night?”

Oh no. He had. In his very drunk head, it had been something about him needing a bucket of ice cream, like in the movies, and they had only had a square-ish plastic box, so he had put the ice cream in the only round thing of cardboard available in the kitchen.

Out of some masochistic self-flagellation, punishment for his own idiocy, he had not even rinsed it out first.

He had watched ‘A Walk to Remember’ at 3am, while eating chocolate-chip ice cream with Tom Yum sauce.

Absolutely disastrous in every way, last night had been, except for the beginning, that had been fun… and the ending. Because it had led to right now, that complete clusterfuck of a confession.

And it wasn’t the ending, it was the beginning, and that thought made the fizzy happiness inside him push the yesterday-wine-nausea firmly in the background.

Rayla didn’t need to know all the details of his very tragic movie night. If yesterday taught him anything, it was that some things really should not be said out loud.

He couldn’t deny the Tom Yum and chocolate-chip combo though, she already knew.

“Uh, yeah. It was… a mistake,” he said.

“Did you watch ‘A Walk to Remember’ last night? After I went to bed? I could hear it in my room, I think?”

Oh no. “Yes. Another mistake. It’s not very good the second time either.”

“Dummy.”

Drunk Callum really was a complete idiot.

“I’m sorry. Drunk Callum is a complete idiot.”

“I still love you. And I want to give it a go. Us. What you wanted… it’s really not so different from what I want. But…”

“Chill with the talk of babies and moving in together?” Callum groaned, just saying it. What had he been thinking?

She pressed closer though, instead of backing away like she had yesterday.

“A definite yes to that. But also… relax. I love you. Like that. I know of your tragic and chronic foot-in-mouth disease, and I still love you. I’m not going anywhere if you’re not. We already live together. We’re already kinda… in a relationship. I don’t know why I thought you would run screaming after a week of relationship with me when… you lasted two years already. It’s like… we just need to add sex? And I don’t think that will be a dealbreaker for you, I’m actually pretty good at that.” Rayla smirked. “Bendy. Energetic. Resourceful-

He kissed that god damn beautiful, very-definitely-flirty and very-definitely-sexual smile, until it melted away to sweet little whimpers.

Rayla pushed him decisively down against the bed, poking his chest. “Hey! Stop derailing the romantic moment with dumb stuff like taking by breath away and making my heart flutter! I’m not done with the romancing, Callum! I’m following the tutorial, because clearly I have no clue. And I still have to at least sniff you and carry you up a mountain!”

“You carried me down a mountain?”

“But the sniffing! It’s vital!”

Oh, he really loved her so much.

He looked up at her, grinning so widely he could barely breathe. “Day’s just getting started?”

“It’s past noon.”

“Oh shit! We have to get you sniffing then!”

She laughed, flopping down half on top of him, putting her head against his shoulder.

And then the absolutely massive dork took a long and deliberate sniff off the crook of his neck.

“You smell like… Tom Yum,” she said thoughtfully. “And my shampoo, because you ran out of yours. And sweat.”

“Musk?” Callum asked, grinning. That sounded better than ‘sweat’, somehow. More romantic.

“No.” Rayla didn’t wrap things up all pretty, she just liked him anyway. “Sweat. And wine. Not in the romantic sense like ‘her cherry-red lips tasted like sweet wine and impending sin’ kinda way but… the passing out without brushing your teeth way.”

“Sorry.”

“Ah, it’s okay. No regrets on the sniffing. You smell pretty good, actually. A little bit like…”

“Musk?” he laughed, because why give up after one attempt, that hadn’t really worked for him, in his life.

“Still no.” She snuggled back into his neck, her hand sliding along the strip of bare skin between his boxers and the hem of his t-shirt.

“Impending sin?” he asked, and for him that was a very daring line, but his flush had nothing at all to do with embarrassment, he felt… free.

“That. And… home.”