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The first time Rook confesses to him they’ve barely sat through their entrance ceremony at Night Raven College, both sixteen years old and something undeniably wicked running through their veins alongside burgundy blood and violet magic. He made it a point to confess his love subsequently every day after that.  

Vil, however, has grown up watching his parents fall in love with dozens of people on technicolor screens so it’s fair to say, he has been fairly desensitized to the concept of love. True love was something scripted, a play-pretend for people who liked to sit on their hands, never taking the risks they needed but pretend they would. To him, love at first sight was nothing but a sugar-coated lie. So no, Vil Schönheit wasn’t a romantic. He wasn’t hopeless and he didn’t spend his time thinking up ideal dates and sweet love confessions.

Love, in his opinion, is overrated.

That is what he thinks at least, until he’s met with hurricane of a person Rook Hunt and suddenly Vil no longer knows how to breathe.

He leans his face against the tinted window of the horse drawn carriage, feeling the coldness of the night slowly creep through the thick glass. His luggage, the few things he cared to take with him – a spare set of clothes, a toothbrush and an overly big bag filled with various lotions and cremes, his own formulas, some of which duly await approval for public release – all safely stowed away at his feet.

The ground underneath him changes from smooth asphalt to paved stone, a small sign he’ll arrive at his destination soon. It’s still dark outside, the sun not rising for another three hours or so.

Nights in the Afterglow Savanna were rarely ever quiet, Rook had told years ago when they were reviewing Pomefiore’s weekly meal plan in their senior years and Vil had questioned his incessant humming. With one ear pressed against smooth glass, Vil can hear the faint crashing of waves, the ringing of cicadas singing their nightly lullabies, and accepts that he’s been the one sitting on his hands the entire time.

 

 

He barely waits for Rook to completely open the door before flinging himself at the other, arms circling around Rook’s neck and holding on tight.

“Vil” Rook says, sounding like he didn’t quite believe Vil was actually standing in front of him. Golden strands of hair stick out from the small ponytail he wears occasionally. Mostly while at work or during a hunt. Considering the yellow gloves tucked into the pockets of his pants and the faintest smell of copper, Vil guesses the latter.

It takes less than a second for Rook to wrap his own arms around Vil’s waist, squeezing him to his chest with a low chuckle as he ghosts his lips over Vil’s temple.

“Tu m’as manqué.”

It’s four in the morning and Vil is entirely too tired to verbally form a response, turning his face to press his nose into the crook of Rook’s neck and inhaling deeply in lieu of a proper reply. Lucky for him, Rook doesn’t need for Vil to spell things out for him to understand. Sliding his hands underneath Vil’s thighs, Rook picks him up in one swift motion. He’s always been surprisingly strong, the flowy uniforms of Pomefiore skillfully hiding broad shoulders and a muscled back. With one foot he nudges Vil’s suitcase over the threshold, careful not to disturb any of the items inside, even more careful of keeping Vil secure and steady in his arms. It’s an endeavor not easily achieved but Rook manages, always one to subvert expectations, and with considerably less shuffling than anticipated, he gets both the suitcase and Vil inside, toeing the door closed as quietly as he can after them.

“How was your day, Roi du Poison?” He asks, voice his signature carefree half sing-song. It’s familiar, it’s nice. It’s safe, enough to close his eyes and let drowsiness take over.

“Rook.” Vil says, inhaling deeply, a weeks’ worth of tension seeping out of his shoulders, “Sleep.”

Again, Rook chuckles and Vil is reminded how much he missed this. They kept in touch of course, Rook far too greedy to let Vil slip through his fingers so easily and Vil more than happy to rely on the other for emotional support and as plus one at the occasional red carpet event. But morning texts and voice messages throughout the day simply couldn’t compare to the real deal.

“Bien sûr, beautiful Vil.” Rook says, adjusting his grip before heading up the stairs.

Twelve steps up the stairs, four steps to stand in front of Rook’s bedroom door and two more steps towards the bed later, Vil’s head meets soft cotton. He really tries to stay awake but Rook makes quick of work of pulling off Vil’s heels and wraps the blanket around him tightly. Vil takes it upon himself to entangle their legs underneath the covers the moment Rook slides into bed next to him with the very last of his energy. By the time fingers tenderly comb through his hair, untangling small knots at the base of his neck, Vil is already out cold.

 

 

He wakes up to warm sunlight filtering into the room through the half-drawn curtains and an empty space beside him. The pillow still smells like Rook when he squishes his face into it, the faintest hint of sweet musk and amber, but the fabric is cool to the touch, most likely having remained untouched for the better part of the last hour. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes until he can make out the small particles flowing through the air, Vil blindly reaches for his phone on the bedside table.

It’s not there.

Right.

This isn’t his home.

He’s in the Afterglow Savanna, the French part of the Afterglow Savanna to be precise. He had to use a translation app to talk to the man riding the horse carriage he arrived in. More importantly, he’s in Rook’s hometown. Where he’s never been before.

It was difficult enough to make time to see each other at all ever since they graduated Night Raven College with Vil’s busy schedule, and somehow it has always been more convenient for Rook to come see him than the other way around. Then again, Vil has always been all too happy to have someone to sip on fruity cocktails and eat overpriced entrées with at those parties where everyone pretended to have fun while simultaneously running their mouths like starving vultures the moment your turned you back to them. Those kinds of parties only existed for royalty in the Afterglow Savanna, much more exclusive circles than the a-list though both Rook and Vil wouldn’t have to go to great lengths to be invited to one.

For a moment, Vil wonders if coming to Rook’s house on such short notice was considered a breach of privacy. Rook never was fond of people prying into his personal business, but if this truly was him overstepping any boundaries then Rook would have told him so already, never one to keep his mouth shut for too long. It was precisely this honesty that Vil loved about Rook. The smell of fresh fruits and baked goods coming from the kitchen downstairs a close second.

Stretching out his arms and legs, Vil slips out of bed, making a quick detour to the bathroom. It’s an ensuite so finding it proves to be pleasantly easy, especially considering his tired brain was still trying to work around the new environment. He has lived in many places before, having had to move because of his father’s job and, later on, his own. Still the jet-set kind of life never seemed to quite work out for him, always having preferred his home in the Land of Pyroxene to any of the big sparkling cities filled with even bigger dreams and the gloom of inevitable failure for most.

Last night he hadn’t bothered taking off his makeup so naturally his reflection resembles more a racoon or panda than the supermodel he actually is, smudged eyeliner and flaky mascara letting everyone know just how tired he was when he got into bed. His suitcase was still downstairs and while he was sure Rook wouldn’t mind if he borrowed some makeup remover and cotton pads, Vil isn’t particularly keen on snooping around the other’s belongings without permission. Water and soap would have to do for now, at least until he reclaimed his belongings. After breakfast of course.

He scrubs his face until he’s recognizable again and makes his way back to the bedroom only to be met with yet another mess he has chosen to ignore for the sake of his own mental wellbeing. The bed is in utter disarray, the blankets lying unceremoniously bunched up in a giant pile at the foot of the bed, the pillows jumbled all over the mattress, one even having somehow ended up on the floor. For someone who likes to present himself as the perfect picturesque model, when asleep Vil has always been the kind of person who couldn’t stay in one position to save his life, always rolling around and latching onto the closest thing to him – mostly his pillow, preferably Rook. He contemplates cleaning up or at least fluffing up the pillows but sometimes selfcare means leaving the bed unmade and the familiar chime of MiraMira sounding from the corner of the room takes Vil’s attention away anyways.

Rook must have plugged his phone in while he was asleep, he notes as he stalks over to where it now lies on top of the dresser next to the door and unlocks the screen. Mira is flashing the typical notifications across the screen, four thousand new likes on the picture he uploaded on magicam yesterday, seven hundred new comments, more than a few emails from possible new sponsors and a reminder for an interview he still has to prepare for in a few days, including a few missed calls from his manager. He shuts his phone off without answering any of them and makes his way down the stairs.

 

 

“As-tu bien dormi, Roi du Poison?” Rook asks as soon as Vil steps into the kitchen. He has his back turned to VIl in favor of pouring him a cup of tea but it’s not like Rook actually needs to be able to see someone approach to notice their presence. The instincts of the hunter surely were exceptional, honed to notice even the smallest change in his environment. They also proved quite the useful asset in keeping unruly teenagers in line during their time in Night Raven College, often noticing ploys and rule breakers before any misdeeds could actually be committed and catching Epel more than once halfway out the window after curfew.

“Naturally” Vil says, sliding into the chair closest to the window, watching a small mouse flitter through the tall grass outside. “How about you?”

He accepts the cup of tea Rook offers him gratefully, wrapping his fingers around the mug instinctively to warm them. Days in the Afterglow Savanna tend to grow impossibly hot around lunch and well into the afternoon. While Vil isn’t as schooled in telling the time by the position of the sun alone, a glance out the window reveals that it’s not quite lunchtime yet. That and the fact that Rook still deems it early enough to be making breakfast. Perhaps brunch by the sheer quantity of food the hunter begins putting on the table.

“With you by my side, how could I not have?”

Rook takes the seat across from Vil and promptly hooks his ankle around Vil’s underneath the table, smiling at him sweetly. “Bon appetit.”

“Bon appetit.” Vil repeats, busying himself with sipping on his tea, some variation of rosehip with hints of lemon and vanilla that he’s not exactly familiar with, as he takes in the food in front of him. As usual, Rook has gone above and beyond, filling the table with more food than two people could ever hope to devour. Most of the things are familiar, fruits and his favorite smoothie bowl, little tartes and pâtisseries, a whole variety of jams and juices. Some choices are little more peculiar like the small fried balls that vaguely smell like coconut and what seems to be flatbread. He recognizes the triangular beignets as what Rook had once called mandazi and puts one on his plate. It would be rude to favor what he knows to the traditional food of the Afterglow Savanna after all.

The first bite reveals a delightfully fluffy texture, a hint of cardamon making the taste exceptional. He finishes the parties within another bite. Only after Rook has confirmed that Vil was happily eating his creations does he reach for his phone lying next to him on the table. They’re both well aware that Vil needs a few minutes to adjust in the morning, preferring to start his usually busy days as quietly and peacefully as possible. Rook had never quite shared that sentiment, always up before the sun itself and far too cheerful for someone who has his alarm set for 4.30AM, sometimes ever earlier. If Rook needed time to properly wake up, Vil has yet to witness it, starting his days earlier than most people as well yet never quite as obnoxiously so as the hunter. Lucky for him Rook loves indulging him more than mindless small talk over breakfast, leaving Vil to his own devices as he shakes off the last remnants of sleep with each bite.

Last night he’d been too tired to focus on anything other than the promise of a soft bed and a warm, familiar body beside him to properly gage his situation. Right now though, with cool fresh air flowing through the open window and a hot cup of tea in his hands, Vil takes the time to properly study his surroundings.

The house itself is small and simple, masterfully toeing the line of practical and opulent with its walls made of a curious mixture of adobe, clay and brick. It’s well furnished, some of the nicer looking pieces like the sofa and coffee table clearly designer with their dark wood and expensive looking upholstery while the kitchen and chairs have a clear worn and vintage feel to them, most likely heirlooms from his parents. Knowing Rook, the tiger rug near the entrance hadn’t been bought per se though the skin had been removed artfully. The result of hard work and exceptional craftsmanship lying at their feet. There are plants near the window and if he squints his eyes he can read the labels on the smaller pots sitting on the sill, just within reach form the counter, basilic, thym, romarin and cherfeuil.

Despite following the Afterglow Savanna’s favored color scheme of warm toned oranges and yellows, there’s an undeniable likeliness to his room back in Pomefiore. The chandelier hanging above their heads, the purple throw pillows with blood red tassels tied onto each corner and the ornate golden trimmed stucco on the walls displaying an affinity for extravagance Vil hasn’t noticed in any of the houses he had passed on his way here.

It was all very Rook. Just like the bows and arrows displayed on the walls or the quiver leaning near the door. It’s good to see that his beige hat was still dutifully hung up next to the entrance. Still, there were obvious signs of wear and tear, the wallpaper above the oven beginning to peel, small cuts and indents along the table’s surface, some of the tiles on the kitchen floor having small cracks and splintered edges. Little flaws underneath a perfect surface.

Overall, it feels lived in and much more like a home than any of the penthouses Vil has inhabited ever since they graduated.

He takes another bite from the mandazi. It’s still warm on his tongue and at this point he should no longer question just how Rook knew when to start cooking so he’d be finished by the time Vil would appear from the bedroom. He can’t help but feel a little surprised and utterly pleased at how well Rook still knows him despite having spent so much time apart. Unhooking their feet, Vil lightly kicks Rook in the shin, a cue for him to put the phone away – he’d only been scrolling through his magicam feed anyways.

“Es-tu enfin reveille?” Rook asks, reaching for a purple fruit Vil has never seen before.

Vil hums, surveying the table once more, half-heartedly calculating the calories of each dish. “Good morning to you too.”

He usually sticks to more heathy foods in the morning, granola or protein balls finding their way more often onto his plate than anything Rook has prepared for him.

Naturally, Rook notices him linger a little too long on the fried balls, his sharp gaze as much of a curse as it was a gift.

“You should try some.”

“Fried foods are bad for your health” Vil explains, falling back into his chiding dorm-leader voice. That earns him a sly smile from Rook, always having loved VIl’s more demanding side perhaps a little too much. He should steer the conversation in another direction before Rook gets any ideas when Vil still hasn’t even properly started his day.

“Isn’t it your job to make sure I don’t grow fat?” He tries instead, a little teasing in his voice.

“Vraiment, but today is a special occasion, non?” Rook says, shoving the plate with the little balls closer to Vil. “I think I can turn a blind eye just this once.”

Vil eyes them suspiciously, then Rook smiling at him from across the table, before picking one up and gingerly taking a bite. It was, as expected, delicious, similar to a doughnut but with far less sugar.

“I must admit, I was quite surprised when you called yesterday” Rook begins and Vil braces himself for a conversation he’s not ready to have just yet. But one of the great things about Rook is that, despite his stalkerish tendencies, he never pries into people’s personal business, so he leaves the topic at that, no follow up questions. Part of Vil loves how Rook trusts him to make the right decision, blindly putting his faith in him without so much as a second thought. The other despises it with all his heart. It had, after all, almost been their downfall once before.

“I missed you” he says instead of properly explaining why he’s here because it’s true and plays a bigger part in his sudden appearance than he’d like to admit.

Rook smiles at him, not the usual elusive one that’s as predatory as it is pleasant, but a true, genuine smile, the kind that makes him look awfully soft and melts Vil’s heart every single time.

“Tu m’as manqué aussi.”

Taking another sip from his mug to hide his own small smile, Vil hooks their ankles together again.

“There’s a guest bedroom upstairs at the end of the hallway” Rook informs him, pouring himself another cup of tea. “I work late sometimes, so if you’d prefer-”

“I wouldn’t” Vil cuts him off before Rook could propose something as outlandish as sleeping in separate beds.

For a moment Rook merely stares at him while Vil internally celebrates having caught the hunter off-guard. The genuine smile returns though, and god, Vil is utterly doomed.

“Good” Rook says, stirring a spoon full of honey into his tea. “I wouldn’t have wanted you to.”

Good indeed, Vil agrees though he merely chuckles and plucks the phone from Rook’s hands. His settings are in French so Vil can only make out bits and pieces of the article Rook has been skimming through and try – and fail – to come up with some coherent story. He settles on looking at the photos instead. There’s one of Cheka, preparations for his birthday celebration seeming to keep the people of the Afterglow Savanna busy despite the actual event still being several weeks away.

“Do you have any plans for today?” Rook asks, head propped up on his hand as he watches Vil struggle with the foreign language.

“Getting settled in, mostly.” Vil replies honestly. Any planning he had done hadn’t exceeded the extents of step one: go to Rook. To be fair, he still couldn’t think of any more important points than that. “Maybe sleep some more.”

“Rough day yesterday?”

Vil swipes to the next article, lands on a rather lengthy one about yesterday’s Golden Apple award ceremony, and shuts the phone off for good, putting it on one of the empty chairs beside him. “Something like that.”

Rook hums noncommittally but doesn’t press any further. “I made space in the wardrobe and dresser for you. Feel free to make yourself at home. Ce qui est à moi est à toi.”

“Thank you.” Vil says, finishing the last mandazi.

“Anything for you, Roi du Poison.”

 

 

He’s visited the Afterglow Savanna once before. It had been for a film shoot two years prior and he’d barely had the time to drag a less than enthusiastic Leona out to give him a proper tour of his hometown. Cheka and Ruggie had played tour guide in the end, Leona sneaking off every five minutes to take impromptu naps in highly inappropriate places for the second prince of the Afterglow Savanna. But back then he’d seen Leona’s hometown, and while he and Rook had both grown up in the bustling center of the Afterglow Savanna, a curious mixture of infinitely vast plains and dry wasteland, it was quite different from the rather subdued rural village Rook lives in now.

The heat isn’t as oppressing here as it had been at Pride Rock, Rook’s house sitting just at the edge of the forest, the trees providing enough shade to cool his heated skin. Rook at least calls it a forest though Vil supposes jungle would be a more appropriate term for the lush leaves and tangled vegetation just outside their doorstep. A death trap, really, thick shrubberies and bushes the perfect camouflage for any predators lurking within. From the windows that aren’t facing the forest he can see the village in the distance. Most people tend to stay farther away from certain death, but Rook has always been a special person in that regard so the closest house bordering on a cottage looks to be about a fifteen minute walk away.

The village itself looks rather welcoming, small in size but with a tightly knit community where people greet each other as they pass by and stop to chat about the berries they are growing in their gardens. It’s got the same friendly atmosphere as his hometown in the Land of Pyroxene, a kind of carefreeness that would mean your downfall in his industry.

Vil is pretty sure he’d seen some sort of market on his way here, small stands still prominent enough to make out amongst the darkness. Today it would be bustling with life, or as much life as a rural town can muster, fresh produce and handsewn clothes displayed by proud shop owners, people bartering loudly and small children playing tag on the barely paved streets. It certainly seems like a nice change to the polite chit chat he has to endure during long winded parties where people sip on overpriced champagne and pretend the nonsense they’re spewing has some sort of deep profound meaning if they’re not too busy bragging about lackluster achievements that hardly impress anyone attending.

Despite what people might think, Vil actually rather enjoys a simpler way of life, the glitter and fame merely the byproduct in his journey of achieving ultimate beauty and not his actual goal. So even within a small village on the countryside in the Afterglow Savanna, Vil can see beauty and potential, a clean slate to build upon. In a way it reminds him of Epel, a diamond in the rough that practically begs to be polished – even though he’d never been quite as successful with the boy as he’d like to be, Epel still slipping into his country talk and trying to come across as brutish. But, like Epel, this village has much to offer and with Rook having lived most of his life here, there was plenty Vil wanted to see – like the little grotto he had discovered when he was five and the tree he got stuck in not even a year later.

So naturally Vil spends the first two days at Rook’s hometown curled up on the surprisingly comfortable sofa in the living room, watching reruns of black and white movies he’s seen a thousand times already as Rook plays with his hair. Like any normal human being he would have preferred to host their rapidly escalating movie night curled around each other in an actual bed, but Rook doesn’t like to keep a TV in the room he sleeps in, favoring the unnamed sounds of the forest and cicadas to the static hum Vil likes to fall asleep to, and Vil wasn’t going to make him carry the TV upstairs. Yet.

The couch has its own perks though, big enough to fit both of them comfortably yet small enough to justify creating a tangled mess of limbs where neither of them knew where one ended and the other began. Rook has somehow managed to wedge a leg in between Vil’s and in retaliation Vil has slipped his perpetually freezing fingers underneath the hem of Rook’s shirt. While he normally likes their height difference it’s also rather nice to be able to tuck his head underneath Rook’s chin without threatening to cause permanent damage to his back if he wants to stay like this for longer than two minutes at a time. Granted, at this point Vil is really lying more on top of Rook than the couch itself but as long as Rook is still breathing normally, he’s pretty sure it’s fine to go completely limp and melt against the other. Rook should be grateful if anything, Vil is practically a weighted blanket in human form at this point and Vil knows how expensive those can be, especially when you insist on sleeping in queen sized beds.  

The movie cuts to another commercial break, the fourth one in the past half hour. It’s rather annoying, especially considering they had to flip through the channels for nearly ten minutes to find any movies that were not French. He’s about to complain, not to Rook in particular, Vil knows there’s not much either of them can do in that regard, but just to vent his frustration. He really wanted to like the movie but it’s one of those experimental films from the Valley of Thorns that really make no sense unless you were Lilia. Even the subtitles seemed to be too confused by whatever the hell was going on to offer any sort of logical explanation as to why the fairy that sounds like the ocean instead of the usual ringing of bells suddenly murdered her long lost sister after their heartfelt reunion mere moments ago.

Before he can open his mouth though, Rook shifts them so they’re laying side by side.

“Are you hungry?” He asks, one of his hands coming up to trace across Vil’s cheek.

Vil lifts his head a little so he can look out the window. The sun has already started to set, tinting the room in a deep shade of orange. When had it become this late? He must have been too focused on trying to find some sort of meaning in the disaster of a movie to notice. His stomach answers in his stead, loudly announcing that yes, Vil was indeed hungry.

Rook chuckles at the pink flush across his Vil’s face. Well, that certainly wasn’t as graceful as he portrays himself to be. No matter, it’s only around Rook that Vil doesn’t need to care about being picture perfect and Rook leans closer to brush their noses together ever so slightly either way.

“I’ll make us some food then” He says, pulling away from Vil to get off the couch. “You can stay if you like.”

“As much of a shame as it would be to miss the ending of such a masterpiece” Vil says, vaguely motioning towards the TV, “I think I’d better help you, lest you decide to go out and hunt one of the bunnies I saw in the backyard this morning for dinner.”

“Mon dieu, I would never!” Rooks says, feigning innocence. “They’re already too old to be eaten. We’ll have to wait for the next litter, malheureusement.”

Vil scrunches his nose at the thought. Just because the people of the Afterglow Savanna embrace the circle of life so wholeheartedly doesn’t mean Vil has to like it. He prefers his food to be already dead and cut into bite sized pieces that no longer resemble the animal it came from, thank you very much.

“Ne fais pas la tête” Rook chides softly, poking the spot between Vil’s scrunched up eyebrows, “no bunnies shall be harmed today. Come now, you can wash the vegetables while I prepare the lamb.”

Humming his approval, Vil follows Rook into the kitchen and inspects the vegetables stacked into neat piles on the table.

“Cabbage, carrots, zucchini, …” He observes, “Am I the bunny now?”

“Well, I suppose I have been hunting after you ever since the day I laid my eyes on you, Roi du Poison” Rook answers, rummaging through one of the drawers and pulling out a sleek knife to put next to the chopping board for Vil and another bigger one, more of a meat cleaver really, for himself.

“Nonsense” Vil hums, rolling up his sleeves so they wouldn’t get wet. “There’s no need to hunt what’s already yours.”

Beside him Rook suddenly halts and Vil mentally marks another little victory for himself. It's always so rare to catch the hunter off guard and Vil was certain he would never tire of Rook’s shocked expression whenever it happened, eyebrows shooting up his forehead and mouth forming a small o-shape. It’s rather adorable.

Rook catches himself quickly though, his surprise turning into a bright smile as he snakes one hand around Vil’s waist to pull him close, their noses bumping into each other again.

“Ah Vil, je t’aime vraiment” he says giving him a chase kiss before stepping away again to busy himself with chopping the meat into large pieces that still cling to the bone.

Vil has long since grown familiar with Rook’s affection, having received more compliments from the other in the short while since he arrived at Rook’s doorsteps than some will their entire lifetime. Still, it never fails to make his heart skip a beat, Rook always sounding so sincere in the way he confesses his love so easily as if he was talking about the weather and not handing Vil his heart on a silver platter.

And yet there’s a small sliver of doubt in the back of his head where it shouldn’t be. Vil had tried to snuff it out again and again but no matter how much he tried it always managed to creep its way into the forefront of his mind in the form of the promise of a first place that was just barely out of reach, and brown eyes and jet black hair. Though, he supposes, there really is no longer any need for that particular doubt anymore.

The moment is gone, Rook humming to himself as he chops an onion to brown with the meat, and Vil is too late to return the sentiment.

There will be another opportunity, Vil reminds himself, shaking his head as if the motion alone would get rid of any uncertainties in his mind. That’s what he’s here for after all. They have all the time in the world now, so there’s no need to rush matters. There’ll be plenty moments like this in the future.

“We’ll need to drive to the city to buy groceries tomorrow.” Rook tells him as he takes the carrots Vil has been washing and begins to peel off the skin. “We’re running out of ginger and a few other things.”

“Isn’t there a market here in town?” Vil asks, drying his hands on a kitchen, tracing his finger across one of the red apples printed onto.

“Oui, but the produce is rather expensive, and the stock is limited. It’s best to stock up on the necessities out of town and only buy what’s in season here.” Rook explains, a smile forming on his lips, “Besides, we could take a detour to the beach if you’d like. It’s rather beautiful this time of the year.”

Stirring the meat inside the pot so it wouldn’t burn, it’s Vil’s turn to wrap his arms around the other, putting his head onto Rook’s shoulder.

“I’d love to.”

 

 

Like any responsible adult, Rook drives with one hand securely holding onto the steering wheel and the other absentmindedly stroking Vil’s thigh. The sun is still as hot and blaring as it had been yesterday but this time Vil has come prepared, oversized cat eye sunglasses and lilac head scarf shielding him as much from the weather as it made him look like the movie star he was as he watches the scenery change from the rural countryside to long expanses of sand and ocean, and Rook’s golden hair dancing in the wind.

Rook had put the deck down as soon as they’d pulled onto the freeway, partially to simply revel in the luxury of expensive cars and partially to give Vil a more believable reason for his get up other than I don’t want to expose my skin to such harsh sunlight. A rather ridiculous sentence indeed, especially considering Rook has watched him apply copious amounts of sunblock before they left the house. The real meaning was a lot closer to I don’t want to be recognized in public and Rook doesn’t need for Vil to spell it out to him to understand.

Though never explicitly stated Vil likes to think Rook is able to understand that I don’t want to be recognized in public does not equal I don’t want to be recognized in public with you. There were miles apart between the two. It was, after all, simply another paragraph in his contract, an unspoken rule in the industry: be friendly to your fans no matter how tired you are, if a brand sends you a product you thank them publicly in the form of a magicam post, don’t openly date people, better yet, don’t get romantically involved at all unless it is a publicity stunt to promote an upcoming movie. The latter had always bothered Vil the most.

He truly preferred to keep his relationships private There simply was no need to open his private life to the public eye. Anything worthy of sharing about himself Vil would gladly do so during interviews or in the comment section of his magicam posts. What he unreasonably came to hate is how accepting Rook had been of that particular rule, always so infuriatingly understanding and supportive of Vil’s career.

Rook’s hand momentarily leaves Vil’s thigh to switch on the turn signal. They leave the freeway for a winding set of serpentines, the asphalt turning rougher with every passing meter until it’s mostly stone and sand and hardly a proper road anymore. The song on the radio fades out and when the next one begins Rook starts humming along. It’s one of Vil’s own songs and he tries to stop his heart from beating faster with the way Rook mouths every word of it.

The car slows down on the not-really road and Vil knows it’s only Rook stalling for time so the song can finish before they reach their destination, the seagulls up above now joining in on his song though not quite as in tune as Rook. After another minute or so, Rook finally pulls over in the middle of nowhere and parks the car on a small clearing surrounded by smooth rocks.

The hand on his thigh is now gone in favor of turning the key and Vil only mourns the loss a little. He uses the opportunity to reangle the rearview mirror so he can check his reflection. The head scarf has kept his hair delightfully safe, only a few strands of the bangs he’s trying to grow out now slightly out of place. By the time Rook has made his way around the car to pull open the passenger door, Vil has pried and prodded enough at his hair for it to have returned to its usual impeccable state.

“Shall we?” Rook asks, extending a helpful hand. Normally Vil dislikes such acts of chivalry, finding them more condescending than helpful but he lets Rook guide him out of the car anyways. If it’s Rook then there are no ulterior motives, no straying hands, no inappropriate words whispered into his ear and no attempts at patronizing him in front of thousands of people. Rook only gently tugs him upwards, steadying Vil as his heels dig into the stone-sand mixture that really shouldn’t be considered safe enough to drive nor walk on. A rather stupid decision really, but Vil mostly acts on muscle memory in the mornings, his body taking control of mundane tasks like dressing himself and preparing breakfast, mind too focused on not dozing off Mira’s static voice going over his schedule for the day. It’s a habit he loathes to ever have developed right now.

“Thank you” Vil says once he’s upright and semi-steady. It would take a little to get used to walking on sand like this so Vil eases himself into it by shifting his weight from one foot to another, cringing at the crunchy sound of his foot digging into the soft material and how his ankles threaten to give out if he takes any missteps. Baby steps it is then, though after taking the first step and near immediately slipping, it might be better to simply stand still. Walking is a learnt skill after all, walking on heels a god given talent, and walking in heels on sand downright a miracle.

Somehow, Vil manages to at least stand still while Rook hauls their stuff out of the trunk. Nothing fancy, even though both of them have a particular affinity for the extravagant. Towels, a purple umbrella with golden brim, one of Vil’s luxury beach bags that doesn’t have enough space to carry more than a bottle of sunscreen, a water flask, another filled with a kiwi and lime smoothie, and a book Vil has wanted to read but never gotten around to. It’s a recommendation curtesy of Azul. A graphically detailed thriller he had sent Vil’s way solely because the person getting brutally slaughtered had reminded him of Neige. A rather lovely sentiment.

The telltale beep of the car informs Vil that Rook must have finished unpacking. He motions to the hunter to give him his fair share of their stuff to carry but Rook merely takes Vil’s outstretched hand and entwines their fingers, pulling him towards the water. Not what he wanted but this wasn’t something Vil was going to fight Rook on. If anything, he appreciates the little bit of support to hold on to, making walking just a tad bit easier – and Rook’s thumb gently tracing over his knuckles.

“When was the last time you were at the beach, Roi du Poisson?” Rook asks as they step onto actual sand and not the handfuls of grains that covered hot stone slabs, the ground beneath their feet turning infinitely softer and infinitely harder to walk on.

The whole point of coming to the Afterglow Savanna was to get away from his everyday lifestyle after all, take a breather from tightly packed schedules and strict regiments, so by all means, he could just pull off his shoes and call it a day but the Beautiful Queen be damned, Vil wasn’t about to make a fool of himself and lose to a patch of stupid wannabe desert by falling face first into the hot sand just so the screeching seagulls circling above them could have a good laugh. He’s walked the red carpet and more catwalks than he could count, hell, he even skips down entire flights of stairs in heels and walks over steel grating like it’s nothing. No, this was not the day Vil Schönheit fully and truly ate shit for the first time of his life, no matter how much the odds were stacked against his favor. He’d walk to whatever spot Rook deemed worthy and then he’d gingerly lower himself onto the towel and delicately pull off one shoe after the other before cucking both his two thousand madol heels deep within the depths of the ocean where not even Jade and Floyd would dare venture.

Rook suddenly stops walking, turning his head to arch a curious eyebrow, not yet worried, just aware. Right, Rook had asked him a question and Vil was too preoccupied with not stalking off to Pride Rock just so he could beat the ever-living shit out of Leona for actively contributing to the production of something as nerve-grating and detestable as sand to answer.

“I suppose it’s been a while” Vil finally says, tone completely void of any of the rage bubbling within himself. “There was a movie I acted in that had a few scenes at the beach but that was about two years ago now.”

“Oui, but you did look rather lovely against the setting sun” Rook muses, definitely too delighted to not have noticed Vil’s childish anger though he continues walking again, holding onto Vil a little more firmly. “Romance movies have always suited you rather well.”

And yet Vil has always hated them. He’s quite capable of distinguishing fiction from reality, and while the emotions he displayed while filming were certainly rooted in real experiences and feelings that didn’t mean he had to like close physical contact and poetic love confessions from people he didn’t care about – or people in general, really. Gentle touches, the tickling of soft hair, noses bumping together in an innocent display of affection – keeping up a believable farce just so sensationalist interviewers could hound him about his love life, it all left him rather exhausted and feeling dirty.

“They prefer me as the villain.” Vil retorts, carefully stepping over a deviously placed stone.

 “Bien sur! Only the most capable actors can pull off such astounding feats as believably portraying someone so devastatingly different from their true selves, non?” Rook says, his voice dripping with lofty charm, so blatantly certain that the mere thought of challenging him sounds utterly delirious. “I can’t think of anyone else who could pull off such masterful trickery as you, beautiful Vil.”

Well, perhaps Vil did like the poetry and the absence of personal space after all. As long it was courtesy of a certain hunter of course.

“Ah, ici c’est parfait!” Rook exclaims once they’re a good twenty feet away from where the waves gently glide against the shore. He’s referring to some undistinguishable plot of sand in front of the ocean that looks like the rest of the sand that is literally everywhere else around them and equally close to the water. Still, Vil is inclined to agree. If Rooked deems this particular sand-covered space perfect then well, who was Vil to argue? He’s grown up with grass and snow so it’s not like he is familiar with the qualities of the perfect spot on the beach and trusting Rook has always born a rather profitable results.

While Rook lays out their towels and struggles to put up the umbrella, Vil digs around the bag for the sunscreen. Granted it had been less than half an hour since he applied the first layer but it’s better to be safe than sorry and Vil can already feel the ends of his hair begin to curl from the humidity so he wasn’t going to take any chances on possibly adding another imperfection to his already compromised appearance.

First his own oversight in picking his shoes, now the threat of a shaggy head that would very much look like the perfect prom look for a fever-crazed twelve year old. No, Vil wasn’t going to wait for another disaster in the form of flaky red skin to ruin his day any further.

Weren’t beach days supposed to be fun? He thinks, plopping down unceremoniously onto the bigger towel as he uncaps the bottle. Well, he’s hot, and sweaty and ugly and most certainly not having any fun. The least Rook could do was apply the sunscreen for him so Vil promptly caps the bottle again and tosses it aside for later use, busying his hands with pulling the second towel closer so they touched at the seams instead of lie a respectable foot apart.

Finally Rook opens the umbrella and Vil basks in the cool comfort of the shade, the thin layer of acrylic fabric protecting him from the blaring sun by far the best thing that happened to him today.

“Quel est la problème, Roi du Poison?” Rook asks, leaning into Vil’s personal space to smooth out the creases between his eyebrows with his index finger.

Funny, he hadn’t even realized he was frowning until now. Well that certainly poses a new problem. Frown lines look awful on people, especially those relying on their faces to pay the bills.

“There is no problem, Rook.” Vil informs him, turning his nose up slightly. “Now would you be so kind as to put sunscreen on my back?”

That earns him a chuckle and Vil mentally marks its sweet sound as the second-best thing to have happened today. It wouldn’t save Rook though. There was no way Vil was spending any more time out in the sun if he wasn’t properly protected. Most sunscreen loses effect after half an hour and 80% of sunlight can still reach him in the shade. On top of that only ten minutes of sunlight is the recommended every day dosage, so no, he’s not taking any chances in ruining his skin even if his body enjoys the sudden vitamin D increase.

“Bien sur” Rook says, leaning over Vil to retrieve the bottle from where it was lying on the other towel.  “Perhaps you would like to take off your shoes though? They do look lovely on you but I’m afraid they’re rather poorly suited for this environment.”

Vil doesn’t need to be told twice, the only person to happily pull off custom fitted designer shoes. Barely resisting the urge to chuck them into the ocean, he puts them next to the bag instead where he doesn’t need to look at them anymore.

“I clearly wasn’t thinking straight when I put them on this morning” he explains only to keep the conversation going. Behind him Rook uncaps the newly acquired bottle so Vil pulls off his shirt before running a hand through his hair, pushing it away from his back to loosely hang around his face instead.

Rook hums noncommittally though Vil knows he silently agrees. “You simply like to keep your head filled with more important matters.”

It’s Vil’s turn to chuckle. “Right, like the grocery list you wrote yesterday or the plants that still need watering.”

Life in the Afterglow Savanna has been pleasantly mundane after all, filled with normal things like preparing lunch together, flipping through the same ten channels only to settle on a show he’s seen already, figuring out whether the orchids were close to dying or doing just fine, or getting drunk on red wine and dancing in the moonlight.

“All very important matters” Rook agrees easily, kneading the sunscreen into the meat of Vil’s back. It’s surprisingly warm though Vil won’t contemplate whether it had been heated up by the oppressing heat or in between Rook’s fingers. He focuses on the feeling instead, how Rook artfully works out the kinks in his neck and the stiffness in his shoulders.

With the tension slowly dissipating underneath the hunters’ careful ministrations Vil takes the time look at the ocean, taking in all the small details he usually was too busy to notice. It’s easy to forget how beautiful it really is, deep royal blue water a pretty contrast to the hot golden sand around them. How calm it looks, waves gently lapping at the shore, soft seafoam dying their tips white. How the warm breeze actually makes the scorching heat bearable and when he inhales he can taste salt and seaweed on his tongue.

Surprisingly there aren’t any people around which, considering they’re still a good forty minute drive away from the next town, isn’t much of a surprise at all. This part of the Afterglow Savanna doesn’t attract many tourists despite it’s beautiful scenery, deemed too hot and bucolic to attract starry eyed travelers who prefer better known places that they could brag to their magicam followers about. While ridiculous, it’s much appreciated by Vil who thinks the songs of the seagulls accompanied by the rhythmic ebb and flow of the ocean sounds much nicer than the chatter of distant beachgoers. Though the nicest sound perhaps was Rook gently humming behind him, finishing the part of Vil’s song that had been cut off for radio release.

With one final squeeze to Vil’s shoulders Rook pulls away and claps his hands together.

“Fini!” He exclaims, shifting so he can lean over Vil to put his phone away in Vil’s bag.

“Thank you.”

The tips of Rook’s hair tickle his nose so Vil elbows him in the side, not hard enough to knock the air out of the hunter but enough to get the point across. He had been looking at the ocean after all and didn’t appreciate his view getting obstructed, thank you very much.

Rook sits back on his heels and holds his hands up in surrender, shooting Vil a somewhat sheepish smile. Shame had never been something Rook possessed in abundance so it comes across as just a tad bit forced, clearly trying to hide his amusement of Vil’s childish antics. “Pardons-moi, Vil, I shall be out of your hair from now on.”

Vil contemplates on calling him out on his pretentious apology but Rook stands up before he has the chance to and stalks towards the water until his ankles disappear beneath the waves.

“What are you doing?” Vil calls from where he’s still sitting on his towel, eyeing Rook skeptically. The hunter was still fully clothed after all, the hem of his rolled up pants just barely above the water.

“Beauté, vraiment!” Rook exclaims, stretching his hands to the side as if he intends on embracing the ocean itself, “Doesn’t the ocean seem to call out to you?”

“No” Vil answers wryly, raising an eyebrow questioningly. “Not if I’m still completely dressed.”

Rook turns to face him, smiling at Vil with mischievous joy, “What a good thing you’re already dressed for the occasion then!”

“Unlike you.”

Rook kicks at the waves, splashing the water in Vil’s direction though Vil isn’t anywhere near enough to actually get wet.

“Details” Rook waves him off, spinning around again, leaving Vil in peace for the time being as he stares at the open water.

Well, if Rook decided to go for a swim fully clothed than that was his problem. Who even wears long pants to the beach anyways? And in this weather too. Vil was melting away in just his swim shorts and here Rook was, sweatpants and baseball cap embroidered with the Pomefiore insignia and all. If it were at least a sunhat then Vil could understand but alas, Rook and his heat resistance remain a mystery to him.

Then again, if Rook knew he wasn’t dressed properly for the occasion and if he willingly turned his back to Vil then he must also be aware of how open that leaves his defense.

Vil promptly pushes himself upwards, quickly making his way over the hot sand. Naturally the sudden noise alerts the hunter who once again turns to face him but it’s already too late. Vil promptly tackles him, slamming into Rook with enough force to knock them both over. Rook has just enough time to move the hand shielding his eyes to securely wrap around Vil before they both tumble into the water. The splash following their fall is loud enough for him to hear even with his face a foot underneath the surface.

There’s only one thing he left unaccounted for and that is how utterly freezing the ocean actually is. Reflexively he tries to scramble away from the cold, accidentally knocking the air out of Rook by connecting the top of his head with the hunter’s chin harshly.

They both come up for air shortly after, Vil shooting the surrounding water a look of utter betrayal. Nothing, not even Rook voting for RSA, could be considered as treachery so unforgivable as the ocean not heating up to at least bearable temperatures in the Afterglow Savanna where the weather more closely resembled the insides of a convection oven than actual inhabitable land.

He faintly registers Rook grasping for breath underneath him but that only means the hunter is still alive even if for a moment Vil’s knee had come dangerously close to Rook’s crotch. The coughing is soon replaced by low chuckles that steadily increase in volume until Rook is straight up laughing. Okay, scratch that, maybe Rook laughing at him right now is the worst kind of betrayal after all.

“My, Vil, if I had known all it took to make you throw yourself at me like that I’d have taken you to see the ocean much sooner.” Rook says in between chuckles, gently plucking a piece of seaweed out of Vil’s hair.

Despite his somewhat rough start to the day, the freezing water lapping at his overheated skin and the small grains of sand wedging themselves underneath his toenails, it’s a rather nice moment. Rook looks so genuinely happy, his eyes crinkling at the corners, making him look a lot more like the talkative boy he was back at Night Raven College than the man he’d grown up to be, all bloody lips from sharp edges and ichor in his veins.

Vil can feel his heartbeat increase slightly, a warmth spreading from the pit of his stomach that threatens to dust his cheeks a curious shade of pink. This is what he’s here for, Vil reminds himself, to stop sitting on his hands in the moments it matters most. But when he moves his fingers are unexpectedly shaky, burying themselves into the sand, searching something solid to hold on to for a little bit of support. They land on Rook’s thigh, which is infinitely better and worse than what he’s hoped for, granting him the comfort he sought while simultaneously making his heart skip yet another beat, only increasing the shakiness in his fingers. He’s sure that if it weren’t for the thin layer of fabric he’d have drawn blood already considering how tightly he’s holding onto the other but Rook keeps looking at him, the happiness in his eyes slowly being rivalled by equal amounts of curiosity and worry.

Everything in Vil’s body screams for a confession that comes about eight years too late but despite his best efforts, his mouth stays shut.

Vil pushes Rook’s head underwater instead, retaliation for Rook unashamedly laughing at him that only sparks a new fit of laughter once Rook comes up for air again. And just like that, the moment is gone and Vil curses internally.

 

 

They end up staying longer at the beach than planned, Vil previously having insisted on no more than three hours in direct sunlight at most so as to not cause any damage to his flawless skin but neither of them had bothered to pack any spare clothes, save for a pair of underwear each so they had needed to wait for Rook’s clothes to dry. Rook of course would have been fine with casual exhibitionism but they still had groceries to buy and the supermarket was hardly the place for naked skin. Instead, they busy themselves with building a replica of the Pomefiore castle out of wet sand and see how far they need to swim before they lose sight of the shore. By the time Vil finishes his kiwi-lime smoothie the sun is already starting its descend and threatens to close the stores if they don’t hurry.

They make quick work of changing back into regular, dry clothes, the privacy of lesser-known secluded areas allowing them to forgo hiding behind towels for public decency. Where Vil had only politely peeks Rook hadn’t even bothered to pretend he wasn’t straight up staring at Vil, whistling lowly the moment Vil had discarded his swimsuit and effectively having earned said swim shorts flung directly into his face.

So now they’re in the car again, Rook expertly navigating the narrow streets as Vil watches the ocean fade out of view, replaced by a cluster of run of the mill suburban houses with neat little picket fences that look awfully out of place in such a culturally rich place. They finally enter the city, if it could even be considered one. While far less rural than Rook’s hometown it lacked in both size and population to be considered remotely metropolitan. A town really, Vil corrects himself, internally relieved that the chances of getting recognized with unruly curly hair and a red tinge at the tip of his nose are delightfully low.

Rook pulls into the supermarket parking lot and Vil is once again reminded that even in the Afterglow Savanna Rook is the odd one out, his Maserati a stark contrast to the cheap sedans and pick-up trucks lined up near the storefront. It would probably be wise to trade it in for something more reasonable, something much better suited for dirt paths and cracked sett paving but proposing such a thing was downright ludicrous. Rook was a man of few attachments but his love for his car was only rivalled by his love for Vil himself.

Saying he could count on one hand what Rook truly considers essential is an overstatement. He’s wracked his brain plenty of times and so far he can pinpoint three distinct things the hunter couldn’t live without: one, evidently his car. The guarantee of freedom, to leave and see the beauty the world has to offer at any given time if he so wishes. Two, archery, the hunt so ingrained in the other’s very being it seems comical to imagine a world where Rook didn’t handle bows and arrows like extensions of his limbs, and the only hobby Rook consistently has managed to indulge in no matter how little free time he had. And finally, three: Vil.

Again, Vil waits for Rook to open the passenger door for him and again, Rook does so unprompted. This time though Rook doesn’t offer Vil his arm, well aware that getting caught clinging to Rook would spark millions of headlines that would haunt Vil well into the next year. At least walking is easy again, his heels clicking satisfyingly against solid ground as they make their way towards the glass doors that are being held open by a bright red brick even though none of the other houses around them are made of the material.

Despite technically being considered a supermarket it’s still small enough to justify greeting the cashier upon entering. Then again, that might also just be Rook’s general chatty attitude but Vil offer his own polite bonsoir anyways, receiving a halfhearted wave in return. The actual grocery shopping is a rather short-lived affair, Rook already knowing where to steer the cart as Vil reads what they need out loud form his notes app. They bicker over whether or not they really need five boxes of green tea but Vil’s face is printed on the package and in the end arguing with Rook can be like repeatedly slamming your head into a wall so Vil lets him proudly load his loot in the cart with minimal eyerolling on his part.

It’s a rather welcome surprise how the lady at the register only raises her eyebrows at him scrutinizingly for wearing sunglasses indoors and not because she recognizes him from his face literally staring at her from the small cardboard boxes or the cover of the magazine she was flipping through when they entered. Vil knows that his current get-up makes him virtually unrecognizable, hiding all his best features expertly, but he can’t help the satisfied smile pulling at his lips as they wave goodbye, exiting the store not even twenty minutes later.

They’re in the middle of unloading their newly acquired belongings in the back of Rook’s car when the spell breaks and a stranger walks over to them trying to look casual. Well, this was bound to happen eventually though Vil had truly hoped for later rather than sooner. He puts on the warm and friendly smile he saves specifically for encounters with his fans and braces himself for a less than flattering photo. His PR team would have to hunt it down amongst the sea of magicam posts tagged with his name and edit it retrospectively, though he despises the notion of artificially changing his appearance.

But to his surprise the beastman walks straight past him and begins to chat with Rook instead. Their conversation is held in French, too fast and haphazard for Vil to make out anything meaningful so he busies himself with stealthily studying the man’s appearance as he continues sorting the toilet paper into the trunk.

The beastman is approximately nearing his forties, his roots beginning to grow out in a greyish white that doesn’t look deliberate. His beard on the other hand is still the same chocolate brown as the fur on his ears and remarkably well kempt. Blue eyes form a nice contrast to his equally dark skin and simultaneously are the only thing that immediately stands out from his otherwise plain appearance. Not even his outfit is noteworthy, beige cargo pants and an orange t shirt with the logo of some sort of band Vil doesn’t recognize but Epel most likely would, the fabric fraying where the sleeves have been cut off. If anything, it’s more noteworthy how the man looks minorly uncomfortable, constantly shifting from one foot to the other, which is something people simply tend to do when facing Rook. Rook is a bit much over all, too wild and talkative and elusive for people to get a good read on him. It takes a certain kind of person not to falter under the hunter’s undivided attention and while the people at Night Raven College fared sufficiently well this particular beastman seems to have a bitten off a little more than he can chew, not understanding that despite his athletic build he lacked personality to actually become the subject of Rook’s obsession. Rook seems unbothered though, happily chatting about whatever it is the beastman wants to talk about – something about checkered lilies and apples falling from trees though none of it makes much sense – and not paying any mind to how greater gestures make the other flinch as if he would bolt away at the first sight of danger.

They finish their conversation the moment Vil puts the last apple away, finger gingerly tracing a familiar insignia. The beastman nods at Vil curtly before walking back to where he came from, his friend leaning against the grey sedan and impatiently tapping his foot. They hurry into the car and Vil has to suppress a laugh at how scared they look even from fifteen feet away and hidden behind tinted windows.

Rook looks up at the sky, squinting his eyes at the puffy white clouds before he sighs and says, “It’s going to rain tonight.”

“So?” Vil asks, closing the trunk of the car and noting how he’d somehow managed to pick nail polish the exact same color as its hood.

“Have you seen the house next to the windmill?” Rook asks in lieu of answering, opening the door for Vil to climb into.

“The red one?”

“Exactement, that’s the one” Rook answers, closing the door once Vil was seated to get on his respective side. “His grandmother lives there. She herds the guinea fowls you can hear in the morning.”

“Lovely.” Vil replies as Rook turns on the engine and reverses the car. Those beasts thend to be rather noisy and Vil has never been particularly keen on having his beauty sleep compromised. Especially not when agitated hens sound an awful lot like a crafty hyena. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Some of them have gone missing” Rook informs him, smoothly pulling out of the parking lot. “Apparently she found specks of blood and rather concerningly large claw marks.”

Vil isn’t liking where this was headed. “And they want you to quite literally climb into the lion’s den to figure out what’s causing this.”

Rook hums in affirmation, changing the gear as he pulls out of the parking lot.

“And do they invite you to friendly outings as well or only when they need you to do their dirty work?”

That earns him a chuckle though Vil fails to see what’s so funny about this whole situation. He never could stand freeloaders though unfortunately there were plenty to go around, no matter your occupation or hometown. 

“Hunting is my profession after all” Rook says, his hand returning to Vil’s thigh to squeeze reassuringly. “And it’s not like me to let myself be excluded in the events I wish to participate.”

Vil huffs at that. While that was true it wasn’t like that gave them the right to send Rook out into the wilderness like that. they could have at least done some more investigating before involving the hunter. Most likely, it was just a stray hungry hyena.

“So when will you head out then?”

“Tonight.”

“You said it was going to rain tonight” Vil argues, not amused in the slightest. “At least wait until tomorrow.”

“I’m afraid it can’t be helped, Roi du Poison” Rook chides, now tracing comforting circles into Vil’s skin with his thumb. “As a hunter it is my duty to eliminate any threat to the villagers as soon as possible.”

“So far only the chickens were threatened as far as I’m concerned.”

“Guinea fowls”

“Whatever” Vil complains, “none of the people live close enough to be in immediate danger.”

“Ah but that’s not quite true” Rook hums, taking a sharp right.

“The house next to the windmill is closest to the forest” Vil argues, “and the chickens are being held in a separate coop farther away. They’re closer to us than anyone else.”

“Guinea fowls”

“Rook” Vil chides, shooting the hunter an annoyed look.

“There’s no one living close enough to the forest to be in any actual danger” Vil continues his little rant, “So why go tonight when it’s not only nighttime but also raining? Both not conditions under which most animals, even predators, like to show themselves. Which I know you are very well aware of.”

“One reason is that I can’t let any more guinea fowls die. Madame D'Arque relies on them for their income after all” Rook explains, switching lanes to overtake the car in front of them. “The other is that I simply prefer for you to be as safe as possible.”

At that Vil is actually taken aback a little, and more than slightly offended. “You don’t think I could handle a guinea fowl stealing beast?”

“Oh non, not at all” Rook answers easily. “There’s not a doubt in my mind that you’re more than capable. You could easily kill me if you so wished. A small beast like the one at hand would hardly stand a chance against you, Roi du Poison.”

“Take me with you then.”

“No.”

“Why not?” Vil argues, “If I’m as capable as you say then surely I’d be of some use.”

“Oh absolument, but protecting you would be infinitely harder if you came along” Rook reasons, falling back into the proper lane. “And as you very well know, you’re not particularly fond of forests.”

“I’m not fond of dirt” Vil corrects, pressing his tongue flat against the roof of his mouth before huffing out some pent up frustration and continuing in a much softer voice, “but I’d be willing to make an exception. You say the reason is to protect me, but I want to protect you too, Rook.”

“And the sentiment is appreciated” Rook says, taking another right. They’re pretty much alone on the highway now, the only other car in front of them taking the next exit and disappearing into the distance. “but protecting me isn’t your job, and whatever you’re here for to find, you won’t find it out in the forest.”

Vil plucks the sunglasses from his nose a little too quickly to come of as indifferent and swipes the pad of his finger over the rim, bites his tongue and takes a moment to find the right words to make Rook stay.

“Perhaps I’d find it with you next to me in bed” is what he settles on, putting his hand gingerly on Rook’s cheek, fingers tracing over smooth skin softly.

Rook visibly halts for several heartbeats, swallows, his own hand coming to rest on top of Vil’s, squeezing once before he pulls both their hands away to fall back onto Vil’s thigh, “As much as I’d like for that to be true”, he says, changing the lane, “we both know that isn’t the case.”

“Rook-”

“I am truly sorry Vil but I can’t take you with me tonight and there is nothing to be done about that.” Rook says, a finality in his voice not even Vil can argue. And Vil does not pout, but they do spend the rest of the drive in loaded silence, Rook holding the steering wheel securely with both hands.

 

 

Vil wakes up to the sound of rain angrily hitting the windows and an empty bed beside him. A quick glance to the clock on the nightstand reveals that it’s 1:27AM. Rook had left more than four hours ago and has yet to return. Another glance, this time out the window, shows that it is not only raining but storming, wind angrily whipping the leaves and thunder rumbling threateningly in the distance.

He’s never been particularly fond of the rain. It serves a few good purposes, Vil supposes, namely helping plants grow and bringing water to dry land but Vil doesn’t need to be watered, no matter how many times Rook compares him to a blooming flower. It’s an inconvenience, really, the added moisture making his hair curl at the tips, rainwater soaking his socks and ruining his favorite trench coat because the droplets will get everywhere even if you’re carrying an umbrella.

It doesn’t lull him back to sleep either so he blinks until he can vaguely make out the silhouettes of the furniture in the room. It’s been a while since he was actually awake during the night, usually too tired from a day’s worth of work to stay awake much longer once his head hits the pillow.

Perhaps Rook needs to be watered, Vil muses, turning to stare at the ceiling instead. If Vil was a flower then Rook took great care of him, watering and grooming him, cutting his leaves into shape and making sure he gets enough sunlight and grows tall. If Rook was a flower then, well, Vil might have been a little negligent. But Rook is sturdy, much like the cactus Jack had gifted him on his twentieth birthday that still sits on his windowsill even if Vil can remember having watered it only twice since then. It must be lonely, Vil constantly gone on business trips, only a picture perfect view of the Land of Pyroxene keeping the small thing company.

His hand falls uselessly on Rook’s side of the bed. Vil is used to sleeping alone but somehow, this time it feels wrong, the bed suddenly too big for one person even though it’s the same size as the one in his apartment, and too cold despite all the blankets he’s hogging. It’s rather hard to fall back asleep when everything feels so wrong so he busies himself with watching the droplets of rain compile into little streams of water that run down the glass instead.

Could cacti even bloom? He hopes they can, he desperately wants them to but he mostly knows cacti from those old westerns his father likes to watch and his own little one certainly has never sprouted flowers, not even tiny buds. He ought to do more research on the topic, learn how to properly take care of little elusive and misunderstood things beyond just keeping them alive.

The next time he glances at the clock it’s nearly half an hour later and he’s antsy enough to know that sleep might just be futile for the remainder of the night. Unceremoniously throwing the blankets off himself, Vil stands up and makes his way down the stairs. Moving around without knocking into anything turns out to be considerably harder without the light of the moon and stars but Vil manages, the occasional lightning serving as enough of a light source to watch the tree crowns bend and twist in unnatural ways.

They say warm milk helps in cases like this, right? While he normally doesn’t care much for old wives’ tales he remembers his father bringing him hot drinks and humming lullabies back when Vil was still scared of the dark so while not scientifically proven, Vil trusts his father enough to try his little remedy.

The lights in the kitchen flicker slightly when he flips the switch and if Vil hadn’t played his fair share of horror movie protagonists he’d have half the mind to be scared. Then again, he’s also a fairly powerful wizard so it’s not like there’s much that could actually serve as a threat to him, even if his magic pen was still lying upstairs next to the alarm clock.

It's rather cold with the raging storm outside, bare skin on cold tiles a rather poor decision on his part though it does make sense that people living in the constant dry heat wouldn’t care much for proper insulation. He pours a bit of soymilk into a pot and leans next to the stove, close enough for the fire to warm him as well.

Turns out milk doesn’t instantly boil and Vil is a little too impatient today to keep close watch so he makes his way into the living room instead, severely overestimating his ability to sense when it’s time to go check on his drink again. Kettles make a sound when the water was ready so surely this wasn’t all too different and the kitchen is close enough to stop any disasters from unfolding if he hurries a little.

He doesn’t bother turning on the lights when the kitchen behind him is bright enough to illuminate the adjacent rooms though he does have to squint his eyes a little if he wants to read any of the names of the books lining the wall. Most of them are in French, poetry and epics that are too advanced for Vil’s to truly grasp the meaning of with his limited vocabulary. While he could certainly use them for practice it’s not what he’s looking for right now, searching for a distraction and not a challenge. It’s surprising to see a few German books strewn in between even though Vil knows that Rook has been trying to learn the language ever since they met. He’s rather good at it too, certainly better than Vil is at French, but even in the Land of Pyroxene Vil has rarely spoken his native tongue. His school has always preferred to teach in more common languages, ones that all the children in the village would understand, and his parents had made it a priority to erase any traces of an accent early on, knowing it would only be a hinderance in his career later on. A face as beautiful as his could not speak with a crude and aggressive sounding dialect. It’s why he’s been trying to ingrain proper language in Epel’s head though his efforts have barely born fruits. So while the sentiment was appreciated, Rook’s hard work sadly was in vain, their conversations rarely ever straying to another language, save for the terms of endearments that sometimes slip Vil’s tongue when his brain is too overwhelmed or too tired to supply the right words in a language that didn’t quite feel like his own.

He pulls out one of the books with intricate golden letters, the s’ and m’s swirled so artfully it borders on illegible, reminding him of Azul’s ridiculous cursive handwriting. It’s a little dusty, most likely having sat in the same place for a few years without ever having been pulled out. The paper feels a little dry but not like it would turn to dust once he flipped the page and the writing while clearly lighter than freshly printed hasn’t faded to more than a deep gray. A rather pretty color, the contrast of the white paper now not as hard on the eyes anymore. A quick once over reveals that’s it’s a book about stoicism and Vil makes a mental note to lend this one to Jamil the next time he sees him.

Behind him Vil can hear the milk begin to bubble at the edges of the pot so he quickly runs to shut the heat off before it could spill over. It was this close to a disaster but luckily Vil had been in time to avoid a longwinded cleaning session though the pan might be a goner. The microwave it is then. He rummages through the cupboard for a mug to pour his drink into and settles on one with a golden crown printed on the side, heats it up, carefully watches it this time, and stirs in a spoonful of equally gold honey not even two minutes later.

Originally, he had planned on returning to bed seeing as wasting his precious beauty sleep wouldn’t make Rook return any sooner, but a sleek metal box in the living room catches the flickering light from the kitchen just enough to gain Vil’s attention.

A console.

Right, Vil remembers, crouching down in front of the TV stand to inspect the box that turns out to be more plastic than metal, Rook has insomnia. This is how he keeps entertained when his mind is too tired to comprehend the intricacies of prose and poetry.

While Vil doesn’t really know what it’s like not to be able to sleep, he’s not ignorant enough to dismiss the other’s problems. Insomnia could be a tricky thing, the need for sleep evidently still there while sleep itself seemed to avoid you like the plague, no matter how comfortable you were curled up in bed or how excruciatingly tired and aching your body was.

As far as Vil knows, Rook has been dealing with insomnia for the better part of his life and somehow he’s managed to adapt to his less than favorable sleeping conditions, only growing mildly annoyed when blissful slumber didn’t grace him anymore. At Night Raven College, Rook had sorted through whatever paperwork Vil hadn’t yet gotten around to whenever his insomnia hit. Anything to quiet the thoughts rushing through his head, Vil supposes. To that he could relate, it wasn’t particularly quiet in his head either even on the best of days. Still, while a rather ambitious endeavor, Vil had somehow managed to convince Rook to indulge in less tiring activities than read through endless stacks of paper or go out for a hunt. No need to tire someone out more when they were already at their limit.

This was their solution.

Picking up the remote and one of the controllers next to the console, Vil shuffles over to sit on the sofa and waits for the familiar white noise of static. The console turns on quick enough, whirring to life at the press of a button and Vil watches the logo flash across the screen as he waits. While never having gotten into gaming himself, Vil is familiar enough with the general layout of homescreens to navigate through the menu without any major problems.

He's looking through the library of the games Rook already has installed when a small notification pops up in the bottom of the screen.

lordoflamentation has invited you to join his party. [ACCEPT] or [DISMISS]

Well that’s certainly interesting. Who in their right mind was awake at this hour? Then again, Vil could think of a few without trying particularly hard. Still, it would be impolite to accept the invitation even though he’s well aware Rook wouldn’t care if he decided to join whatever game he has been invited to. Between the two of them, pretty much nothing is off limits anymore. Vil has even been allowed to flip through the books Rook used to keep hidden from him. They were, all things considered, rather boring – pictures of the people he admired as well as those he liked to hunt. Neige filled about as many pages as Jade and Floyd combined, Leona having earned himself a rather large spread tucked loosely in between photos of Chen’ya and Malleus. The only person that visibly filled the majority of his albums was Vil himself. While Rook clearly liked to keep whatever he deemed important enough to write down structured and organized, Vil seemed to be only exception, appearing even on the pages that weren’t dedicated to him – a note on a potion Vil had been agonizing over in their second year at NCR next to a picture of Ruggie, an attempt of shuffling Vil’s interviews and photo shoots around to create more free time for the model scribbled underneath the Mostro Lounge’s employee schedule, a short poem written in neat cursive that Vil didn’t need to translate to know was about him in between anatomical sketches of dragon horns.

The screen turns black again, a little loading bar appearing in the middle and filling up surprisingly quickly. Strange, Vil hasn’t even been halfway through browsing Rook’s library, hasn’t even picked out a game to try out yet but he’s suddenly met with the title screen of a game he doesn’t recognize. Though he’s never been too knowledgeable when it comes to video games so it’s safe to say no matter how popular the game might actually be, he wouldn’t have heard of it either way.

The starting menu looks fairly standard, options to manage the game as well as edit his profile, view whatever collectibles Rook has already acquired and the most intricately designed choice of continuing the game all flashing up quickly before the screen changes abruptly once more. Vil’s – or rather Rook’s – character pops into view while the terrain around him loads little by little. A hunter if the bow is any indication, though this one is almost comically giant, much bigger than the ones Rook likes to carry. Then again, the bows mounted to the walls display enough variety to let even a layperson see their differences, some more curved than others, elongated bows as well as ones that seem rather uncomfortably compressed, none of which Vil knew the use for. He should ask Rook about the different types of bows someday, though that would surely end in a rather extensive venture into the world of archery.

The character itself looks about as ordinary as any fantasy inspired character, all heavily exaggerated features, bold colors and dramatic movements. There’s some resemblance to Rook himself, mainly the hat adorned with a beautiful peacock feather and the golden hair. Yet Vil can’t help but notice how the ends fade to a soft lilac, the colors picked to accentuate purple eyes instead of green ones and how the build of the character is just a bit too tall and slender to properly fit the hunter.

Before he can draw any conclusions another message pops up at the bottom of the screen.

lordoflamentation discord?

Well, what?

Vil blinks at the screen for a few prolonged moments. Has he somehow managed to offend any players without even having properly started the game? Surely, this had to be some sort misunderstanding. Or a rather embarrassing new record of offending strangers. In any case, Vil was about to find out.

lechasseurdamour pardon?

Instead of a reply the headphones lying on a stack of magazines on the table turn on automatically, a small blue light blinking rapidly before Vil can hear muffled sounds coming from it. Strange indeed, though Vil has an inkling of what’s happening.

When he puts them on, a little more skeptical than strictly necessary, he can hear a bubbly melody that’s the perfect middle ground between chipper and annoying indicating an incoming call. He vaguely remembers Lilia chatter about how a healthy dose of communication kept his skin flawless and teeth white during the nights spent perched in front of a computer screen even though both of them knew he was talking out of his ass. The song threatens to loop again so Vil quickly accepts the call to save himself from the nerve grating melody.

“Finally! You know we need you to raid Hell Hall. Where the hell have you been the past few days? The event’s almost over …”

Well, that voice surely is familiar, though perhaps not with such evident annoyance.

“Hello, Idia.”

There’s a loud crash on the other end of the line, the screech of static ringing through the headphones followed by muffled cursing.

Vil?”

“It would seem so.”

“… What are you doing here?”

A good question, though Vil wasn’t quite so sure of the answer himself. “I couldn’t sleep” is what he settles on.

“… and so you hacked Rook’s account? You could have just made your own …”

“I didn’t hack him” Vil defends, feeling only vaguely guilty and definitely offended by such an assumption.

“Riiight, you just conveniently know his access data” There’s more shuffling on Idia’s end, the clang of a cup being set down, paper crinkling in the background.

“Idia, I did not hack Rook” Vil insists, growing a little frustrated, “I was just browsing through his library. It would appear he’s simply still logged onto his account.”

“So you figured you’d just fuck with his stats?” Idia accuses though Vil can practically hear his shit--eating grin. “Heartless, Vil. You could totally ruin his streak. Dude’s up to 14 consecutive wins now. He’s giving Ortho a run for his money and I programed him to be good at War of Wizards. Wait – why is Rook with you anyways? And why are you online? Isn’t it, like, almost lunchtime in the Land of Pyroxene? Don’t you have a shoot or something?”

“Technically, I’m with Rook and not the other way around.” Vil corrects, taking a sip from his now lukewarm soymilk.

“In the Afterglow Savanna?”

“Yes”

“You?”

“Yes”

There’s a short pause, long enough for Vil to think his connection might have been cut off of but Idia begins barking out his ugly laugh, too loud and hysteric to be considered polite and about as charming as a leaf blower.

You in the Afterglow Savanna?” he repeats in between hiccups, “Have you finally gone mad?”

“Quit being rude, Idia.” Vil chides, clicking his tongue in annoyance. “Why would it be strange for me to be in the Afterglow Savanna?”

“Oh no, it’s definitely not strange at all.” Idia laughs, practically dripping in sarcasm. “you fit in perfectly among all the burly beastmen with zero braincells. I bet you love the weather too, considering you grew up in the cold, cold Land of Pyroxene. I bet it’s a nice change, so hot and sunny. It’s a good thing models don’t sweat or you’d probably be melting away already.”

Idia” Vil warns, not amused in the slightest by the other’s teasing. Granted, he has been one of the people trying to build up Idia’s self-esteem in the first place and while he fared much better in public nowadays, appearing in person at least 30% of the time now, a screen to hide behind has always made him a little too confident, drawing out his more sardonic side.

“Sorry, sorry, it’s just too funny.” Idia says, still chuckling, taking another few moments to calm down enough to form full sentences without cackling in between the words. “but really now, why are you there?”

Why indeed. A question Vil isn’t quite ready to answer just yet if he’s honest. Familiarity mostly, security. Working up the courage to claim what he’s always wanted. In the more abstract, Vil wants to be happy. He says none of it.

“I took some time off work.”

There’s another bout of silence, Idia probably waiting for a punchline, only the clicking of Idia’s keyboard sounding through his headphones.

“… Okay” Idia says finally, the sound of him hitting the keys increasing slightly, “same question as before then: have you gone mad?”

“What’s that supposed to mean? People take vacations all the time.”

“Yeah but not you” Idia clarifies, “you’re constantly doing your celebrity shit. You’re too busy to take time off, you said so yourself.”

“Things change.”

“Do they now?” Idia hums, though his tone mellows out a little, something else taking away his focus.

“But speaking of change” Idia continues through the headphones, the clicking now scarily fast on his side, “congrats on winning a Golden Apple! Must feel pretty good, huh?”

“Thank you” Vil says, shifting on the sofa uncomfortably, “it felt … okay.”

Idia hums again, but this time instead of a proper answer Vil only receives a slew of curses and the sound of a head heavily dropping onto the table.

“Did you lose?” Vil asks, mildly amused.

“Yeah” Idia answers, suddenly sounding infinitely more tired, “and against Lilia too. He won’t let me hear the end of this for the next three months.”

“Serves you right for being mean” Vil chastises, a self-satisfied smile tugging at his lips.

“Mean, Vil, seriously mean. You know what a pain Lilia can be. I don’t deserve this. He’s already posted a screenshot of his victory to his magicam.”

“You would have done the same.”

The following silence is enough answer, but it does make Vil chuckle.

“Hey” Idia suddenly says, now sounding only lightly agitated instead of utterly defeated, “do you still wanna play?”

Right, he’d completely forgotten about the game. Despite Idia being a general pain, it has been a while since the two of them talked, and it has been rather nice to hear Idia’s voice again, even his overconfident cocky mockery. As much as Vil hated to admit it, even Idia’s baseless arrogance sounds good on him, like Idia finally knows who he was and where he wants to be.

“It’s what I came here to do” Vil agrees easily, taking another long swig of his drink before putting it on the table. He needs both hands for this after all. With the click of a button, the game begins after a final loading screen and Vil watches Rook’s character be dropped in the middle of what seems to be an abandoned battlefield.

“Awesome” Idia says, the sound of him typing on his keyboard returning, as does an audibly sly smile, “but you just so you know, I won’t carry your ass if you suck.”

“There won’t be any need” Vil counters, cracking his knuckles for dramatic effect, “don’t complain if you can’t keep up.”

“Ha! Big words. Let’s hope you won’t eat them.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it.”

 

 

In retrospect, Vil should have added a shot of the whiskey Rook keeps on the upmost shelf to his drink to make this experience bearable. No matter which buttons he presses his character just won’t move the way he wants him to, jumping off high ledges or launching into nearby thornbushes. Idia isn’t much help either, speaking in tongues Vil understands even less than French, giving instructions that just don’t make any goddamn sense. After half an hour of Vil getting slain by the same enemy  again and again – while Idia’s character, a paladin with an unnecessarily big sword, stands uselessly to the side and laughs at him – he’s finally had enough, throwing the controller onto the pillow next to him with an overexaggerated huff.

On the other end, Idia whistles at his newest crushing defeat. “Damn, you’re lucky Rook loves you. I knew you’d fuck his stats up a little but this is abysmal.”

“Shut up, Idia.”

“Oh no, it’s actually rather fascinating. Not even Malleus sucked this much the first time he played.”

Idia!

“Okay, okay. You wanna call it a night then? It must be super late for you already.”

Vil hums and glances at the clock mounted above the door. 2:32AM.

“It is but I think I’ll stay up a little longer anyways.”

“Oh? Why’s that? Didn’t think you were particularly fond of giving up your beauty sleep.”

“I’m not” he huffs, semi-annoyed, “but Rook hasn’t returned yet.”

“He’s not with you right now?”

“Do you really think he wouldn’t have made himself known if he was?” Vil deadpans.

“Well yeah, but I thought he was just asleep.” Idia explains, “So why’s he gone at 2.30 at night? Trouble in paradise?”

“No” Vil answers, certain that their little argument in the car wouldn’t drive a wedge in their relationship, “but the townspeople think they’ve spotted a monster. He’s gone out to take care of it.”

“Well, it’s not like he can say no to a hunt” Idia muses, “you wanna play something else then?”

“No, not particularly” Vil answers, rubbing at his neck. Sitting for extended periods of time always makes him uncomfortably stiff. When he turns his head to the left there’s a rather unbecoming pop. He’ll need to do extra stretches tomorrow. “but I’d like to keep talking if you’re up for it.”

“Sure” Idia agrees easily, “you wanna watch me play then? See how the pros do it?”

Vil huffs at that, crossing his arms, “As if. But I don’t need to know how to play to criticize you, so sure.”

“Bastard” Idia says, soundingly pleasantly offended and mildly amused.

The screen changes on its own, turning a stark white before Idia’s screen is broadcasted on his own.

“Did you just hack Rook? For the second time tonight, if I might add.” Vil asks, raising a curious eyebrow.

“Who? Me? I would never” Idia drawls, not even bothering to hide his lie well. There’s a bit of shuffling on the other end again but soon enough Idia’s character pops into view and near immediately starts moving, doing a little barrel roll and twirls simply to display how coordinated he is. Show-off.

“Lilia wants to join the call if it’s cool with you” the other informs him, more rapid clicking coming from his end.

“Then let him” Vil tells him, taking another sip from his milk that has long since gone cold.

“Alright, you know what you’ve gotten yourself into.”

There’s more pressing of random buttons before suddenly Lilia’s high-pitched voice nearly ruptures his eardrums.

“BOO!” he shouts even though his arrival didn’t come as a surprise to anyone. “My Vil, it’s been a while. What makes you join us on such a lovely day?”

“Hello Lilia” Vil greets, rubbing his abused ears, “you are aware it’s the middle of the night, right?”

“Oh silly Vil it’s always dark in the Valley of Thorns. Who cares what time of day it is?” Lilia sing-songs, his character now appearing on the screen next to Idia’s – a small mage that looks like he came straight out of a nightmare. “But it’s only 9PM here so I’d argue the night is still plenty young. Though I suppose it would be almost 3AM in the Afterglow Savanna by now, right?”

“Do you keep track of all the time zones?” Vil asks, both impressed and a little intimidated. Lilia had a special way of speaking like he knew exactly what you were doing. If he suddenly popped out from behind the sofa, Vil wouldn’t have thought it as strange.

“Not at all but Malleus has been spending an awful lot of time over there lately” Lilia says, his character occasionally bumping into Idia’s to throw him off balance even though their current mission required them to work as a team. “How late is it on the Isle of Lamentation, Idia?”

“The sun’s just begun to rise.” Idia informs them, “We need to be quick. I have to finish this and get back to bed before Ortho wakes up.”

“Best not anger your little brother” Lilia agrees, swiping at Idia’s feet with his staff. Idia dodges expertly, the handle of his sword coming down to connect with Lilia’s head and effectively sending the mage a few feet backwards.

“What about you then, Vil? It seems rather odd that you wouldn’t be with Rook” Lilia says, blowing a fireball Idia’s way who was too busy kicking one of the crates littered across the way every so often to react in time.

“How do you know I’m with Rook right now?”

“Idia has told me” Lilia explains happily, “I must admit, I wouldn’t have thought it very likely for you to go all the way to the Afterglow Savanna on your own.”

Vil hums but doesn’t properly elaborate. “Rook is out hunting.”

“Oh so you couldn’t sleep without your beloved? That’s rather sweet. Malleus always gets so cranky when he has to sleep away from Leona and Sebek acts like a toddler when Silver volunteers for the night shifts. I supposed you young lovebirds really can’t be apart for too long without getting grouchy.”

“I am not grouchy.” Vil argues though that doesn’t really help his case.

“Of course not! That’s why you fell asleep so easily and have been happily skipping through dreamland ever since. I wonder, when will Rook return to kiss you awake?”

“Enough, Lilia. I get it.” Vil tries to wave him off but Lilia is anything if not persistent, and utterly curious, always sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong.

“Then again, you two spend most nights apart so you should be used to it already. It seems rather strange, Vil, one can only wonder if perhaps there had been a fight that keeps you awake?”

Vil wants to argue but Lilia is in his dad-mode now and everyone at Night Raven College knows that that is an evil none of them can defeat no matter how hard they try, the possibility of Lilia’s disappointment a burden too heavy to carry for anyone. He stays silent instead, hoping either of his friends will show a bit of decency and drop the topic.

But alas, his companions for the night are the most socially inept person that will ever walk this earth and a crazed fae that has lived far too long to care about society’s standards.

“Hit the nail straight on the head, did I?” Lilia pushes, somehow sounding more coaxing than actually self-satisfied. “Come now, tell us all about it, Vil. We won’t judge.”

“I will” Idia cuts in, his paladin beheading a nearby enemy.

“You’re in no position to! You aren’t even in a relationship.” Lilia quips, hitting the newly separate head mid-air to fling it at a rather large orc.

Before their argument can escalate, Vil butts in, slowly coming to terms that there was no talking himself out of this one. “We fought because I didn’t want him to go out tonight.”

“Oh? Why not? As far I know, Rook hunts plenty in the dark.”

“Yes and I don’t doubt that he’s more than capable to handle whatever is out there but I still would have preferred for him to leave under better conditions. It’s been storming for the past few hours. He could have at least waited until morning.”

“So why didn’t he?” Idia asks, knocking down the last of their enemies, the little green experience bar in the corner filling up enough for his character to level up.

“He didn’t want to endanger the people.”

“And?”

“… and he wanted to protect me.”

“Did you hit him for that?” Idia questions, collecting his rewards for finishing the raid.

“No”

“You should have.”

“Agreed.”

“The villagers fear the wrong creature. At least a monster will kill you relatively quickly and painlessly but if Rook comes back with so much as a scratch there’ll be hell to pay.”

“No mercy” Lilia adds and Vil can virtually hear how he’s nodding his head up and down approvingly. He rolls his eyes at them – another notion he’s sure would be audible even through the headphones.

“I didn’t punch him.”

“Aww, why not?”

Lilia

“Anyways” Idia simply continues setting his waymark to a nearby kingdom. “What happened after?”

Vil huffs in exasperation. “There is no after. He wanted to hunt. I wanted him to stay. He went out to hunt anyways. End of story.”

“Oh, the irony.” Lilia chuckles, “have the tables finally turned on you, Vil?”

Scrunching his eyebrows in confusion, Vil stares at Lilia’s character as if it were the fae himself, seeing his all-knowing smile reflected on the mage. “What do you mean?”

“Come on now Vil, it’s not like you to be this dense.”

“What about wanting for someone to stay inside during a storm seems dense to you?”

“On no, it’s not stupid to want Rook inside. Just funny.” Lilia sings into his microphone, his character happily skipping over the corpses of their enemies. “Since when are you the greedy one out of the two of you, hm?”

“Greedy? Hardly” Vil shoots back, perhaps a bit too snappy, “Merely concerned.”

“Mhmm, tell me, was waiting another night for the beast to return really ever an option?” Lilia asks, now incessantly running circles around Idia.

“Of course, it was” Vil defends, “The people live far enough from the forest not to be in direct danger. Another night would have merely prolonged the beast’s certain demise and not caused any actual harm.”

“And how do you know that, young man? Who is to say the beast wouldn’t try and take shelter in the village instead of the forest? Can you say for certain that tonight it wouldn’t have possibly ventured a little farther? After all, you don’t actually know what you’re up against. Who is to say a monster would be scared into hiding during a thunderstorm? I can assure you, those of the Valley of Thorns certainly wouldn’t care about a little rain and lightning.”

Curse Lilia and his valid points. Though Vil doesn’t need to disagree to scrunch his eyebrows together even further in irritation.

“Or was the monster not the actual reason for your argument? Were you, perhaps, offended that Rook would chose the hunt over you?”

Vil remains silent.

“My! How hypocritical of you, Vil” Lilia chimes, voice still annoyingly light, grating on his every nerve, “To want to be the first choice when Rook has remained second place all these years.”

“Lilia-” Idia cuts in, sounding a little more than agitated and awfully frantic, trying to deescalate the situation.

“Rook is not second place.” Vil insists, completely ignoring Idia and his audibly increasing anxiety, “Anything he asks for, I shall give to him. He knows that.”

“Oh really? Is that why you’ve spent the past eight years chasing your career like a headless chicken?” Lilia challenges, his character jumping up and down in one place like a little child. “Be honest, had Rook asked you to stay, just once, would you have done so? Would you have given up your career for love even if only for a little?”

“Rook has never asked anything of the sort” Vil defends, though he begins to feel like this is the kind of argument neither of them can win.

“Because he didn’t need to. You made your priorities very clear from day one.” Lilia continues, “and yet you expect Rook to put you before his own work. How very hypocritical indeed.”

“Guys” Idia tires again, “can we not fight now? We have a warlock to defeat.”

“On it!” Lilia chimes, his character already swinging his staff.

Vil doesn’t intend to let the argument slide so quickly, but there’s the faint sound of keys jingling before the front door opens and Rook steps inside, making Vil forget what he wanted to say.

“Vil?”

Originally, Vil though he merely wanted the hunter to return home, though seeing Rook stand in the doorway now, he’s not so sure he wanted it like that. it was expected that Rook would show up utterly drenched, though Vil hadn’t expected blood to stain the hunter’s clothes, concerningly big specks of red clumping together on his shirt and slipping onto the floor in thick clusters.

“What happened?” he asks, rushing towards Rook, almost knocking his half-empty mug off the coffee table in the process.

“Ne t’inquiétes pas” Rook says flashing him a placating smile, his hands coming up in mock surrender, “rest assured, the blood isn’t mine.”

Vil checks him for wounds anyways, tilting Rook’s chin up to get a better look at the blood smeared across his cheek.

It’s true, Vil asses after a bit more poking and prodding, Rook doesn’t have any visible injuries. But the sheer amount of blood and blot is still concerning, golden hair now red at the edges, dark ink dripping from his nose. He reeks of copper and old libraries, sweet and strong, and when Vil inhales it burns the inside of his nostrils.

He swipes his thumb over the drop of diluted blood running down Rook’s temple, watches the liquid collect underneath his fingernail and smooths his hands down Rook’s front, letting them rest on a steadily beating heart.

“See?” Rook says once Vil lets out a relieves sigh, resting his own hands over Vil’s once he was satisfied with his little inspection, “tout va bien, just as I promised.”

“Vil?” Idia’s voice suddenly cuts through from where Vil has recklessly thrown the headphones on the chouch. Right, he’d completely forgotten, too occupied with Rook’s return. He shoots Rook another look, assures himself that Rook was indeed still there and alive and wouldn’t disappear once he turns his back to him and pushes the headphones over his ears again, adjusting the microphone before he speaks.

“I will call it a night now.” He says, grabbing the remote and switching the TV off unceremoniously, “Rook has returned, and it’s been a rather long day as is. Don’t stay up too much longer. You still need eight hours of sleep.”

“Of course! Join us again sometime, okay?” Lilia chirps, the last cry of another enemy slain sounding through the air around him.

“… yeah, you’re welcome to join anytime” Idia agrees, concentration only halfway turned to their conversation. “Though you might want to stick to watching us play. Tell Rook we only have four more days to raid Hell Hall.”

“I will” Vil assures them, turning off the headphones in one swift motion and placing them back onto the magazines where he has picked them up hours ago now.

“Who were you talking to?” Rook asks once he’s pulled off his dirty boots and made his way into the kitchen, placing his quiver and bow onto the counter next to the sink.

“Idia and Lilia” Vil informs him, coming to lean against the doorframe as he watches Rook retrieve a towel from underneath the kitchen sink to begin cleaning his arrows, their tips dyed a rather deep shade of red, dirt caked around the tips. “they need you to help raid Hell Hall. There’s only four days left until the event ends.”

“Ah merde, I completely forgot” Rook says as sheepishly as he’s capable of, inspecting a particularly battered looking arrow, “it seems I’ve been rather preoccupied with more important matters lately.”

“We’ve been rewatching black and white movies for the past few days.”

“I stand by what I said” Rook says, throwing him a brilliant smile before returning to the work at hand, eyebrows slightly scrunched in concentration. Vil would love to help but he doesn’t know the first thing about archery, let alone the proper maintenance of the necessary equipment, and Rook is quite particular on how he likes things done.

“Was it a hyena?” he asks instead, trying for nonchalant but failing miserably, worry still finding it’s way into his voice despite his best efforts.

“It was a beastman” Rook answers, scrutinizing a torn fletching before setting it aside for further repair. “A bear. It appears he overblotted a while ago, wandering aimlessly before coming here. It happens surprisingly often.”

Bears are vicious beasts. Vil remembers a Savanaclaw student that could plow through walls without breaking a sweat. Once aggravated, the other students always had to involve Leona lest the situation escalated, which it generally did in Savanaclaw. Savanaclaw wasn’t exactly known for its kind and amicable atmosphere.

“Though I must admit you were right, Roi du Poison” Rook continues, most of the blood now wiped off of his precious equipment. “There was no threat to the villagers. He’d wandered quite far into the forest. By the time I finally managed to track him down, we were considerably far away.

“I do hope you weren’t waiting up for me though. The rain prolonged the actual tracking by more than I’d like to admit. It would be a shame had you lost sleep over an oversight at my part.”

“The rain kept me awake” Vil tells him, mostly because it’s true enough to make Rook believe that he hadn’t just spent the entire night awake because the bed had been cold without him.

“That’s a shame” Rook says, storing his equipment away for the time being. Most of the grime and blood had been washed off and Vil can tell by the somewhat faraway look in Rook’s eyes that even if the job has been done less thoroughly than usual, Rook wasn’t awake enough to bother. He could scrub off whatever dirt was still clinging to the arrowheads tomorrow.

“But the plant life will be beautiful the next few days” he continues, standing up to make his way towards the bedroom, “We could visit Pride Rock. The sore eyed lilies will look très magnifique.”

Rook stops at the foot of the stairs, motioning for Vil to follow.

“After you, Roi du Poison.”

“Thank you” Vil says, plucking a stray leaf from Rook’s mussed up hair. Much like himself, Rook likes to keep a clean and proper appearance so it’s rare to see the hunter this disheveled.

“You should take a shower.” He adds. As if Rook hadn’t intended on doing so anyways. The chances of him crawling into bed covered in dirt and grime and blood and the remnants of blot and who knows what else, are microscopically thin, even more so now that he’s sharing his bed with Vil. But Rook smiles at him anyways, taking no offense like always.

“Anything for you” he declares, and means it. It’s difficult to feign nonchalant cheerfulness when all you really want to do was pass out as soon as possible but Rook tries anyways. Vil can feel the results of today’s activities himself, his eyes beginning to burn as his vision goes slightly fuzzy, head droopy. Add almost six hours in the rain hunting an overblotted beastman … he can only imagine how utterly exhausted Rook must feel. And yet Rook still would actively go out of his way to please him.

“You know the same goes for you too, right?” Vil finds himself saying, stopping on the third step of the stairs to turn back to look at Rook. Their height difference is much more noticeable like this, Rook actually having to crane his neck up to get a good view of Vil. It’s rather cute, especially when coupled with the surprised look on Rook’s face.

Vil has tried many times to throw the hunter for a loop and failed almost as many. Who knew it could have been this easy? Rook’s confusion is almost tangible, green eyes suddenly alive again and glinting in the dim light. It’s only natural his sleep deprived brain decided to shut off sooner or later, so Vil takes pity and clarifies,

“Anything for you too.”

And Vil means it too, under all his polished veneer, his detached and politely distanced demeanor, Vil would also give anything to see the hunter happy, no matter what Lilia might think. Had Rook ever asked then Vil would have left everything at the drop of a hat just like Rook did for him. They didn’t need to say I love you to know the truth. It’s evident in the gentle press of Rook’s lips against his temple, the way Vil pulls him closer in reciprocation. You can see it in the longwinded letters they write when apart and the meaningless texts they send each other throughout the day, how even when miles apart Rook sends him flowers every day without fail or how the only nights Vil spends awake are attributed to Rook, slow dancing in dandelion fields or writhing within soft silk sheets.

The smile Rook shoots him is so genuine it almost hurts, suddenly making it hard to breathe. Rook quickly bridges the two steps separating them, pushing up onto his tiptoes until their noses brush together.

“Oh Vil, je t’aime trop” he says, pressing their lips together in a chaste kiss. It’s ridiculous how much one person can smile into a kiss but Rook has always been a man of many surprises, driving Vil crazy and making him lean in for another kiss despite all the general grossness Rook is covered in.

Rook, the sly bastard, sneaks his hands underneath Vil’s thighs and hoists him up. A talented tongue licks against his bottom lip and Vil has half the mind to tell Rook off if his mouth wasn’t preoccupied already. There’s definitely some dirt rubbing onto his expensive pyjamas but he wraps his legs around the hunter’s waist anyways, letting himself be carried up the stairs until Rook lowers him onto soft sheets.

Bold hands slide over his body, dancing over his ribs and idly drawing patterns on flushed skin, making Vil arch his back off the bed at every gentle touch. Rook was entirely welcoming in the way he moves, holding nothing back in passion but so much in strength, kissing him with the kind of devotion that makes Vil’s head spin from more than lack of oxygen.

He presses himself shamelessly against Rook in a desperate attempt to feel every nook and ridge of that lovely body, but Rook eventually leans away, far too soon, leaving Vil torn between chasing after him and filling his lungs with much needed air.

“As much as I’d love to devour you right now, beautiful Vil” Rook says, thumb lightly tracing over Vil’s cheek, catching at his bottom lip, “I, regrettably, am in desperate need of a shower before we can take this any further. Desolé.”

Vil scrunches his nose in clear disapproval. Just because Rook is right doesn’t mean he has to like it. What’s the use of going out in a storm if the rain couldn’t even wash away enough of the dirt to make this passable? It didn’t even need to replace a shower per se, just wash off enough grime to justify pulling the hunter down into another searing kiss without destroying the poor sheets beyond repair. But alas, if they kept going then not even the most expensive cleaners could save the mess they would undoubtedly create, blood and blot already pooling on the hardwood floor around Rook’s feet.

“Make it quick then” he says instead, not pouting just very discontent, pressing his lips against Rook’s once more, not quite willing to let go just yet.

That earns him another chuckle and a languid tongue rolling just so before Rook lamentably pulls away.

“You’d better be asleep by the time I return.” He says, stretching his arms above his head, a joint in his neck popping painfully.

“I’ll make sure you stay awake for the rest of the night if not.” Rook adds with a wink before disappearing into bathroom, leaving Vil once again alone on the bed.

And Vil really, really tries to stay awake but the sound of the shower turning on is much more comforting than the rain could ever be and before soon, Vil finds himself unable to keep his eyes open any longer, passing out the moment his head hits the pillow.

 

 

It’s probably the fourth or fifth time Vil has woken up before Rook during the entire eight years they’ve known each other, two of which they’d spent near every night curled around each other thanks to Night Raven College’s delightfully insufficiently supervised curfew. Rare occasions like these need to be cherished, Vil reminds himself after checking the hour, much later than anticipated and far too late for his morning workout to still be considered as such. Slacking isn’t his preferred way of starting the day but Rook’s eyelashes flutter in his sleep and that alone is more mesmerizing than anything waiting for him outside the bed, making his decision to waste a day in sleepy stupor terribly easy.

They’re awfully close, mostly because Vil has taken it upon himself to occupy at least 90% of the bed at any given moment he was lying down even if that meant sleeping on top of Rook, which happened surprisingly often and is equally surprisingly comfortable. He’s not soft and squishy like his favorite pillow, all sharp edges and defined muscles, but Rook is warm and his heartbeat drums in a steady rhythm and that’s all Vil really looks for apart from forest green eyes, golden chin length hair and a French accent.

When he moves in a little closer, close enough to count each individual golden lash or the barely visible freckles that only appear after a day spent in the sun, he can smell his own lavender shampoo on the other instead of the unscented ones he owns for daily use. It’s only a small detail but as a hunter Rook rarely gets to indulge in the world of fragrance. Vil’s entire line of his own perfume sits on a shelf hung up on the bathroom wall more for display than actual use, only little amounts missing here and there, but Vil appreciates it nonetheless, knowing that if Rook could have his way, he’d smell like sweet musk and amber every day of the week. But as things stand perfume remains a luxury and not due to the price tag. Still, Rook wearing not perfume per se but at least something scented gives Vil enough of a clue to know that Rook won’t go out to hunt again today, a realization he makes with no little amount of satisfaction.

It would be easy to give into temptation and lean in just a little further but that would also mean inevitably waking up Rook, something Vil would like to avoid, both because he wants for Rook to actually rest properly after a night out in a literal storm, and because he’s just as selfish as the hunter and would like to indulge in watching the other sleep a little longer. Who knew when he’d get the next chance? Statistics say about another seven months or so, definitely too long for his liking.

With the extra space between them, another foot or so apart that feels far away enough to justify entangling their legs as compromise, Vil can make out the bigger shapes and structures that define Rook, freckles and eyelashes replaced by a straight nose, the soft dip of collarbones and a whole array of scars that Vil doesn’t think he’ll ever get used to seeing. There’s one small cut behind his right ear when his mother had wielded a hairdresser’s scissors a little too confidently or a nick above his eyebrow where skin meets golden hair that he’d gotten when he was six and climbed a tree that was too tall to fall from unscathed, or the lines on his forearm from the string of his first bow snapping in half and taking a good chunk of skin with it. In all their irony they were as adorable as scars could be, little stories that bring a sweet kind of fondness instead of kicking up sand of the ocean floor of bad memories. The same can’t be said for the scars a little further south, easily hidden underneath carefully picked out clothes.

Vil would be the first to admit to finding the sight of Rook arousing, especially as shirtless as he was now, but knowing what he’ll find if he continues his investigation of the other’s body, he needs to take a moment to brace himself. With one deep inhale followed by a long exhale, Vil opens his eyes and takes in the sight before him. It’s all still there as he remembers, equal parts ugly and beautiful.  

A deep bite mark on his shoulder that had crushed the blade in a million little pieces and had taken the better part of a year to heal properly, long claw marks running from his right thigh up to his abdomen that look like he’d been torn in half and stitched back together, the wretched looking remains of a particularly gruesome spell right between the ribs, enough meat having been taken out by the attack for Vil to be able to feel the indents when he traces his fingers across the scarred over tissue.

Rook was an utter fool, Vil concludes, chasing beauty and certain death alike. It’s a wonder he’s even alive today. Quite frankly, he should have cracked his skull when he fell off that damn tree almost two decades ago now and bled out on the damp grass. But, in typical Rook fashion, he simply hadn’t, effortlessly springing back to life. Then again, Vil can’t remember a single time when Rook hadn’t somehow managed to beat the odds, even going as far as to kiss Vil with poison dripping from his lips and swallowing dry. Just when Rook had developed immunity to death was beyond Vil, though this was one of the rare cases Vil gratefully accepts without further questioning. Luck, he supposes, gently pushing a strand of hair behind Rook’s ears.

Again, Rook stirs in his sleep, a soft sigh escaping his lips as he surreptitiously stretches into reach of kisses. And well, if Rook went out of his way to cross the sea of sheets then who was Vil to deny him, brushing their lips together sweetly. In sleep Rook is pliant and unusually docile, following the slow pace Vil sets willingly, lips lazily moving against his own in sheer muscle memory.

“You are aware that I know you’re awake?” Vil asks, pulling away just enough to allow fresh air to fill his lungs.

“Prise sur le fait!” Rook exclaims, dramatically throwing an arm over his eyes and not sounding ashamed at all. Even when just woken up he somehow manages to sound more awake and chipper than Vil will well into the afternoon. Another miracle, he supposes, fondly rolling his eyes at the other.

“Did I wake you?” he asks, letting Rook pull him close.

Rook hums noncommittally, choosing to ignore the question in order to save Vil’s good mood.

“It’s a rather lovely way to start the day.” He says instead, nuzzling into Vil’s neck, gently nipping at the soft skin.

The good thing about storms is that they leave the following days feeling magnificently chilly and fresh, no oppressive dry heat making it hard to breathe and gluing his shirt to his sweaty back. It’s easy to get lost within Rook like this, his body overheating in much nicer ways.

His phone still lies where Rook had plugged it in on top of the dresser the day he arrived, Mira lighting up with new messages every few minutes, reminding him of his photoshoots, press interviews, fittings, and everything else he’s been ignoring these past few days. There’s a meeting with his manager scheduled in ten minutes. With no plans for the day, Vil decides to indulge and lean in again.

Rook goes willingly when he paws at his shoulder, rolling onto his back so Vil can slide into his lap, legs caging the hunter in from either side.

It’s the undivided attention that suddenly makes him snap. Not because it’s Rook looking up at him but because Vil had left his life in the limelight behind only to suddenly have eyes focused on him again like he was the world itself. Every little hair that had come out of place, the pink staining his cheeks, the way his lashes are still partially glued together with sleep, every imperfection is on full display for the other to see and judge.

Beauty is what Rook seeks and in that moment, morning breath and groggy voice, Vil did not feel beautiful. He was tired. Tired of merely existing, being perceived alone felt too much to handle, like the blood in his veins was not red enough. Yet Rook still stays by his side, ugliness laid bare, luring and pushing Vil to show him all of his teeth, give him all of his rotten flesh so Rook can love him even hungrier than before.

“You’re beautiful” Rook says, still smiling up at him even as Vil has his hands around his windpipe, threatening to crush.

Beautiful, Vil muses, is something many people have said him to be. A sight to behold, like a sweet dream and just as intangible. He is an actor, a model, something to be admired and watched from afar. Something unobtainable. But Rook has never been meant to sit by idly and watch, gently prying Vil’s fingers from his throat and laying him on his back, Vil’s wrists now securely held above his head as Rook slides in between his legs.

“Let me show you just how beautiful you truly are.”  Rook murmurs against his neck, nose ghosting across smooth skin. He’s already lost track of Rook’s hands, his fingers entwined with Vil’s own, tracing small circles into his pulse point, exploring the expanse of his abdomen, expertly kneading the skin of his thighs all at once. It’s a maddening pace, one intended to push him to the edge and keep him there for as long as Vil will let him.

And part of Vil is restless, has been ever since he dropped his bags on the front porch. He wants to tell Rook to hurry up, wants to break free of the strong hold on his wrists to tug at golden hair or dig his fingers into Rook’s shoulders. They have all the time in the world, save soft and slow for later when they’re rid of all frustrations, but Vil makes the mistake of looking up before speaking, directly staring into summer green eyes.

The look Rook shoots him is nothing short of wonder, the kind of look an artist shoots their muse when they are finally hit with inspiration. It’s a look Vil has long since grown familiar with, knowing full well that once Rook got in a mood like this there was little for him to do than wait until Rook was finished and he was lying in bed, breathless and waiting for the feeling to return to his legs.

So he decides to let his head fall back against the pillow and simply enjoy the sensations as he lets Rook navigate his body with practiced ease. He would have his way later when they’re sweaty and sticky, laughter bubbling in their chests as Rook whispers a hundred variations of the same three words into his ear.

Later, Vil promises himself, this time for certain.

 

 

“I love you” Vil says because it’s just that simple.

Rook lets go of the arrow. Thick string creaks and the target splits in half not a moment later. Dead center.

The bow is longer than Rook’s standard ones, slim and straight and much more elegant than anything else in the hunter’s repertoire. Rook completes whatever routine is required, rising like smoke, flowing like water until the ritual is complete and he turns to Vil with a brilliant smile. It’s the most beautiful archery Vil has ever seen, graceful, dignified, all encompassing of technique, movement and attitude – beauty in it’s purest form. For a moment, Vil wonders why Rook hadn’t made kyudo his primary form of archery.

The distance separating them is breached not much later, not far enough to be out of eyesight but far enough for the sound to only carry halfway, less with regularly functioning senses. He holds out his soda can, not his favorite choice of drink but it’s sweet and bubbly and reminds him of the afternoons spent eating sticky ice cream during the shoot of his first successful movie, his parents on either side of the cramped park bench, hand proudly ruffling his hair – an innocent kind of love, worlds apart from dancing in empty ballrooms and sipping champagne on rooftop bars, the same as fingers carding through his hair in the early morning and a text that reads I miss you even though they spent the entire night talking.

Rook accepts the can gratefully, downing half of it in one swift swig, leaving enough of it for Vil for later. The ice cream underneath his thumb feels maddeningly sticky. It had been an offhand comment, how he used to eat vanilla and lavender ice cream by the spoonful and how he hasn’t in years for the sake of clear skin. They’d arrived at the store not even half an hour later, Rook pulling into the driveway while Vil switches from channel to channel, laughing at how all the songs on the radio sound the same. In the end, they didn’t have vanilla and lavender ice cream, it was a supermarket after all, the closest ice cream parlor another hour away, but they had popsicles that would turn their tongues blue. Rook had joked about how Vil would now truly look like a giraffe, blue tongue, long legs, eyes still innocent despite all of life’s hardships.

He sticks his tongue out at Rook for no reason in particular. It’s just them anyways, somewhere in between the fluorescent lights of a supermarket and a house bordering the jungle where there’s plains all around them and they’d have another 20 minute dive before catching a glimpse of the closest house.

Rook’s tongue is the same bright blue when he pokes it out in retaliation, two children in the middle of a field, unsupervised and alive.

Everything around them is dusted in stripes of orange, purple and gold. Rook is objectively beautiful right now, in this light, in this angle – all the time. There’s a wickedness in his smile that makes Vil’s heart beat at double time. It’s always been like this, has been since the time Rook had laid eyes on him in the hall of mirrors. They get older. Rook develops a sharpness in his features that hadn’t been there before and an attitude that exceeds eccentric. Vil gets busy, flittering from city to city, shoot to shoot, interview to interview, but he always makes time for this, just the two of them sitting at the edge of the world and laughing in destiny’s face until they’re on the dark side of the sunset and Rook presses their lips together for the first time. Everything slides into place. Rook learns where to leave easily concealable marks and Vil learns how passion doesn’t always mean violence. The marks, kisses, bites, sucks, licks, never hurt, not in the making and certainly not after. They’re made from love, the kind that makes you wait for months on end but doesn’t take away any of the easiness once reunited, the kind that doesn’t ask questions when you arrive at his doorstep in the middle of the night but offers you a place to stay anyways, welcoming you home as if you’ve never left. The real kind of love.

Vil wonders how he managed to make friends with such an impressive sort of boy. How me managed to create something more between the two of them.

Another drop runs over his knuckles. Vil brushes his thumb over it experimentally. It’s still mind-blowingly sticky, feeling like it will never wash away and leave a mark everywhere he touches. He reaches his hand out, fingers tacky and wet but Rook entwines their fingers anyways, presses his palm flat against Vil’s. Maybe it’ll leave marks that they don’t need to hide this time, something softer than hands on his thighs and lips on his neck, Vil’s hands around Rook’s heart.

He doesn’t even realize his hands have started shaking, only noticeable by the way Rook squeezes his hand and his smile softens ever so slightly, something sad reflected in forest green eyes.

“We can go back if you want.” Rook offers, thumb swiping over the sticky mess, cleaning the worst of it in the process. His gloves will be ruined. They’re his favorite.

This is everything Vil doesn’t want and everything he does, everything he’s never wanted and everything he ever will want. It’s so infuriatingly simple. It’s impossibly hard, everything united to a single focal point, the bane of his entire existence. He’s at the crossroad defining his entire existence but dares not move forwards.

“Please.”

 

 

Four days later Vil finds himself in the middle of a blooming desert a little south of Pride Rock. In a way it reminds him of his own hometown in summer, fields of vanilla orchids, blue monkshoods, rampions and bellflowers, though now the array of colors is more of a fuchsia overall, wild oranges, reds and purples instead of rich violet, burgundy and soft baby blue.

The heat is no less oppressing but Vil has found a fan in a box deep within the closet and had promptly made it his best friend, saving him from certain death out in the desert. Even stars like him can appreciate the small things in life, like the gust of cold air each flap brings, salvation in the throes of what couldn’t be too far off from what hell must feel like. Rook has even been nice enough to take off his hat and place it onto Vil’s head not even five minutes after arriving, effectively shielding his eyes from the blinding sunlight. He can vaguely make out the red tip of the pheasant feather stuck onto the hat bouncing in tune with his fanning in the peripheral of his vision though his eyes are trained on Rook, knee deep in what he has been informed are called freesias.

Though he doesn’t possess a vast knowledge of flowers, Vil likes to think he’s got at least the basics covered. He recognizes a bird of paradise a little further left and the small yellow buds huddled together are gazanias, but the one Malleus currently tries to wrestle into Leona’s braids, a pinkish flower about the size of his fist, remains a mystery to him. Rook might have some insights on the matter but for now Vil is content watching Leona snap at Malleus for what has to be the fiftieth time in the past twenty minutes, hands already filled with more flowers than one person could carry.

“Pink isn’t even my color!” He hears Leona growl, voice easily carrying through the stagnant air even though they’re about thirty feet apart. A lion’s roar surely was impressive, though none of them reward Leona with the intimidated look that is expected to follow, already too used to his antics to grant him more than a roll their eyes.

“I wonder” Rook muses, stepping up next to the two to pluck his own flower behind a fluffy ear. “What flowers suit you best, my dear king?”

The flower stays there for less than two seconds before Leona pulls it out again, inspecting the white variation of what Vil thinks to be a lily before snarling a fuck you at the hunter. But Rook merely chuckles, easily evading the halfhearted punch Leona directs his way.

Leona throws the flower on the ground, stomps on it for good measure, and they all watch his cheeks dust a curious shade of pink in silence.

Ever since the Fairy Gala in their third – Leona’s fifth – year at Night Raven College, Leona has developed a certain dislike for flowery displays. The event itself had not been a particularly traumatic experience but Leona certainly didn’t appreciate Kalim leaking some of the photos he took of him and posted to his magicam. Neither did he appreciate how much they blew up, drawing the attention of several modelling agencies, or the following times Vil had bullied him into accompanying him to professional photo shoots. Needless to say, Leona had taken at least a little mental damage from the experience, his pride exponentially more.

Still flowers seem to be intricately interwoven with fae, even those stemming from dragons, their roots in darkness, so Leona has to at least begrudgingly accept some of the ones Malleus keeps handing to him to not offend some carnal part of the other. Neither of them is especially good at handling their emotions in the first place, even less so when their precious pride is concerned, and it’s not like Malleus has any malicious intentions after all, too lost within thought to even realize he was burying his boyfriend in flowery petals. And while Leona certainly hasn’t gotten rid of his anger issues he’s gotten far better at handling his emotions. But this seems to be a bit much for him though Vil mentally gives him credit for not outright knocking out Malleus’ teeth after yet another fiery looking flower is being stuck into his hair.

Instead, Leona takes a deep breath and a handful of petals and throws them straight into Malleus’ face, which, naturally considering both of them mentally never outgrew the age of a toddler, turns into a rather ridiculous fight, a whirlwind of petals and leaves and pollen dancing in the air around them.

A hand sneaks around his waist and while Vil has neither heard nor seen Rook approach he’s been expecting him. It’s too hot but Rook presses his chest against Vil’s back anyways. With a flick of his wrist a bouquet of little white flowers dotted around several twined stalks appears for him to take. They glow prettily in the slowly fading purple sparks and Vil recognizes them from back home in the Land of Pyroxene.

“Gypsophilas” Rook explains once Vil accepts the flowers. A rather peculiar choice. They seem like the kind of flowers Vil would choose for Epel, pure and innocent and lovely, preferring darker, bolder colors for himself. If there’s anything more to the flowers then Rook doesn’t elaborate, resting his chin on Vil’s shoulder instead.

Almost instinctively Vil brings his free hand up to pat Rook’s cheek, turning the hunter’s face his direction so he can press a chaste kiss to his lips. Peculiar choice or not, Rook had still taken the time and effort to procure them, deeming all the flowers lying at their feet unworthy, and Vil doesn’t like for hard work to go unacknowledged.

The moment is broken by Leona’s loud retching. Vil shoots him an annoyed glare, not appreciating the interruption in the slightest, only to be met with Leona, victoriously perched on top of Malleus and sticking his tongue out their direction. it’s the perfect moment for Malleus to change the momentum of their fight in his favor, tugging at Leona’s tail and flipping them over, effectively making them both disappear in a bush of marigolds.

Vil sighs deeply, knowing that without outside interference they wouldn’t stop brawling until either of them got knocked out or they chose to take their aggression out in entirely child-unfriendly ways. With that Rook disentangles himself from Vil and happily stalks over to the other two.

It’s funny how not only Vil seems to have developed a Rook-sense, both Leona and Malleus acutely aware of the hunter approaching them before Rook is within reach. Having been hunted by him seems to have left deeper, and much more amusing, impressions than previously thought, Vil finds out, Leona’s tail beginning to whip from side to side dangerously and Malleus visibly perking up, a small puff of smoke flaring from his nostrils. And Rook has yet to step into a five meter radius.

“No.“ Leona says immediately, glaring up at the hunter.

“Oh my, I haven’t even said anything yet!” Rook exclaims, dramatically fanning himself though the smile tugging at the corners of his lips betrays his amusement.

“The answer is still no” Leona insists, shoving Malleus off himself unceremoniously. There’s a smidge of pollen on his cheek, the fresh yellow a nice contrast to his caramel-toned skin.

“Such hostility! And here I was merely admiring such unabashed display of love. Beauté!”

“Fuck off Rook” Leona growls, wiping at his cheek though all he achieves is smearing the pollen even further, the left side of his face now tinted yellow.

“We weren’t … unabashedly displaying our love” Malleus begins to defend, standing up to dust the dirt off his leather pants – a horrible decision really. Nonetheless, the tips of his ears burn a neon pink, betraying the aloof façade he likes to put on.

“Of course not” Vil interjects, coming up to rest his elbow on Rook’s shoulder, “you were simply settling an argument. By wrestling around on the ground. Like adults.”

“Shut up” Leona snaps at him, his eyes practically rolling into the back of his head. “Don’t you have a photoshoot to attend instead of going on my nerves?”

“No” Vil says, forcing a smile on his face. “I’m on extended vacation.”

It was an offhanded comment with no malicious intent behind but seeing as Vil is rather unsure of his future career and its further existence, he can’t say that it doesn’t at least somewhat grate his nerves.

Malleus and Leona exchange looks and Vil doesn’t like not being able to read into their silent communication. Eventually, Malleus hums but doesn’t press the topic any further, thankfully changing the subject.

“Will you be staying at Pride Rock?” He asks extending a hand to Leona who was still firmly rooted on the ground. As expected, Leona doesn’t take it, leaning back with a yawn until his head rests on a fluffy patch of grass instead.

“Oh non” Rook says, waving his hand dismissively, “You know that I’m not welcome here, Roi du Dragon.”

“Welcome or not” Leona scoffs, followed by another lazy yawn, “I’m the king and I say you can go wherever you want as long as you stay out of my way.”

“Quelles belles paroles! A true shame I only obey the word of my queen” Rook says, eyes fixated on the way Leona’s tail whips back and forth.

“You’re not a king” Malleus interjects dumbly and Vil mentally slaps himself for not personally having seen to it that he develops at least basic people reading skills instead of stating his detached observations at the tip of his tongue. But before Leona can rip out his throat he adds, “Yet.”

Luckily, that seems to be enough to snuff out whatever argument began to brew within the other seeing as Leona’s cheeks dust a rather lovely shade of red as he jerks his head to the side with an overexaggerated huff, the small golden band on his ring finger reflecting the sunlight prettily.

“Whatever” he mutters, choosing to ignore Malleus and returning to his conversation with Rook. “I still think you should talk to your father. Might be weird as hell, sure was when I talked with Farena, but I guess it kinda helped.”

“That’s good to hear” Rook says, for once void of any elusive façade, smiling a genuine smile. They’re rare so Vil takes a quick mental picture before the mask is slipped back on far too soon, his eyes growing just a little sharper. “But we both know that is currently not an option.”

Leona shrugs, shooting Malleus a look that screams well, I tried before returning to try to find a comfortable sleeping position.

“What about you then?” he asks, nodding at Vil, “you staying for good this time?”

That, Vil doesn’t quite know how to answer. Lately everything has been so unsure. It’s why he’s come here, returning to the one constant in his life for much needed security. A safe haven amongst all the glitz and glam. But would he stay forever in the dry oppressing heat, lips chapped and shirt uncomfortably clinging to his overheated skin? Perhaps not. The only thing the Afterglow Savanna has to offer is Rook as far as Vil is concerned, though that admittedly is a rather compelling argument.

“Like I said” Vil says instead, straightening his back a little, “I’m on extended vacation. I have yet to decide when or if I will return to my work.”

Again, Malleus and Leona share another look, this time increasingly more annoying than the last. What’s even worse is that the smile on Rook’s face suddenly doesn’t reach his eyes anymore, green eyes now calculating and distant.

“It’s just, the timing seems off, doesn’t it?” Malleus inquires, index finger coming up to tap against his chin. He really should have instilled basic decency into the dragon when he had the chance to, but luckily Leona beats him to it, once again shrugging his shoulder in his perpetually nonchalant state.

“Whatever” Leona repeats, pawing at Malleus until he reaches the hem of his shirt to tug him down. “Congrats though. You should be proud.”

Malleus nods his agreement, kneeling down next to Leona so the other can rest his head in his lap instead, “Agreed. Your hard work has finally paid off. You should honor your victory. It's well deserved.” 

“Thank you” Vil says, exhaling a deep sigh, “though I’d rather not think about it right now.”

“Let’s discuss dinner plans then” Malleus replies, effectively changing the topic to allow for a nicer, much more comfortable conversation. Perhaps his social skills weren’t as lacking as Vil had thought.

“You’ll stay at least that long, yes?”

Exhaling another sigh, relieved and happier this time, Vil nods his head. “Yes, we’ll stay.” Then with a pointed look in Leona’s direction. “But no raw meat.”

“When in Rome-” Leona begins but Malleus presses his hands over the other’s mouth, which naturally turns into another wrestling session.

Children indeed, though this time Vil doesn’t shy away from picking up his own handful of petals and joining in on the fight. He would definitely not eat raw gazelle this time.

 

 

“I would have liked to see your hometown” Vil says, stretching his legs out languidly and making the water threatening to spill over the edge of the bathtub.

Rook secures an arm around his waist, keeping him in place to avoid any major disasters. Neither of them is particularly fond of flooded bathrooms so if Vil leans into his touch and lets his head roll back until it rests against Rook’s shoulder it’s really just for the sake of keeping the house dry, no other motives.

“You did already” Rook tells him, brushing his lips over the nape of Vil’s neck.

“You showed me around here.” Vil says, relaxing his back flat against Rook’s chest.

“Which is where I grew up.” Rook explains, plucking a petal from Vil’s damp hair. It’s silly but Vil had plucked a handful of flowers during their trip to the desert - mariposa lilies, agapanthuses and hooded-leaf pelargoniums – and Rook had bound them into a bouquet for him. Without the ground to nurture them they would find their inevitable end cruelly quickly so Vil had decided to incorporate them in his shower routine before they could droop their heads. The flowers now drift gently through the bathwater. Rook had dumped an entire carton of milk into the tub once it was filled solely for the luxury of it all. A little indulgence once in a while, a lavish kind of lifestyle Vil didn’t expect to miss so little. “Partially.”

“Exactly” Vil says, gathering his hair in one hand and pushing it over his shoulder to give Rook easier access. “I would have liked to see where you lived before that.”

“Leona already showed you around Pride Rock already, non?” Rook inquires, pressing soft lips to Vil’s cheek.

“That was years ago” Vil argues, leaning into the touch slightly. “And it was more Cheka and Ruggie who ended up giving me a tour of their version of Pride Rock. I wanted to see yours.”

Rook hums behind him, tilting his head back until it rests against smooth cold tile. “Like I said yesterday, it’s unwise for me to venture back to Pride Rock. I’m currently not welcome there.”

“Because of your father” Vil clarifies, not for anyone in particular but himself. Rook’s family has always been a touchy subject, the hunter already not too keen on recalling his past, much less sharing it. So even despite the years they’ve known each other, the subject rarely naturally ever arose and specifically asking about it seemed too much like prying for Vil’s comfort. After all, Rook has never been fond of nosey people. But Vil likes to think of himself as the only exception. He’s always been after all.

Again, Rook hums behind him, squeezing Vil a little closer.

“You know how it is with family resemblance” he says staring up at the ceiling. “I imagine it must be rather hard to look into my face for him currently, and I’d hate to add salt to injury.”

“He’s your father

“and also the one who threw me out for good.” Rook explains, closing his eyes in lieu of scrutinizing the white paint beginning to peel off at the edges of the stucco. “It’s quite alright, I rather like it here.”

“You were alone.” Vil says, narrowing his eyes at a singular flower drifting towards them.

“Not always, non. I had my grandmother.”

“What happened to her?” Vil asks, wanting to turn around but too afraid the water will spill over the edge of the tub if he does.

“The circle of life.” Rook answers because obviously that’s what happened. Vil knows that’s what happened but he had hoped for a little more insight, a small peek into the hunter’s life. It’s unfair how Rook is dexterous enough to pick Vil apart at the seams while Vil seems to need a sledgehammer to get through to him. It’s infuriating, it’s unfair. Part of Vil has expected it to be.

“Old age most likely” Rook continues unprompted and Vil holds his breath, fearing he might not continue if he makes so much as a sound. “One day, she simply didn’t wake up. The stars were beautiful when they came to take her away. I don’t remember much else of the rest of that day.”

Vil is silent for a moment and Rook patiently waits for him to file the information away and connect it to what he already knows – which is practically all of it, really. For someone who rarely talks about himself, Rook has spilled everything there is to know to Vil already.

“How old were you?” Vil asks, toeing the edge of the water.

Rook hums again though this time more thoughtfully, genuinely contemplating his answer. “8? Maybe 9. Like I said, my memory is a little fuzzy.”

“That’s young” Vil states even though that much was already evident. “Too young.”

“Oh? Were you not already starring in movies at that exact same age?” Rook inquires playfully, nudging Vil’s thigh lightly.

“It’s not the same.” Vil argues, moving to give Rook a stern look. “There are regulations against child labor. My father was making sure I never overworked myself, that I never was exploited. Both my parents accompanied me to every shoot until I started attending Night Raven College. I was never alone.”

“But you felt like you were” Rook states, pointing out what Vil has been trying to hide for the better of his life so painfully effortlessly. “You always felt like you had to prove yourself. It’s a heavy burden to bear. How cruel to force it onto someone as beautiful as you.”

Rook runs his fingertips over Vil’s cheek, his thumb stopping at his bottom lip. Forest green eyes flicker upwards and Vil has to force himself to meet his stare. It’s as close of a plea as Rook will ever come close to. Vil knows where Rook’s wounds and bruises are but doesn’t look, a kindness Rook has always been so thankful for, thankful enough to devote his life to the other. It’s a plea to retain the status quo, look away and ignore all that’s broken. He’s shattered glass, afraid Vil will cut himself if he tries to piece him back together. As if Rook wasn’t perfectly balanced – the good and the bad, standing still in the center of the storm yet still having a smile to give. His presence is more vital than Vil’s second lung and briefly Vil wonders if he’ll ever be able to breathe without him.

Rook is glittering hunter-green eyes and brilliantly elusive smiles, magic warm and light like the first rays of the sun filtering in through a cracked window, promises whispered in foreign tongues and calloused hands underneath black leather gloves, and he is good. Deserving of so much more than the cards he’s been dealt.

“Kiss me” Vil says, eyes focused a little beyond what Rook wants him to see, “it’s an order.”

Rook complies. Of course he does, so awfully devout Vil can feel it in his own bones, leaning in until their lips press together languidly.

It’s not enough. It never is. Vil presses even further, their teeth clanking together unceremoniously, all spit and bite and raw emotion. This isn’t how they kiss, Rook always so godawfully careful when handling Vil. As if Vil would break at the faintest of touches, as if Vil wouldn’t gladly take all Rook has to offer, as if Rook hasn’t already ruined him.

“Eagar, are we?” Rook chuckles in between kisses. It’s playful and light and a last-ditch effort to steer them into safer waters where Rook’s fingers won’t leave bruises on his hips in the morning.

The look on Vil’s face must be ridiculous because Rook laughs, no giggles, actually giggles at the sight, pressing his index finger against the crease in between his eyebrows. This must be sound angles make when they are happy, Vil thinks leaning in again, drinking up every little noise, every vibration escaping the hunter’s lips. It takes a bit of shuffling for him to no longer need to crane his neck awkwardly but Rook helps him adjust until he can slide his legs on either side of the hunter’s hips.

“I’ve never been alone” Vil tells him when he reluctantly has to pull away for breath and Rook leans down to trace his tongue over his Adam’s apple. “I have you, and you have me. You always will. Neither of us needs to be alone ever again.”

Vil is too far gone to translate any of the things Rook whispers against his pulse point in answer, lost in the first kisses of the night but he feels reassurance in the pleasure that comes from the way Rook lowers his hand in between Vil’s thighs.

It’s enough for tonight.

 

 

He’d once heard that pollution makes for pretty sunsets and even prettier sunrises. The sun dips behind the horizon, blood red sky, streaks of orange and hues of yellow interspersed to create an ensemble of colors that no photographer could do justice.

Activity in the savanna is sparse to the point light pollution is basically wiped out of existence. Had Vil known how breathtaking the nightscape could be he’d made Rook take him camping much sooner. They’re at the edge of the desert, about as close to Pride Rock as they are to the Land of Hot Sands. When he breathes the air tastes funny, much cleaner than what he’s used to.

Up above the stars stretch out in a long band, winding through the night sky like a river. The starlight is a lot colder and gentler than that of the sun, making golden hair glitter and stand out in comparison to skin two shades darker than his own. Rook is throwing another log into the cackling fire, the tent behind them already built, stomachs filled. He looks perfect like this, like chiseled marble or oil paint painstakingly slaved over – the one beauty Rook will never get to experience himself.

It’s Vil’s self-proclaimed duty to pick up the slack, admire what Rook can’t appreciate just so no wonder of this world is left unaccounted for. He’ll have to ask if it’s reasonable to drag their sleeping bags outside and fall asleep nestled against each other underneath the star-spangled sky, whether or not the mosquitoes will eat them alive and if they really care either way.

He stands a little taller, lifting himself up on his tiptoes as if the added five centimeters in heigh could breach the vast emptiness separating him from the nearest celestial body. His toes dig into the dirt, half-sand half-soil, not solid enough to not give under the weight of gravity. Losing balance is easy like this. A step to left snaps a twig in half and Vil wouldn’t fall, has had too much experience in keeping upright when everyone else wanted him to plummet to the ground, but Rook is by side anyways, pulling Vil upright before he can stumble. He doesn’t regain his balance though, Rook twirling him underneath his arm, Vil’s little misstep played off as the beginnings of a dance they fall into step all too easily to even without a melody to guide them. Sometimes, Vil supposes, letting Rook dip him down deep, two heartbeats are music enough.

“People don’t venture out this far.” Rook tells him, wild like a dream in the way he moves, bare feet against soft ground, a smile brighter than the moon, “No one is watching us.”

The beginning of a horror film, his brain supplies. The end of a romance movie, his heart corrects.

“We can be anything we want to be here.”

Rook slows them down to a halt, his hand coming to cup Vil’s cheek gently. His heart beats so loud it drowns out the cicadas around them, his ears filled with the sound of his own blood rushing through his veins. There’s nowhere else to look other than hunter green eyes, deep like a forest, glittering leaves in the breeze and something awfully kind, something undiluted and raw. A thumb swipes over the space underneath Vil’s eye and comes back damp.

“We don’t have a telescope to watch the constellations.” Vil says, rubbing his nose with the sleeve of his shirt. He doesn’t know anything about the night sky, can’t even point out the Sagittarius up above. He feels gross and yucky, out in the wild where there is no signal and no running water. He looks nothing like the model he ought to be, just Vil, barefoot with goosebumps on his skin and a heart to swallow him whole.

Rook only presses a soft kiss to his forehead and pulls Vil close.

“I can show you the stars anyways.”

 

 

It’s nearing lunchtime but Vil figures he has enough spare time to water the plants on the front porch, maybe even make the small trek to the market and pick up a few apples and a bottle of wine before Rook returns from his hunt. Rook hunts ridiculously early and, considering he made it his profession, usually ends up spending the better part of the day out in the woods. Time alone has always been a luxury for Vil though lately he’s found himself with more free time on his hands than he knows what to do with so he busies himself with cleaning the house, turning Rook’s kitchen into a makeshift lab to experiment on the line of makeup he’d like to release in late summer, and getting to know the people in the town. It’s a slow process despite its small size but by week five Vil has leant all their neighbors’ names and enough of the language to comfortably hold small conversations.

In essence, his life has changed drastically. There are no meetings to attend, no fleeting conversations, no fake smiles directed his way, no endlessly shuffling around his schedule to fit in one more photoshoot, one more acting gig, one more new song release. The food he eats is no longer prepared for him and delivered to his doorstep, and the house will not be cleaned in his absence.

In essence, not much has changed. He still insists on his eight hours of beauty sleep, still exercises regularly, still eats heathy and still experiments with makeup both the artistic expression and its manufacturing process. All his basic needs he saw fulfilled even with the jet-set kind of life of a celebrity, always too keen on self-care to give up such essential parts of himself. He’d worked too hard not to. All of them had after their inevitable overblot. But this, Vil muses, pulling out a what he thinks will be a knotweed once it grows taller, is easier. Happier, more suited for longevity than success. If he wants to stay up late to join Rook, Idia and Lilia in their games he can and if he sleeps in the next day then there’s nothing lost. The people in town recognize him but no longer hound him for autographs, asking about his day instead of thrusting cameras into his face.

It's a new kind of different and Vil likes to think he fits in rather nicely.

 

 

“it’s too hot” Vil complains as soon as he steps out the bathroom, trying to wrestle his wet hair into a turban. It’s too much effort though so he decides to drop the towel to the floor and himself onto the bed.

“Is that so?” Rook teases, turning the page of the book he’s been reading and Vil hates how completely unbothered he is by the sweltering heat. It’s not his fault that he’d grown up with snow and actual distinct seasons and not the constant dry, oppressive heat of the Afterglow Savanna.

“It’s hot and humid.” He emphasized, kicking his blanket towards the foot of the bed. “How have you survived this long in this climate? It’s torture.

“You’ll get used to it, Rio du Poison”

“No” Vil insists, “I absolutely will not

He shoots Rook a scrutinizing look. Despite the unbearable heat, Rook is not only wearing a-t shirt and sweats but also socks, blanket half thrown over himself. As far as Vil is concerned, Rook should be dead. Even his bathrobe feels too thick right now.

“You should lose the shirt.” Vil observes, then after a little contemplation, “And the pants.”

“Oh?” Rook asks, closing the book and diligently putting it on his nightstand to lean above Vil, “I hardly doubt that would help cool you down.”

“It’s worth a try” Vil challenges, wrapping his arms around the hunter’s neck and pulling him into a sweet kiss. It turns hot and heavy only a few moments later. Rook kisses with an urgency and dominance Vil easily falls victim to. He cherishes moments like these where he can allow someone else to take the lead, take control, and entrust his whole being to.

With the curtains drawn it’s a little hard to see despite the sun only just having begun to set, but the lamp on the nightstand gives off enough light for Vil to see the contours of Rook’s face to know he’s smiling, looking at him, like no one ever has. He takes no small amounts of pleasure from the fact that, deep down, he also knows the lonely little boy inside of him, the one constantly flitting between homes, too used to loss, has finally overstayed his welcome.

 

 

The good thing about living with Rook is essentially always having a Guinea pig around to test his newest creations on. He’s been working on a new eyeshadow formula for the better part of a month now and finally has come up with something that at the very least has potential. It’s creamy and smooth in application and the strong red pigment shows up brightly on Rook’s eyelid after only one swipe. It’s still light outside, the window in the living room enough to sufficiently illuminate his newest creation so he pinches Rook’s chin in between his index finger and thumb and angles his face for proper examination.

Rook shifts slightly underneath him, hands coming to steady Vil’s hips while he slides down a little lower until his head rests against the actual pillows instead of the firm armrest.

“Don’t move around too much” Vil chides with a click of his tongue though they both know he’s pretty much done with his work by now anyways. There’s not much to test, not when Vil has poured his heart and soul into the small vial in his hands. His creations are always perfect, his poisons most potent, and this was no exception. Though Rook’s kitchen had taken a rather heavy hit, half the pots and pans now claimed for Vil’s experiments and utterly ruined for food safety standards.

“Pardons-moi, Roi du Poison” Rook hums though by the way the corner of his lip curves upwards there’s no semblance of remorse in his apology.

They fall quiet again, Vil blending the pigment with a fluffy brush and Rook trying not to scrunch his nose at the tickling sensation.

“So” Rook begins unprompted and Vil gets ready to receive critique on his newest product he hasn’t even thought to consider. Another nice thing about Rook is how he always covers what little bases Vil leaves uncovered, easily picking out flaws he’s overlooked and pointing him in directions he hasn’t thought of before. Opposites on the same wavelength. “What’s kept your mind this busy these past few days?”

It's the first break in their routine and Vil doesn’t know how to handle it. Figures Rook would sooner or later point out how distracted he’d been ever since he arrived, inattentive and lost in his own mind, always reading too much into things. Truly, it’s rather impressive that he’d gone this long without bringing it up. Then again, Rook also isn’t fond of prying into personal business though Vil supposes they’ve kind of been the exception for that particular rule, at least ever since the debacle at the VDC.

Tapping his brush lightly against the vial to shake off any excess powder, Vil continues to blend the product smeared on Rook’s eyes, willing away the sudden shakiness of his hand. It’s no use pretending that he hadn’t been severely wrapped up in his mind but part of Vil feels like denying it just to be difficult. A childish reaction, he’s well aware, but it’s only when with Rook that he’d ever allow himself such unsightly behavior. He’s already seen Vil’s worst, what’s a little immaturity?

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He says, giving Rook’s chin a harsh tug in the opposite direction, “Now hush or you’ll ruin your makeup.”

Rook hums again though Vil’s request remains ignored.

“You’ve been awfully distracted lately, Roi du Poison.”

The brush, now clutched a little more tightly than strictly necessary, remains in the air and Vil is thankful Rook can’t feel how shaky he has become. Vil forces himself to steady his grip and continue working on blending out the eyeshadow, pretending like he hadn’t been reeling since before he even arrived at Rook’s doorstep.

“I’m not.” He says, turning Rook’s face a little to the right again. “I’ve just been thinking about Mostro Lounge. Azul intends to branch out and open another restaurant in the Land of Lamentation and I’ve offered to help out with the interior design.”

Another thoughtful hum and Vil briefly wonders whether this will become a new habit. It might become a little annoying if repeated too often but at least it’s not nearly as annoying as Jade’s placating smile, the one you just know secretly breeds trouble.

“Vil” Rook says, the sound of his own name without any kind of adjective in front sounding a little odd when it comes from the hunter, “I understand if you’re not ready to share your troubles with me yet, but you could have told me better lies than this.”

This time, Rook must feel how his hand stops moving against his skin for a short moment though Vil plays it off by pretending to inspect his handiwork.

“I’m not lying to you.”

Rook levels him with a disbelieving stare. Such raw, apparent scrutiny has never been directed Vil’s way, at least not from the hunter, and Vil finds that he rather hates this kind of look on Rook’s face. It distorts his features unpleasantly, the sharpness of his jawline uncharacteristically jaded, the gleam in his eyes too calculated to be directed at something other than prey.

“You know” Rook begins again, tracing small circles into the meat of Vil’s thigh, “You don’t have to figure everything out on your own. I’m right here if you need me.”

And perhaps that was the entire point.

Vil wasn’t alone, not ever, not really. Even if he didn’t have Rook there’s still Epel and Jack and Trey and Cater and Azul and Jamil, hell even Leona and everyone else they met at Night Raven College. And the same goes for Rook too, neither of them are ever, truly alone but none of the other people can provide what Rook can, none of them gawk over beauty in the littlest things like the new pattern on the napkins of their favorite restaurant or whisper poetry in his ear just because Vil decided to wear his hair differently for the day.

But if he brings up how much he wants this, has wanted this for so painstakingly long then Rook might realize what an entirely shite job Vil has done in loving him. The same simple displays of love never come off quite as what they truly are, too little, too rushed, and he always ends up leaving in the end. Days, weeks, months spent apart only for Vil to grace Rook with one night in the limelight of a red carpet, expensive champagne and soft silk. It’s not enough. It’s not sustainable. He has seen his own parents break under the pressure, the same couldn’t happen to him and Rook.

Rook just can’t leave but if he gives him what he wants, gives in to what he himself desires so badly, then who is to say that everything will turn out fine. Rook is a hunter, born for the chase if Vil gives in just a little, lets himself be caught, it’s all over.

He’s scared, has been ever since dark ink blotted his vision.

So was Vil alone? No. Could he simply talk things out? No, not without risking a possibly horrible change in the status quo, endangering the carefully crafted relationship they’ve refined over the years.

In a cruel twist of fate, he finds himself in a position not dissimilar to Rook’s before the VDC, a stalemate he doesn’t quite know how to get out of. The only difference being that Rook, ultimately, is a selfish person and he’s chosen confrontation, to put everything on the line and reveal his secret, if albeit not entirely unprompted. Vil on the other hand wasn’t raised on selfishness and greed like him. his mother had been from a generation much softer than that, biting her lip and holding her tongue only to save a little face.

Opposites on the same spectrum. They were never meant to meet in the middle.

“I’ll be done with the eyeshadow in less than a week” Vil tells him, carefully avoiding staring directly into Rook’s eyes, “I’ll have the formula approved before next Wednesday. It should be ready to be sold to the public in about a month.”

Rook levels him with the closest thing to panic Vil has ever seen reflected in the hunter’s eyes. He takes a steadying breath and continues to say what neither of them want to hear.

“There’ll be plenty to do in terms of advertising and, naturally, contractual work.” That much was obvious. He hasn’t even planned on returning to the limelight this quickly. But Rook has tipped the scales into too dangerous waters and Vil is afraid they’ll end up drowning if he stays much longer. They’re in the deep end already. He’s certain if he lets Rook pull him under, he’ll never want to come up for air again.

Under normal circumstances, Vil would take great pleasure in drawing out the more complex emotions the hunter hides behind his elusive smile but there is no gratification in wiping the smile off his face so cleanly. Rook goes through the motions in the span of the next three seconds, five stages of grief condensed in a brief moment. The strange mixture of fear of rejection and deeply rooted guilt that flashes across his eyes doesn’t suit him at all, Vil decides, noticing how the grip on his hip tightens painfully for a split second before they return to the status quo, gentle fingers tracing soft circles into his skin again.

“Of course” Rook says, his voice awfully tight though his face doesn’t betray any underlying emotion. His hands travel upwards slightly, a safer, more appropriate and polite distance than necessary considering Vil was still firmly rooted on the hunter’s lap. It feels awfully wrong, like Rook was afraid to scare him off with proximity alone, the faintest of touches enough to leave Vil running. “When will you leave?”

Vil swallows, fights the urge to swipe his fingers over Rook’s cheek and tell him it’s all just a joke. In truth, he doesn’t know. His manager hasn’t heard from him ever since he just up and left almost a lifetime ago, packed into three months of absence. There never were official plans for a new line of makeup though his fans have been begging him to expand his product line ever since he first launched his brand.

He goes for another dip of the brush into small vial, loading the bristles with new pigment and gets back to work at Rook’s second eyelid.

“As soon as possible.”

One of Rook’s hands comes up and hovers uselessly in the air for a moment. It looks like Rook is going to say something but Vil levels him with a stern, pleading look and that seems to be enough to make Rook drop the matter entirely. The hand falls back against the cushions and Rook closes his eyes, letting Vil do as he pleases.

“Of course.”

 

 

He’s not sure how a small town ended up with a library of all things when the next supermarket was an hour drive away and the closest hospital twice as far but Vil wasn’t about to complain. Like this he gets to flip through books upon books of pharmaceutical components, sift through the various herbs endemic to the Afterglow Savanna and their lesser known uses, and quietly study up on how clean the worst of the absolute mess he created in Rook’s kitchen. Granted, he didn’t mean to leave such an impact. It was only logical that the pots and pans he snatched from the cupboards for adding the final touches to his products could no longer be used for preparing food, that much he already expected, but Rook could be so distracting when he wanted to be and naturally with Vil’s departure fast approaching the hunter intended to maximize their time together. In the end Vil could only stop roaming hands and stolen kisses this many times before a potion was bound to boil over, ruining most of the marble countertop. At least the kitchen floor had been warm with the constant stream of sunlight filtering in though the window.

The windows are open at the library, wind gently caressing his skin and playfully threatening to turn the page for him if he wasn’t fast enough. They’d specifically looked for a table close to the window, not because of the novelty of it but because back at Night Raven College they claimed a corner at the far back of the library as their own that was both the perfect spot for Vil to go over reports and recipes for new potions in peace while Rook could watch the sun set outside and halfheartedly search for possible prey without bothering Vil every two seconds to point out something he finds particularly interesting – the way Leona’s ears perk up when being watched even he’s so far away Vil can’t even see him anymore or the way Epel’s face lights up after pulling off a particularly impressive throw during magift practice that leaves everyone stunned for a moment, most of all Epel. Rook had saved all of those precious little moments to share with Vil once they were on their way back to the dormitory, rambling all the way until they entered Vil’s room and it becomes his turn to think out loud and mull over what new components he could add to his potions to make them more potent while Rook brushes his hair.

It’s peaceful like this, Vil flipping through a stacked up pile of books while Rook watches the world around them turn a brilliant shade of gold in the setting sun. Rook’s eyes occasionally flick towards Vil, carefully watching the way his fingers flex when he turns the page or pushes a lose strand of hair behind his ear every so often, the way he pouts his lips when there’s a particularly difficult passage that wouldn’t normally trouble him were it not written in French. While Vil could just cast a simple translation spell it’s much nicer to ask Rook and have him lean in close and whisper the meanings of words and explain why the sentences are constructed in such interleaved ways in his ear.

But he's not watching Vil right now, at least not actively though Rook is generally always aware of where Vil is and what he’s doing. Instincts of a hunter, Vil likes to say though almost everyone else calls them tendencies of a stalker – both correct assessments. Instead, his eyes are trained on the squirrel perched on the windowsill, cheeks puffy and nose twitching relentlessly as it sniffs at Rook’s extended finger.

Rook barely moves, never enough the startle the small thing, and Vil can’t help but steal quick glances at the hunter, watching him sit as unmoving as an intricately carved statue. For anyone who doesn’t know Rook it looks sweet, just a man trying to gain the trust of a stray woodland critter venturing out of his comfort zone a little too far, but Vil knows Rook and waits for the inevitable.

A tiny nose twitches, boops against Rook’s index finger and leans in a little too close. The next moment it’s dangling in front of Rook’s face, gloved hands holding it up high at the scruff. Rook vaguely reminds him of the cartoons he used watch on Sunday mornings together with his father, one of them a relentless chase between cat and mouse. The cat looked the same as Rook does now whenever it got close to catching it’s prey, eyes turned to slits and smile just a hint of cruel though in the cartoons the mouse always managed to outsmart its predator. Reality isn’t as kind.

The poor thing gives a tiny squeak, not scared though it should be, just a happy chirp as if it were thanking Rook for its new vantage point. Rook dangerously lowers the squirrel and Vil chooses to look away before the crunch of bones or choked cries.

Nothing of the sort ever comes. He finishes another paragraph before flicking his eyes upwards again. The squirrel is back on the windowsill, safe and sound and still chirping happily. With a gentle flick of his wrist Rook shoos the thing away and the squirrel scurries onto a nearby tree branch, disappearing into the leaves.

Sometimes a hunt is just that, Vil is reminded, listening to the fading sound of rustling leaves. Sometimes there’s no killing involved, just a challenge and someone wanting to test their strength.

Vil has never made it a hobby to accompany Rook to his hunts or otherwise indulge that particular interest of his. He’s held a bow, Rook’s hands on his own to guide him, and hit dead center. The sound was satisfying, Rook’s elated smile even more so. But in the end, he’s never joined the hunter on his triads, preferring to await his return where he wouldn’t have to sit in bushes or trees and get his clothes dirty.

Perhaps he should have, Vil muses, watching Rook give the squirrel a small wave goodbye. Rook looks softer somehow as he watches his prey disappear out of sight. At times like these, rare as they are, Vil feels like he could catch a glimpse of the person Rook ought to be – the one he could have been, with liquid sunlight in his veins and carefree laughter in his heart had the world been just a little kinder to him.

But it hadn’t, and Rook turned out just fine anyways. A little broken but reflecting beauty with each and every crack, a kaleidoscope of color and magnificence that doesn’t need to be whole to be beautiful.

Rook watches the rustling leaves a little longer, eyes trained on the squirrel that is already too far out of sight for Vil, and Vil wonders just when Rook became satisfied with not securing a kill anymore. If it had been the rules imposed on them at Night Raven College, the threat of expulsion, or if it had been a little later than that, four years to be precise, the first time Vil had turned on his heels and not called for Rook’s presence for five months.

 

 

He refuses to make waking up in the middle of the night a habit but it’s pitch black outside and Vil is awake. It’s late, not early enough for Rook to already be up and about. With a heavy sigh Vil pushes himself out the bed. The way down the kitchen is muscle memory at this point, every creak of the stairs expected, his feet finding their way on their own so he doesn’t bother flipping on the lights. Rook might have fallen asleep on the couch and Vil would prefer to wake him in a gentler way than shining light directly into his eyes. Even if it makes moving around a tad more difficult.

Vil is no beastman, and he’s no huntsman. His eyes never adjust in the dark. He still knows Rook is there when he passes by the kitchen.

“Rook?” he asks into the darkness. The lights flicker on even though Vil is still stood just outside the doorway, two meters away from the light switch.

Rook is hunched above the sink, the warm hum of magic around him, honey on Vil’s tongue and the creation of a supernova in his veins. It’s an exhilarating kind of rush, the way the universe shifts to accommodate something so naked and pure. It’s nothing like anyone else’s magic at Night Raven College.

“Vil.”

There’s a faraway look in Rook’s eye that tells Vil it’s a whiskey kind of night, all open bones and ripped open kneecaps. Rook would be alright. Eventually, when the sun rises. It’s only natural. He’s not made for dancing with ghost in rubble-filled houses and the endless void. Light flows through his veins, magic the color of sunshine and the constellations up above. But Rook doesn’t notice, nor does he care. He’s spent too much time in the darkness not to, ingraining the wrong right in his brain, mixed it with clumped blood, and made it something intrinsically connected to him.

Rook grips the sink tight enough for his knuckles to turn a stark shade of white, lets the anger bubble and boil, and swallows it down alongside the blood underneath his tongue. It’s the rare side of Rook that never comes out of hiding, something raw and angry and lonely. A thirteen year old boy, ripped apart just to be stitched back together again, his smile sharper, greedier.

“If you use your magic so carelessly you’ll overblot” Vil says, more of a statement than accusation.

When Rook turns to face Vil his smile is brilliant, eyes reflecting constellations and the sun, vast like the sky, and burning Vil from the inside.

“This much is fine.” Rook assures him, honey golden hair swinging loosely against sharp cheekbones. “You don’t need to worry about me.”

Vil narrows his eyes at the bottle of whiskey doubtfully. As if to prove his point, Rook uncaps the lid and pours the entire thing down the drain. The skepticism stays for a moment longer but Vil isn’t cruel enough to pry into whatever haunts Rook tonight. He’s heard all the tales, can fill in the blanks, and doesn’t like any of what’s written in between the lines. He won’t make things harder for Rook.

“I always worry about you” Vil says, leveling Rook with a long stare. Rook’s smile stays firmly rooted on his face, as bright as it is fake. Finding out just how to help Rook in moments like these has always been a rather excruciating effort on his part. Rook never wants the same thing, and always everything at once. Leave me alone, stay close, be quiet, keep talking, touch me, ruin me.

Usually, the only thing that works is daylight filtering through the windows and birds singing outside. Vil leaves the room, doesn’t knock into the sofa on his way to the entryway, and comes back with a key dangling from his index fingers. In his absence Rook hasn’t moved and Vil begins to wonder when the metal underneath Rook’s fingers will begin to bend, bruised knuckles holding on too tight not to leave an indent.

Rook studies the keys, taking in how they reflect the light and finally lets go of the sink. The way he gingerly takes the keys from Vil is so awfully soft and tender it’s hard to believe they’re the same hands that have left ten little imprints on thin metal coating.

“Where to?” Rook asks in a whisper that’s just loud enough to make out. His grip around the keys tightens again, a small drop of liquid red slides down his arm from where the ridges dig in.

“Anywhere” Vil tells him, placing his hand over the vice grip Rook has around the keys. “Nowhere. Wherever you want to go.”

Rook nods, pulls his hand away from Vil before he can swipe the little drop away. It lands on white kitchen tile, tiny yet such a stark contrast it pulls Vil in entirely. Rook’s other hand slides into his, a touch so agonizingly sweet, and pulls him towards the garage. The drop lies forgotten on the floor.

The next moments are both a blur and pass agonizingly slow. Vil slides in the passenger’s seat, watches Rook’s knuckles turn white against the steering wheel, grounding himself while Vil waits for the moment to pass, prays it will soon. Then they’re on the highway. Rook’s foot heavy against the gas yet never going over the speed limit, the town miles behind them.

Vil taps his fingers against his thigh, wonders if he’ll find pink colored glasses inside the glove compartment and whether or not they’d give him some insight into Rook’s mind. He’s already found his way to Rook’s heart, wild as it is, has unraveled all the threads, and found what page to be on. They’re on the same one, but sometimes it feels like they’re reading different books entirely. Sometimes Vil would like for Rook to just talk. And he does, excessively, always about beauty in the little details, the bigger picture and the more abstract, about what he finds fascinating and what he loves. Rook never talks about himself. Not beyond what he lets everyone see at least.

“I like this car” Vil says, cutting through the heavy silence. If Rook wanted to keep silent then that was fine but Vil knows how deafening the quiet can be and he’d rather not Rook listen to whatever the voices inside his head have to say. “do you remember when you first bought it?”

Rook stays silent for a moment longer, eyes focused on the road and somewhere beyond, somewhere distant. The silence drags on long enough for Vil to conclude that it’s an especially bad night. Eventually Rook gives, if only a little.

“I was 21” he says, voice tight. Vil releases a heavy breath. It’s a start. At least Rook is talking. They can work from there.

“I was in the middle of shooting a campaign in the Rose Kingdom at the time” Vil begins even though they both already know the story. “You drove all the way from here just to take me for a ride.”

The streetlights are sparse, flickering as if they would give out any moment and soak the world around them in darkness. Vil counts twelve before Rook speaks again.

“You left the shoot early” he says, some of the tension seeping out of his shoulder. It’s barely noticeable but there’s hardly anything that slips Vil watchful gaze, especially when it comes to Rook. “just so we could drive around the city.” He sounds like his throat is hurting, coarse and raw and gives a humorless chuckle. “We didn’t even go anywhere.”

They didn’t.

Vil had told his manager to cancel his afternoon plans and Rook had already been leaning against the purple hood by the time he stepped out of the studio. From then on it was the smell of asphalt and gasoline and the promise of something more, making up stories for the cashier at the gas station working the graveyard shift and the couple hunched over cheap coffee at the plastic table that stood just a little to the left of the door, rewriting lyrics to what was playing on the radio because they were repeating the same ten songs over and over again and they didn’t have anything better to do anyways. It was all watercolor skies and Vil kicking his heels off underneath the car seat as Rook attempts to rap in rapid fire French, it was the inky nightscape and Vil desperately trying to make out what stars belong to Sagittarius while Rook points out the Northern Crown and Pavo instead. It was just them chasing after daylight, eating electric blue popsicles because that’s the only thing they could find at three AM in a run-down convenience store and stolen kisses behind tinted windows.

“I’m pretty sure I saw the entirety of the Rose Kingdom.” Or at least everything that mattered, houses hidden behind blood red rose bushes, the smell of bakeries so strong they didn’t need to look up the route, dalmatians and rottweilers sleeping peacefully out on the front porch as they passed by fluorescent streetlights and over open roads so dimly lit they might as well been driving through the Valley of Thorns. “Far better than any photoshoot.”

He gently pries Rook’s hand away from where he’s holding onto the gear shift, fingers curled around it as if he were chocking it, and laces their fingers together. Rook squeezes his hand, a lot stronger than he usually does, and doesn’t let go. It’s borderline painful, nothing like the way Rook normally touches him, as if Vil was glass and flower petals and not blood underneath sharp fingernails and poison dripping from his lips, as if Rook could break him. Vil squeezes back even harder.

“We could do it again” Vil says, tracing his thumb over Rook’s knuckles, feeling rough and open and taught skin. “Anytime you want. You can come whenever.”

Just because Vil couldn’t stay in the long run doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be there when Rook needs him, or drop everything during nights like these. It’s not often that Rook gets like this, but not often is entirely too frequent. Too many times has he woken up to broken glass on the kitchen floor or watched the three dots appear and disappear rhythmically in their chat and never received a message afterwards. Rook doesn’t need to spell it out for Vil to understand. Some nights are just worse than others.

The grip around his own grows feather light as if Rook might pull away before returning to squeezing Vil’s hand with newfound vigor. It’s borderline desperate in the way he slots his fingers into the empty spaces between Vil’s, wraps them around him as if Vil was the sole thing grounding him in the moment.

Rook lifts their entwined fingers to his face. They’re still precisely driving at the speed limit and Vil wonders if it’s simple muscle memory or if it takes actual effort not to floor the gas petal like he knows he would if he were the one behind the wheel.

“I love you” Rook says, pressing a kiss against Vil’s knuckles. “You know that, don’t you? You need to know, I really do love you, Vil.”

Vil blinks. Another five streetlights pass by, one of them actually dark.

“I know.” Of course, he knows. Rook has made this adamantly clear from day one. Claiming anything else would be blasphemy. He traces his fingers over Rook’s knuckles soothingly, watches how pained Rook’s expression becomes at the action.

“Then please don’t make it this difficult” Rook says, his lips moving against the back of Vil’s hand, whispering the words into Vil’s skin “we both know I can’t.”

Vil’s not sure when he became the one clutching onto Rook’s hand, so tight it must hurt. His fingernails dig into the back of Rook’s hand. They’re freshly manicured, filed and painted, and hard enough to draw blood even without much force. He can feel the skin begin to tear. Rook squeezes his hand soothingly.

They stay quiet for the remainder of the drive.

 

 

Vil kicks at the duvet around his feet. It’s too hot underneath a blanket, even if the nights in the Afterglow Savanna get colder than one would initially presume, but Vil was born in the Land of Pyroxene and it will take far more than a little chilly air for him to actually feel cold. Rook doesn’t exactly share the sentiment.

Arms snake around his waist and pull him closer, searching for a new source of heat now that the covers are lying on the ground. Rook presses his nose into the crook of Vil’s neck, right above his pulse and squeezes him tight.

“I love you, Roi de Poison” Rook says, lips tracing against Vil’s skin, “but please stay still. I’m trying to sleep.”

And normally Vil would indulge Rook without hesitation but something about the night air and Rook’s heartbeat close to his own always makes him awfully talkative, makes him want to tell Rook of all the silliest things like how he secretly prefers green apples over red ones or how he’s never had a pet but he thinks he’s a cat person anyways. Tonight, he wants to talk about something else.

Breaking free of Rook’s hold is easy. While he hunter undoubtedly would prefer to keep him in his arms – and for Vil to just generally stop moving around – he also wouldn’t force him to stay and Rook’s too sleepy to put up a good fight anyways. But now he can turn to face Rook, swing a leg a around his hips and slide into his lap which is, as far as Vil is concerned, a really good position to be in.

“How do you know you love me?” Vil asks, placing his hands on Rook’s abdomen to steady himself. It’s a redundant action, seeing as Rook’s hands find Vil’s hips near instantly and provide much more stability than Vil’s balancing act.

Rook cracks open an eye, an unreadable expression on his face though Vil can make out a smidge of concern and worry.

“Are you doubting my devotion?”

“No” Vil answers, leveling Rook with a stern gaze. He really wasn’t, Rook was too vocal about his passions for Vil to harbor any sense of distrust in his heart when it comes to Rook, green eyes far too honest when they see purple. “I wouldn’t dream of it. But the question stands: how do you know you love me?”

Rook hums thoughtfully and taps his fingers against Vil’s hip rhythmically while Vil says quiet and waits for an answer. In one of the books he likes to read every once in a blue moon when his schedule allows for some free time he’d read that love is patient so he doesn’t rush Rook and waits for him to find the right words. He never has to wait long.

“There’s beauty in strength.” Rook tells him, his fingers still playing a song on Vil’s skin. “You’re the strongest person I know.” The hand comes up to rest against his cheek, angling Vil’s face so he has to look Rook directly into his eyes. “Still, I want you to be treated kindly. You deserve more than just this world, and I want to be the one to give it to you – no matter what your heart desires.”

Vil huffs a soft laugh and leans forward until he can tuck his head underneath Rook’s chin.

“You’re ridiculous” he says, sinking deeper into Rook’s embrace.

“Oh non” Rook chuckles, pressing a kiss on top of Vil’s head, “merely in love.”

It’s nice like this, warm and perfect. If he focuses he can hear his and Rook’s heartbeat bleed into one symphony, steady and seamlessly fitting against each other to the point where he no longer knows where he begins and Rook ends. Vil finds he rather likes it.

Rook maneuvers Vil a little so he’s lying a bit more comfortably, Vil still a reassuring weight on top of him half asleep after a dozen breaths.

He doesn’t ask why Vil loves him.

 

 

It’s still light outside but Idia had insisted starting their party earlier than usual considering they almost missed the chance to raid Hell Hall courtesy of Vil’s sudden arrival in the Afterglow Savanna. This time though Idia seemed to have a personal vendetta seeing as he went out of the way to invite Leona and Malleus and even spent considerable time teaching Vil enough to be useful in their raid. Unlike last time he actually manages to not only walk in a straight line but also put up a decent fight, the mage much more suited to his style than Rook’s marksman. Idia and Lilia still carry the team for the most part but Leona proves to be rather useful in developing strategies that are just ridiculous enough to work and Malleus makes up for his haphazard playstyle by throwing out a rather impressive combo attack from time to time that has Idia whistling.

While grinding for items Vil doesn’t bother learning the name of is a rather arduous task they somehow manage to pull through with only two of Leona’s hissy fits and considerable amounts of coffee and energy drinks – tea and cold water on Vil’s and Rook’s end. By hour four, however, Vil clocks out, eyes tired from being fixated on the screen so much, and Leona and Malleus follow not even an hour later.

Vil uses the time to curl up next to Rook and watch his fingers fly across the keyboard. How people can play on laptops is till beyond Vil. The much more limited amount of buttons on the controller still is too complex to him to pull off any impressive moves just yet. At least Malleus shares the sentiment, always going awfully quiet when Idia barks out what buttons to press, clearly having to look down to follow his instructions – something that has lost him more than one life and Idia many nerves.

Another hour later they call it quits, Idia content with the loot they ended up collecting and everyone else too exhausted to continue –  save for Lilia of course who hums happily as his character dances on a dismembered body. It’s about as much decency as you can expect from Lilia. At least he isn't tea-bagging their enemies this time.

After far too many hours, Rook finally says his own goodbye and Vil has to admit that he might have sung his praise too early seeing as Lilia’s character begins to crouch down the moment Rook exits the game. With a satisfied sigh, Rook closes the laptop, carefully places it onto the coffee table among the five cups of coffee and protein smoothies, stretches out like a cat and slinks deeper into the couch, his fingers finding their way into Vil’s hair near immediately.

But before Rook can doze off, and effectively ruin his posture by sleeping on the hard couch, Vil swings a leg over Rook’s hips, easily sliding into the hunter’s lap. He’s not even properly seated by the time Rook’s hands find their way to his hips to steady him. A perfectly shaped eyebrow arches up, in equal measures curious and amused.

“Bonsoir, Roi du Poison.”

Vil places his hands on Rook’s cheek, tracing his thumbs over the sharp line of his jaw. “Rook-”

“We should go pack your bags.” Rook says, interrupting Vil possibly for the first time ever. It’s enough to throw Vil off entirely and makes something ugly coil in the depths of his stomach.

Uncharacteristically unsteady hands leave his hips to thread into his hair instead and Vil lets himself be pulled down until their foreheads rest together. Green meets purple, a calculating and searching kind of look in Rook’s eyes that Vil doesn’t think has ever been directed his way, nor does he hope will be again. Still, he tries to convey whatever it is Rook is looking for.

After what feels like far too long, Rook closes his eyes and sighs, his fingers tightening at the base of his neck, not pulling but just keeping him close. Another moment later, Rook presses his lips against Vil’s forehead, his eyelids, cheek and nose and then pulls away entirely.

“Allons-nous” he says, gently maneuvering Vil off of him to collect the mugs and carry them into the kitchen. “If we don’t start now, we won’t be done before you leave.”

Vil tries not to focus on how cold it feels without Rook’s body pressed against his even though it’s 27 degrees outside. One of the mugs has left a water mark on the dark wood coffee table. It doesn’t budge when he rubs at it and will be awfully bothersome to clean later on though Vil won’t be here for that anymore.

“I don’t have that many things.”

He does. He’s had a little over three months to steadily fill Rook’s house with his own belongings, taking over the kitchen for his potions before running out of space and migrating to the garage, Rook’s Maserati now parked outside where it collects sand and dust and morning dew to make space for herbs and dried flowers and spices and dried fruit until he eventually had to move back into the kitchen because one room simply isn’t enough to store all the necessary items to create an entire line of makeup.

“Of course not” Rook says, neatly lining the mugs up in the dishwasher, the glasses clinking together every so often, “but I’m afraid waiting any longer would compromise your beauty sleep and we simply can’t have that now, can we?”

He rubs at the mark once more, just for good measure even though his efforts don’t amount to much in the end, halfhearted as they are.

“… okay” Vil agrees when Rook turns the machine on, a low whirring that Vil can feel in his bones now sounding throughout the air. “let’s not waste any time.”

 

 

He leaves the following morning. No matter how many times he tells Rook he was fine with the train ride to the Land of Pyroxene, Rook still insists on making things as convenient as possible, spending the better part of half an hour going over complicated spells and setting up a portal much like the ones back at the hall of mirrors.

They’d ended up staying up awfully late yesterday, making a mess downstairs, falling into bed and hurriedly wrestling Vil’s belongings into his suitcases once they realized the hour.

The bags underneath Rook’s eyes look a deeper shade of purple than they usually do and if Vil wasn’t the sole reason for the hunter’s lack of sleep, he’d reprimand him for his bad sleeping habits. Though Vil has been awake his fair share of the night too, crying out in bed like the wildcats outside.

“Tu vas me manquer” Rook tells him, leaning against the mirror and looking all too casual while doing so. Why wouldn’t he? They’ve done this before, not Vil coming to the Afterglow Savanna but Vil inevitably leaving like he always does. They’ll do this again too, the next time he wraps up a movie or finishes a shoot or gets sick of waking up alone in bed. They’ll run in circles until Vil inevitably ends up on Rook’s doorstep again, or calls him out to another party with more attendants than Rook’s entire hometown.

A while ago Vil would have rolled his eyes at Rook, joked about something silly that none of them really care about, but the air feels a little to tight to think of anything witty.

“You won’t” he says, going for playful and failing spectacularly. “We’ve never been apart for too long.”

“And yet it always feels like an eternity” Rook sighs dramatically, shaking his head like a sad puppy, golden hair bouncing at his cheekbones. It’s all theatrics, Vil tells himself, choosing to ignore the gloominess clouding green eyes.

“Hush now” Vil chides though there’s no heat behind his words. He doesn’t want Rook to shut up. He doesn’t want to leave either but staying is dangerous. He’ll get comfortable, already has, and in the end one of them would inevitably have to give up a part of themselves that they couldn’t live without – Vil his career, Rook his freedom. It’s difficult to reconcile what they need. They don’t need to talk about it to know. “You won’t even know I’m gone.”

“We both know that’s a lie” Rook answers. The smile he shoots Vil is genuine but dejected and doesn’t quite reach his eyes. He looks like wants to commit Vil to memory, like this is the last time he’ll be able to lay his eyes on him and Vil doesn’t quite know how to feel about that.

If this were one of his movies, he’d rewrite the lines, cross out every misunderstanding and spell out what has remained unsaid for years over and over again, shuffling the lines around until they’d get their happy ending. But this isn’t a movie and the story isn’t his to tell. It’s a villain’s story, if anything, and those are never ending happily. As long as they stick to the status quo though they can just be Vil and Rook and whatever that entails, no cameras, no scripts, no inevitable ending.

Vil takes another step towards the mirror displaying a small snowy town in the Land of Pyroxene instead of his own reflection and tries not to be reminded of the inadequacy he felt shortly after the VDC, when he was met with the sudden realization that Rook didn’t think Vil would want him by his side for something as simple as liking someone he declared his rival. Foolish, really, as if anything Rook had to offer wasn’t far more than what Vil ever desired. As if Rook hadn’t been the first person to look at Vil and not only see a star but a galaxy with star sprangled eyes and skin the color of moonlight.

Next to him, Rook bows deeply, a sign that things could no longer be prolonged. There were duties to be fulfilled, Vil has to release a line of products nobody knows even exist yet. Mira still hasn’t been turned on in weeks save for the messages he sends his friends and family – a picture of his father on a new set, one of Cater with a ridiculous filter, another of a much grouchier Trey with the same dog ears, and a text from Epel detailing the cacti Jack had bought on the farmer’s market this morning still duly await his reply before he’ll face his manager and an onslaught of questions he doesn’t care to answer.

“Au revoir, Roi du Poison” Rook says. His bangs cover his eyes and Vil makes a mental note to cut his hair the next chance he gets, whenever that might be. For now, he merely gives his own curt bow, more so to indulge Rook than for actual curtesy, and steps a foot through the glass, ignoring how wrong it feels to not be guided by a warm hand at the small of his back.

Just like that the familiar hum of magic is gone and Vil is left standing in the bedroom of his favorite childhood home. He hasn’t particularly dressed for the occasion, a long-sleeved shirt barely enough to warm him in a house that remains empty for most days of the year.

For the first time Vil thinks that the cold might be more unbearable than dry, oppressing heat.

 

 

Vil leans his head against the frostbitten window. It’s peaceful and quiet, like most days are in small towns like this. The snowflakes whisk around in the chilly air, twisting and dancing before gracefully falling to the ground, forming a thick fresh layer of snow that will have been used for deformed snowmen and merciless snowball fights before lunch. Despite it only being late spring there’s still enough snow outside to cover the ground in a thin white layer. This year’s winter is too stubborn to go without duly overstaying it’s welcome. If this continued for much longer, they’d have to bribe the fae to put a stop to the everlasting cold but fae are a tricky bunch and hardly anyone wants to get involved with them until necessary.

But this is what he really loves about his hometown – the ruthless and frigid winters. Hoods pulled low and scarfs wound up tight. Like this he feels invisible, like he could be anyone, or no one at all.

It’s a shame Rook isn’t here to see the little spectacle outside his window considering the hunter only knows the powdery kind they use on movie sets that never melts and sticks to your clothes like glitter. He’d even gone so far as to sacrifice his wishing star to see it sparkle in its untouched glory back at Night Raven College. And here Vil is, sitting among so much snow the only way he could describe it is mundane.

The suitcase sits at the foot of his bed, untouched even though he arrived hours ago. But this is home, this is where slacking is tolerated even if only for a little bit. Besides, living a slow life in the Afterglow Savanna has made Vil more perceptive to the kind of beauty Rook constantly see around him. The way the orchids on his neighbors’ windowsill still bloom despite the icy cold, the way the frost forms pretty patterns on the glass, a child’s handwoven scarf and the hours and love that went into its making, all equally beautiful as the pictures the professional photographers fuss over for hours, aided by makeup artists, countless lights and copious amounts of editing. As are the two shapes, one outlandishly lilac and the other too big to ignore, right underneath his window, breaking up the endless white surrounding them.

Wait, what?

A snowball smashes against his window with enough force Vil fears it might have splintered. Luckily, no such thing happens though the wooden frame squeaks painfully upon impact.

There’s muffled shouting outside and Vil doesn’t need to open the window to know who had come to bother him on his very first day back home. He opens the window anyway and promptly gets another snowball thrown right in between his eyes.

Epel!” He shouts, furiously rubbing the snow out of his face.

“Hi Vil!” Epel screams back, louder than necessary and not sounding even the slightest bit sorry. He’s already got a longwinded rant about proper etiquette halfway formed on his tongue but Jack smacks Epel across the back of his head and that appeases Vil enough to save his lecture for later – and make a mental note to buy Jack dinner.

“Will you come down or should we come up?” Jack asks, smart enough to not raise his voice so loud they’ll annoy the neighbors. Honestly, Vil has though he could spend a little time by himself. He hadn’t even unpacked his things yet, but refusing those two simply isn’t an option. Vil has enough trouble wrestling Epel under control on good days. Considering Epel has Jack as back up on his side and Vil lacked Rook on his own, he might be outmatched on this one – only because he isn’t in the mood for fighting of course. Otherwise he’d kick their asses in a heartbeat.  

“Come up” Vil answers with a deep sigh, “I’ll make you tea.”

 

 

Epel looks utterly ridiculous in ski gear, almost as wide as he is tall with all the added layers to fend off the cold. Though Vil must admit the mint accents are a rather nice touch to his purple ensemble.

Watching him struggle to pull off his heavy boots might be the most entertaining thing he’s seen this entire year. Epel never fails to make an idiot of himself, landing square on his butt before he can tug off the second shoe. Admittedly, it must be a little hard with Jack taking up so much space in the entryway but even without any obstacles Epel would have managed to embarrass himself one way or another.

“You’re back” Jack says, stepping over Epel’s defeated body, sprawled out on the floor and angrily glaring up at the ceiling. “How come? You don’t normally return until Christmas.”

“It was a last-minute decision” Vil explains but doesn’t elaborate any further, gently nudging Epel’s shoulder with his foot so he’d stop shooting death glares at the poor stucco lining the ceiling.

“Like going to the Afterglow Savanna?” Epel asks, fighting his boot with newfound rigor. Beside him Jack brings a hand up to rub at his temple.

“We agreed on going about this with tact, Epel”

“Whoops” Epel says, again not even a hint of apologetic, too occupied with finally tugging off the remaining shoe and victoriously holding it over his head. “Aha! Take that you stupid boot!”

“Language, Epel” Vil reprimands on reflex, then, “How did you even know I was here?”

“Rook told us to check on you” Jack elaborates, hand coming to rub at his neck sheepishly, as if Vil hadn’t figured as much. Typical Rook, always so attentive, and more than borderline obsessive.

“He’s worried, you know?” Jack informs him, “I mean, Epel says he is. I thought he sounded like always but, y’know, he’s kinda hard to read.”

“I see” Vil says, trying his best to sound nonchalant, “But we talked earlier this morning. There’s no need for concern.”

“If you say so” Jack nods though he sounds a little wary, his tail not wagging from side to side like it normally does.

“Jasmine or rosehip?” Vil asks once Epel has peeled off the rest of his layers and was done ogling the expensive chandelier in the hallway.

“Hot chocolate!” Epel cheers, trailing behind Vil only to occasionally disappear into another room to whistle at whatever he finds noteworthy – the sofa, the rugs, the awards lining an entire wall in the living room, everything really. Beside him, Jack vigorously nods his agreement, though he at least refrains from making comments about the interior design like why is there an entire room dedicated to a grand piano? Does anyone in your family even play piano? To which he needs to reply that yes, his mother likes to play in her free time and no, the room wasn’t dedicated to a piano. It’s a sitting room. They’re not dedicated to anything.

With a heavy sigh, Vil reluctantly agrees. They’ve got a box of premium cocoa powder from the Afterglow Savanna hidden somewhere within the countless shelves. His father had done a brand deal and they ended up with a lifetime supply of it. Too bad none of them like to indulge in chocolatey drinks though they do come in handy right now. While he rummages through the shelves, Epel helpfully hops up the counter and swings his feet back and forth, almost knocking over a fruit bowl in the process.

“Act properly” he chides though naturally it falls on deaf ears. This is his first day back though and the first time he’s seen Epel and Jack in person this year so he decides to go a little easier on them just this once. “Why are you two here, Epel? I thought you and Jack moved to the Village of Harvest?”

“We did” Epel says, legs still swinging back and forth, “but the apple harvest isn’t until autumn so we’re taking a vacation while things are slow back home. Jack is going to teach me how to snowboard!”

At that Vil raises a skeptical eyebrow, turning his attention towards Jack instead. “Do you even know how to snowboard?”

Jack shrugs in return, “I ski but Epel insisted on snowboarding.”

“It’s manlier” Epel defends, “and you said I could learn it in a day.”

“No I said some people can learn it in a day. I’m sure Jamil or Floyd would need even less than that. You on the other hand …”

“Hey!” Epel says, sticking his tongue out at Jack. Vil smacks them both across the head and effectively ends their argument though Epel does grumble rather crude words under his breath, rubbing the back of his head.

“Anyways” Vil continues as if nothing ever happened, handing each of them a steaming cup of cocoa. “How have the two of you been?”

“Good” Jack answers, gratefully accepting the mug before leaning against the counter. “We’ve mostly helped Epel’s parents at the farm though right now there’s not much to do, at least not much they couldn’t handle on their own so we took the chance to visit my parents while we have the time. Summer and autumn will be busy so we likely won’t be able to come back until later this year. Ace, Deuce and Sebek have said they’d drop by next week. Epel told them that I was teaching him how to snowboard and they all agreed that they wanted to learn as well though knowing them we’ll end up wrapped up in a snowball fight before we even reach the slopes.”

While Jack talks, Epel has been focusing on the bowl of apples that has become an integral part of the kitchen ever since Vil met Epel. He picks up each and every one, inspecting them before methodically peeling off the little stickers and sticking them onto Vil. Somewhere along the way of their reluctant-student-mentor-relationship turned reluctant-friendship Vil has learnt that this was indeed not a silly way to annoy him but in fact one of Epel’s equally silly love languages. Go figure none of his friends have the sensibility to at least pretend to have sane ways of showing affection, Epel turns him into fruit, Jack will name his cacti after his roles, and Rook does whatever the hell it is Rook does and that mostly in French.

“But what about you?” Jack asks by the time sticker number four joins its brothers on the back of Vil’s hand.

Vil hums thoughtfully, eyeing Epel who peels yet another sticker off the next apple. “I’ve been staying with Rook in the Afterglow Savanna though I’m sure he’s told you all about that already.”

“Actually” Epel interrupts him, taking Vil’s hand and turning it to find a free space, “he was rather curt on the phone. That’s not like Rook at all! He’s a waterfall, you know? But when he called yesterday-”

“Yesterday?” Vil asks, not caring about politeness when Epel had interrupted him first. “We’ve spent the entire day together. When did he call you?”

“Umm around lunch I think? But I don’t know time zones so beats me what time that was for you guys.”

Considering the Afterglow Savanna and the Land of Pyroxene are about as far from each other as possible, save for the Valley of Thorns, that would mean …

“Around 3am” Vil concludes, narrowing his eyes dangerously. That bastard, no wonder the bags under his eyes were more prominent than normal. He likely hadn’t slept at all last night.

“That’s pretty late” Jack states the obvious taking a sip from his drink.

“Are you and dad fighting?” Epel asks, finally finding the perfect spot for his fifth sticker right on Vil’s left wrist, just above his pulse point.

“No, Epel, we’re not – Dad?” Vil asks incredulously. It’s a good thing the water for his tea hasn’t started to boil just yet. He would have definitely spilled his drink had he had a cup in his hand.

“Duh” Epel says dumbly, swinging his legs so he can kick Vil lightly, “c’mon Vil. You two are my Pomefiore parents. Like Trey and Cater are for Ace and Deuce.”

“What about Riddle?” Jack asks, ears perking up.

“He’s like the estranged uncle who has spent half his life on a remote island and has gone insane there but after he’s been found he has reintegrated into society somewhat successfully but he’s still a little fucked in the head. Animals like him though and he makes a mean tea so he’s cool.”

Beside him, Jack nods in agreement.

“And Rook’s my dad and you’re my mum but everyone already knows that.” Epel continues, finishing his rant the same time sticker number six gets stuck just beneath Vil’s elbow.

“Epel” Vil begins, pinching the bridge of his nose, “Rook and I are your seniors, not your parents.

“Yeah, no, not even my mother has spent this much time and effort into raising me.” Epel says, his hair bouncing when he shakes his head, “You’ve been drilling etiquette and morals and bla bla bla into me since we met and Rook was our middle man and made sure I didn’t end up hating you or emotionally stunted. Normal parent stuff.”

“I tried to instill manners into you though I admittedly have only been semi-successful” Vil sighs. “And you wouldn’t have hated me either way.”

“Oh no, I definitely would have.” Epel admits easily. It earns him Jack’s elbow right in between his ribs, a not so subtle reminder to be a little more considerate. Wheezing Epel gives Jack a rather pointed glare but when he catches his breath he choses to continue his little rant instead.

“I mean, you know how much I hated being sweet and lovely and the other bullcrap those people at your fancy parties called me. Rook had to do major damage control every time you took me along. Do you even know how many nights he spent trying to convince me you didn’t hate me? It was a lot. At least once a week I think.”

Vil hums. “He never told me.”

“Of course he didn’t! You think he would have piled any more work onto your plate? Vil, Rook is Jade-levels in love, that’s how far gone he is. He’s absolutely crazy. You know you would have stayed up all night overthinking things if either of us had told you and Rook would rather die than bother you with something he could handle himself. And he did handle it. He made me realize that you have your own very, very weird way of showing affection and that you only ever wanted the best for me, even if that was something completely different from what I wanted. But now I know that you love me and you know that I love you so it’s all good. Just took a while to wrap my head around things.”

While Vil would never admit it, Epel catches him off guard with his admission, making him forget whatever it was he wanted to say. It’s nice to hear him say it, even if Vil has already known. Most times their relationship is rocky at best, strained even but Epel appreciates his efforts even if he doesn’t quite understand them, and simply that knowledge alone sets his heart a little more at peace.

“I do love you” Vil admits, shaking his head dismissively though the smile tugging on his lips betrays his emotions. “Even though you can be a brat.”

“Hey-”

“The same goes for you Jack.” Vil continues, completely ignoring Epel.

Jack, always too honest to successfully hide his emotions turns an adorable shade of red, his tail hitting the counter with a dull thump with every happy wag.

“Ewwww” Epel whines, dramatically flailing his hands. “Gross, talking about emotions is girly and I hate being girly. We should do something manly now to get the testosterone kicking again. Jack, hit me! Fights are about as manly as it gets.”

No!” Vil and Jack shout in unison, making Epel roll his eyes.

“There will be no violence in my kitchen” Vil say firmly, leaving no room for the arguments Epel is surely thinking of right now.

“Fiiiiine” Epel groans, hopping off the counter in one swift motion. “Then show us your award. I wanna touch it.”

He’s already halfway out the kitchen, definitely acting too comfortable in a house that wasn’t his own seeing as he was already making his way towards the display case he’d caught a glimpse of earlier.

This time it’s Vil who rolls his eyes at the other before pulling the tea bag out of his cup and discarding it in the trash.

“Don’t break anything!” he shouts though Epel is already out of sight and most likely too focused reading the little labels on each award to hear him. Jack shoots him an apologetic smile but Vil waves him off dismissively, too used to Epel’s antics to still be offended by them.

“We missed you, you know” Jack says matter of factly though his ears turn a pretty shade of red, “and I think Rook does too. Even if you talked earlier today. I miss Epel all the time and we live together. I think missing someone as soon as you’re no longer together is just a part of loving them.”

There’s a loud crash in the next room over before Vil can answer.

EPEL!” he shouts, secretly thankful for the distraction. He’ll just have to add their little chat to the list of conversations he’ll mull over again and again once night falls.

 

 

It will take longer than a month for him to be able to release his new line of makeup after all but at least his manager doesn’t rip his head off when he shows her the assortment of makeup he’s been working on, a peace offering as well as a convenient way to explain his disappearance away. The good news is that his products are, as expected, up to public health standards and exceed the requirements of safety regulations by a long shot. The bad news is that he was set on launching his products as soon as possible, which isn’t bad in and of itself, but the bad – no the worst things is that to achieve his plans in the short span of time he’s given himself he also needs to take drastic measures when it comes to promotion and advertisement.

Spending the better part of two weeks posing for his campaign, shooting commercials, shaking hands with forced smiles, it all was expected. Vil was prepared for it. he just hates, absolutely loathes drastic measures in every which way.

He’s on his way to his apartment he’s renting, climbing the steps of the pedestrian bridge that spans over the highway running through the heart of The Rose Kingdom, not too far from the town Riddle calls his home. This isn’t a town, it’s a city, a metropole. It’s where Crewel lives during the holidays. There are two weeks until summer break and it’s a small blessing in and of itself. A good time to launch a new line of products, a good time for his sudden reappearance, a good time for his former potions teacher to show Vil’s entire team what true professionalism really looks like, cutthroat and concise, excellent and efficient, filled with an undeniable love for what he’s doing, a purpose in every word and action that everyone around him lacks.

Crewel has helped him design the entirety of his campaign in the span of a sleepless weekend. Like every other school, Night Raven College doesn’t bother with overly complicated work during the closing weeks of the school year, and Crewel wouldn’t have denied him even if he was buried in tests to correct and assignments to read over. He has a way of fitting 48 hours of work in a 24 hour day. Just how he did it Vil wasn’t sure but he appreciated it nonetheless. The next round of drinks at Mostro Lounge would definitely be his treat.

To the left there’s a billboard displaying the drastic measure he loathes to his very core. Neige’s smile is brilliant, serene and sweet and practically coaxing you to buy the foundation he holds in his hand – Vil’s foundation, the very one he’s ruined Rook’s kitchen over.

If he were to unlock his phone he’d see Cater posing with another one of his promotional posters, flashing a peace sign next to Vil glancing into the camera with the kind of confidence that subconsciously has already sold you his product. It’s good promotion. Cater has always been quite popular, both on- and offline and ever since Trey opened his own bakery and his uniquely imaginative creations joined his feed he’s been skyrocketing ever since. Vil hasn’t asked him to endorse any of his products but Cater has done so anyways, hasn’t even told Vil about it but ever since the announcement of his newest release Cater’s feed is full of colorful hashtags containing his name and links to his brand’s official website. He’ll have to thank him later, preferably in person.

There’s a second photo, this time directly sent his way and not for public display. It’s from Rook, happily wedged in between 2D versions of Vil and Neige plastered against one of the walls at a bus stop. Leona and Ruggie stand next to him looking varying degrees of excited though Cheka is the very embodiment of joy, perched on Leona’s shoulders with a brilliant smile practically splitting his face in half.

It's not nearly enough when he flicks through his messages later that night and inevitably spends the better part of the next ten minutes staring at the way Rook’s nose scrunches lightly when he smiles like that. His bed is empty and cold, he no longer sees sparkling green eyes the first thing in the morning and the food doesn’t taste right when it’s eaten in silence and not over mindless talk about things aren’t even important but feel like they are – like why Vil’s favorite season is winter and whether or not Rook would look best with his hair short, grown out or if it’s best to leave it as is after all.

It’s the same as it has always been. It’s not. And Vil starves to hear Rook’s voice.

 

 

“You’re absolutely stupid” Jamil tells him, lazily flipping through the book Vil had pinched from Rook for him a while ago. He’d entrusted it to Malleus when they met up during the desert bloom who was all too happy to use the opportunity to take a quick trip to the Land of Hot Sands once his schedule allowed, dropping it off for Vil. Why befriend one of the most powerful wizards if you weren’t going to take advantage of their powers just a little? Malleus has always been scarily skilled at teleportation. It wasn’t like it was actual work for the dragon and he’d just looked so happy at getting to help Vil and simultaneously a reason to go bug his friends, the closest thing to an invitation he’s probably gotten in a while.

The little screen displaying Jamil is a bit grainy, certainly not up to the standards Vil is used to from endless photoshoots. It freezes every so often but the connection is stable enough to at least transfer the audio with only minimal delay and that’s really where Jamil’s strengths lie, able to sound so completely and utterly done with everyone’s shit in only four small words.

“This is literally the same problem Kalim and I had” he continues, sighing exasperatedly, “if the two of you just talked for once you wouldn’t be in this situation now. Don’t always just assume you know your partner. I know you’re scarily in tune with Rook but the two of you have only known each other for what? 8 years now? I’ve known Kalim my entire life and we still need to constantly talk things through.”

“I don’t need you of all people to tell be to be more open” Vil snaps, perhaps a little too aggressive than necessary but much like Rook Vil simply doesn’t appreciate people prying into his personal matters.

Jamil’s eyebrows furrow angrily. “I haven’t kept any secrets since my overblot.”

“Neither have Rook and I”

“And yet it’s the two of you who are having relationship problems.” Jamil says, eyes scanning absentmindedly over the page, “ I wonder, could that be, because Kalim and I talk about our relationship and what’s good and bad about it? No, never. It must be something else. Have you tried energy crystals yet? Some people swear they’ve cured them of all their troubles so it must be true. I hear Sam stocks them. Perhaps if you-”

Jamil” Vil warns, eyes narrowing dangerously. He didn’t appreciate sarcasm much when it was directed his way, much less when it was coming from Jamil.

“All I’m saying” Jamil keeps talking, not particularly bothered by Vil’s souring mood, “is that the two of you are making life more difficult than it needs to be.”

“I appreciate the concern” Vil sighs, about as done with the subject as Jamil is with Vil, “but I don’t want to talk about it now. How is your sister?”

For a moment, Jamil just levels him with a glare, picking him apart and Vil wonders for a split second if he’s about to use his unique magic on him and whether or not it would work through a pixelated screen but Jamil shakes his head exasperatedly like one would at their misbehaving child.

“She’s a difficult age -” Jamil begins, thankfully dropping the topic though Vil has an inkling that this wasn’t the last of it at all.

 

 

Not even an hour later he receives a message from Azul.

Come to Mostro Lounge after closing hours. If you don’t show up I’ll send Jade and Floyd to drag you here.

Of course.

 

 

“Where are Jade and Floyd?” Vil says, stepping into the familiar waterlocked walls of Mostro Lounge and not bothering with a proper hello. They have talked not too long ago after all, Azul having helped out with the contractual work that comes with launching a new line of makeup. “I thought they were supposed to come get me in case I didn’t show up.”

Azul is idly waiting behind the bar, gloved hands deftly polishing a frail looking glass with a towel. It’s not the same Mostro Lounge Vil used to unwind when they were still enrolled at Night Raven College. It’s bigger, the ceilings higher, more chandeliers floating in the air like jellyfish, the expanses of ocean around them more vast and no less real than they were back then.

“I knew you’d come” Azul replies with a nonchalant shrug, inspecting his handiwork before idly setting the glass aside only to retrieve another one, sleek and slender, and sets to create a concoction that was sure to be just as delicious as it was outrageous. He had a knack for coming up with combinations that by all means shouldn’t work. Brightly colored liquids that look unabashedly toxic with the way they glow and swirl inside the glass yet always turn out to be nothing short of addicting.

“I sent them to go talk to Rook” Azul continues, dipping the rim of the glass into a clear liquid followed by a bath in what Vil assumes are purple-dyed sugar crystals. “Tuesdays usually are slow days and Floyd has been itching for a rematch in their little game of hunt. Naturally I only agreed under the condition that Jade came with him to keep watch.”

A wise decision, really.

Even back at Night Raven College, Rook had taken a particular interest in the twins – or rather hunting the twins than Jade and Floyd themselves. While normally things never escalated beyond the usual cat and mouse game they’ve been playing, on the rare occasion the combination of a thrilling hunt and the rush of adrenaline has made them a little too light-headed to end matters without bloodshed. While those incidents were indeed few and far between, they always left quite visible and rather horrifying reminders – a particularly deep bite mark on Rook’s shoulder that was supposed to tear out his throat or an arrow neatly piercing through Floyd’s stomach.

He can still remember how warm Rook’s blood had been when he helped patch the hunter up, carefully wrapping bandages around torn flesh and patting away inky black mixed with burgundy red. It’s a miracle he can still use his left arm with how completely mangled it had looked, skin hanging off the meat of his shoulder limply, bits of cartilage and broken bone poking out from the bloodied wound.

Floyd wasn’t much better off, coughing up bile and blood and other indiscernible substances, one of which looking an awful lot like blot. Rook was known for his scary accuracy so if he aimed to kill, Vil had no doubt the other would be dead already. It’s why the arrow had pierced his stomach, not Floyd’s heart. Why Rook had decided to pull the arrow downwards to slit the other’s stomach open, quite literally gutting Floyd like the fish he was, Vil didn’t know. Probably his survival instincts kicking in when there’s a four meter long eel gnawing at your shoulder, trying to eat you alive.

Floyd was indeed a formidable opponent. If the eel ever wanted Rook dead … well, it would be a rather gruesome death match, that much was sure and despite his blind trust in Rook Vil has to admit even he wasn’t so sure of the outcome. The only reason they enjoyed their little game so much was ultimately because they were evenly matched, both in magical ability and brute strength. But in typical Rook and Floyd nature, they never held any grudges against each other, merely pointing out weak points in their defenses and complimenting particularly vicious attacks before beginning their game anew once their wounds had sufficiently healed, the only permanent damage now reduced to fading scars and the mental torment of having to sit through one of Crewel’s more brutal scoldings, the kind that was so heartless and sardonic you’d have nightmares for years to come.

Vil slides into one of the barstools across from Azul, watching him cut up an oddly shaped fruit to toss into the drink.

“And I figured you wouldn’t be the only one who needs some sense talked into them.” Azul continues unprompted. “Idia and Lilia will have a nice long chat with Rook later in the evening but you know how they are. Idia hardly has the emotional range of a sea cucumber and Lilia is, well … let’s just hope he won’t feel the need to get involved.”

Giving out information this freely is unlike Azul, always calculating and scheming, his brain running on 100% capacity all the time to seize every opportunity, maximize every possible outcome of any conversation he participates in. Vil should be careful lest Azul is currently setting up another intricate trap for him to fall into though Vil is inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. He still remembers the nights after his overblot, sipping fruity concoctions in a much smaller Mostro Lounge, watching Azul scribble out any strict diets on Vil’s meal plan and replacing them with the occasional chocolate croissant and one of Trey’s strawberry pies. Vil in turn had written his own little deep-fried additions into the octopuses meticulously crafted diet when Azul was perfecting the curls and swirls of his near illegible handwriting.

But knowing Azul, he’ll most likely spew bullshit about the graciousness of the Sea Witch if he calls him out for actually caring about anyone who wasn’t Jade or Floyd.

“And the literal eels are experts at relationships?” Vil asks, still debating whether or not he should be insulted by his friends’ incessant interference or touched by his worry.

“Considering the three of us have yet to run into actual problems, I’d say yes.” Azul say, shooting him a coy smile. For a moment Vil considers kicking him for the sheer smugness dripping from his lips but there’s genuine pride in his eyes. It’s the kind of look he’d read in the script of a particularly cheesy romance movie: When he talks of his lovers his eyes sparkle with the sort of complete and utter devotion only penned down in Greek tragedies or whispered into the comfort of crumpled bedsheets in the night. Like they hung the stars and carved their names into his very heart.

“Besides” Azul continues, picking a rather expensive looking bottle of strange looking liqueur off the shelf behind him, “Floyd can be surprisingly insightful, and Jade is … he’s Jade. They know what they’re doing.”

Vil hums, still a little unconvinced but Azul slides his new creation in front of him and Vil choses to simply wash his doubts away with fruity purple alcohol. Vodka, Vil notes fighting the urge to scrunch his nose at the strong taste. The aftertaste is nice though, raspberry and lime, and making his fingers itch for another sip.

His efforts apparently aren’t all that convincing, Azul chuckling from behind the counter. “Thoughts?”

“It’s good. A little sour at first but sweet overall and surprisingly refreshing.” Vil says, giving the glass a tentative swirl, “I’d buy another.”

That earns him a satisfied nod, Azul moving on to prepare another drink for himself.

“It’s on the house” Azul tells him, eyes scanning the shelves before landing on a blue liquid that looks dangerously poisonous, “we still need to celebrate you winning a Golden Apple after all. Don’t worry, don’t worry, Idia has told me it’s a touchy subject right now so I won’t say anything else. But” within five seconds Azul has another drink whipped up that resembles the ocean an awful lot, turquoise and mint waves swirling inside the glass to create an intricate pattern. He holds his glass up, pushing a little into Vil’s space, “we should still at least toast to it.”

Vil raises an eyebrow but ultimately follows suit, their glasses clinking together before they each down the better part of their respective cocktails.

“Besides” Azul continues, “I believe we have other matters to discuss, no?”

Oh Beautiful Queen be damned this was going to be another long night.

 

 

It’s much colder in the Land of Pyroxene. He’s flitting between apartments again, moving all around the country to promote his brand. His launch party will be in two weeks until then his schedule is packed tight, not allowing for anything besides sleeping and eating.

He tries to sleep now but to no avail. Wrapped tight in warm blankets in a big bed all to himself Vil lacks the one thing that was a surefire way to lull him to sleep. Vaguely he wonders if this is how Rook feels all the time, insomnia kicking in when all he wants to do is sleep and not wake before next month. His body is aching, bones tired but his eyes just won’t stay shut.

Fumbling until he finds his phone on the pillowcase next to his head, Vil scrolls though his apps until he lands on his photos. Most of them are pictures that were sent his way – his friends posing with his posters on random street corners, some of his fans using his products, more than a few screenshots of business mails his manager wanted to run through him.

Normally the one in front of the camera it makes sense Vil wouldn’t take many pictures himself but he does have a few photographs of his own – Rook curled up on bed in a tight ball of blankets and dead asleep, Epel’s unamused face as Rook puts on eyeliner on him with a far too happy smile, one of himself and Rook in front of the mirror using one of Cater’s signature filters, dog ears and all. He taps on the one where Rook smiles so brilliantly at the camera, Vil’s lips firmly pressed against his cheek.

How does Vil know he loves Rook?

He doesn’t. He’s been desensitized to love for too long, played too many lead roles in romances and dramas, has proof read too many scripts and rewritten the dialogue too many times not to know that love like in the movies was just that – pretend.

He does. Has known all along actually, because in the second semester of their first year Vil had taken a bite of an apple so sweet he saved the other half to share with Rook. He’d kept the thing tightly wrapped up in his bag until he knocked on Rook’s door hours later, eagerly pushing the fruit into Rook’s hands the moment he opened the door for him. They’d sat on the bed and even though Vil had already eaten his share of the apple Rook had still broken it in half again and gingerly placed one part in Vil’s open palms. And if that hadn’t been love then it was something sweeter, even if he didn’t acknowledge it back then.

 

 

It’s not that Vil doesn’t like parties per se. The ones Kalim throws are always fun, if a bit chaotic, too many people to keep track of and music that was this close to being too loud, the few unbirthday parties he attended were surprisingly charming, the perfect mix of picknick and gathering with delightfully fresh food, and whatever excuse the light music club could find for impromptu get-togethers always served to be as obnoxious as it was enjoyable.

So no, Vil doesn’t dislike parties. It’s just difficult to pretend not to take notice of the people who are black out drunk or dry heaving into dirty toilet bowls, or the kind of sleazy bastards that only ever intend to leech off of you and use you as another steppingstone and Neige and his companions skipping in a circle out in the backyard.

But that too is part of his job, even more so if you’re releasing a new line of products and this is the launch-party. So yes, there’s the occasional person picking a fight with a particularly rowdy houseplant, and a semi-retired movie star spilling every detail of the sob story that is his life to the bartender, and a drunk girl trying to figure out if she should have studied law like her parents told her to or if the indescribable sense of loss and remorse can be attributed to the lipstick she can’t find in her purse.

It's much quieter out on the balcony, much nicer too. There was someone at the very far corner Vil recognizes from the latest cover of Fietré. They’d exchanged a brief greeting, he’d taken a long drag of his cigarette, been kind enough to blow the smoke in the opposite direction of Vil’s face, and stomped it out on the ground, saying his goodbye not two minutes after their hello and taken his leave.

Vil is eternally grateful. This is his party, he can’t afford much time away from his guests, but five minutes are alright, he tells himself, checking his reflection in the sliding glass door. It’s been hours since the party started but Vil looks very much the same, not a hair out of place, the makeup underneath his eyes not smudged in the slightest. Vaguely he registers the lingering smell of smoke. As someone who has created his own line of fragrance, the smell is borderline offensive and not something he wants associated with himself.

Rook would never smoke, not even for the aesthetic. He’s a hunter, any scent could be detrimental. And if he did, Vil would have his head for it. Ruining your lungs isn’t a good look on anyone and Vil would hate to kiss someone who tastes like ashes and reeks of smoke. It’s awful, foul and rancid. Rook tastes like green apples and morning dew, sometimes like electric blue popsicles.

Vil has always thought he’d taste like vanilla and cyanide, though when he actually asked Rook, years ago underneath the heavy purple Pomefirore duvet when everyone else around them was fast asleep, Rook had smiled and told him he tastes like the brown sugar at the bottom of a bowl of freshly cut strawberries. Vil doesn’t know what to do with that knowledge.

“Shouldn’t you be inside entertaining your guests?” a familiar voice calls. Vil knows every name on the guestlist by heart, there should be no surprise now. His heart still constricts when it’s been so long since they last saw each other.

“Hello dad” Vil says, moving to stand a little more upright, his smile turns just a little softer. His father looks still the same as he always does, the same face from Vil’s baby pictures now in front of him. Though his hair is shorter, Vil notes, the lilac tips almost completely cut off.

“Contemplating life?” his father asks, leaning against the railing next to Vil. “Can’t say I haven’t been there myself though definitely not at fancy parties like these.”

“Something like that” Vil says, relaxing his shoulders a little. Someone waves at him through the glass door, Vil waves back, turns, and joins his father in staring at the night sky.

“Is this about you winning the Golden Apple?” His father asks, “Or is this about you and Rook?”

Like always, his father sounds so casual in the way he speaks, as if Vil’s entire life hadn’t been thrown upside down, flipped inside out in the past few months ever since his name was called at the Golden Apple ceremony and an award had been thrust in his hand. It was supposed to be his moment, the moment all things fall into place and the sudden gratification at seeing everyone cheer his name made all the hard work he put into achieving his dream worth it.

It has been anything but. Nothing could have prepared him for the bone crushing emptiness he felt when he’d looked in the crowd and hadn’t seen Rook, hadn’t seen any of his friends either. Objectively speaking it was understandable, award ceremonies are awfully exclusive events even for the biggest of stars and people who weren’t of the same social standing simply weren’t allowed in.

And yet, knowing all of this and looking at the faces in the crowd, recognizing some from posters and advertisements, hiding their own anger and frustration behind thinly veiled smiles was just … it was too much. He had dreamt of this moment ever since he saw his father on the big screen and suddenly it wasn’t enough. It was the realization that he’s hit the top and has nowhere left to go anymore. Vil, for the first time in his life, no longer knew what to do.

Rook had been his sanctuary, someone who didn’t need to ask to understand and yes, maybe it had been an easy out but Vil has been working hard since he could walk, he deserved easy too. The easiness of a simple life on the countryside, being recognized by the people not because he was Vil Schönheit the star but because he was Vil from three houses down the street, the man who helps Mme Bonfamille carry her bags and babysits Toulouse and Marie when their parents are out of town, who has done Mme Colette’s makeup on her wedding day. Yes, it has been easy but it has been nice and maybe it has been what Vil wanted all along.

But what right did he have to live like that? He had a right to his award, he had poured sweat, blood and tears into ever moment leading up to this, he deserved this. But with Rook? No, he has come and gone as he saw convenient, taking more than he gave.

Since when was Vil content with maintaining the status quo? He has always challenged social norms, has always gone against the stream and been unapologetically himself so why was this different? Because it was easy? No, it wasn’t easy. He had to shuffle his schedule around and work overtime if he wanted to see Rook and trying to wrestle their schedules together had been an absolute nightmare but they still prevailed.

The only reason keeping them apart was all his insecurities compiled into brown doe eyes and jet black hair. But there was no reason for uncertainties anymore, was there? Rook has chosen Vil over and over again, has even chosen him with ink running down his cheeks and poison on his lips. Vil has beaten Neige fair and square, the award tightly wrapped up in his suitcase served as irrefutable proof. Perhaps the only thing standing in his way is himself.

How ironic, some things really never change.

“Both” Vil admits. This isn’t the right place for conversations like this. His father and him talk plenty. They could talk about it tomorrow during breakfast before they both have to leave again, or they could call each other during lunch, text at dinner.

But this is his father, coming all the way from the Rose Kingdom to a city in the Land of Pyroxene just to see his son in person, and he looks at Vil so lovingly, so understanding, as if Vil was a child again, small and confused and innocent, as if he could protect him from all that’s out there by simply standing by his side.

He can, his brain supplies, this is your father. A safe haven like Rook. Very different, much the same.

Unconditional love, that’s what the look in his eyes is. It’s been directed his way plenty times before, by three people in total – his father, his mother, and Rook. It’s the kind of look that makes your heart beat so viciously it leaves bruises on your ribcage. It’s the kind of look that tears down all your walls, makes you honest, makes you raw and tender.

“I’ve been awful” Vil says, ignoring how tight and watery his voice has suddenly become, “I’ve been bitter and distant and angry. But I still love him.” Vil admits for the first time, out to the open darkness in front of them. To his father who won’t judge. “I don’t want this.”

They’ve called Vil a star but he wasn’t one of the blurry stars up above, he was so much wrongness condensed, rotting like a spoilt apple. He knew he had chosen his path, and he thought he was prepared to walk it alone but just this once he wanted someone to keep him out of harm’s way. Vil didn’t want to walk alone anymore. Roads traveled without Rook are just coal and gravel and Vil’s feet have been hurting from walking for a while now.

Somewhere along the line, Rook had made himself a home in Vil’s life. No, not just somewhere, the very moment the blonde boy has laid his eyes on the model Vil should have known he was done for. Rook is a selfish man, of course he’d have the audacity to make himself a home in Vil’s heart too. Of course Rook Hunt dared. It’s why Vil loves him after all.

“You know” his father says, hair a shade darker than Vil’s swaying in the breeze, “You’ve spent your entire life running. But there is something to be said for running towards something. Maybe you’ve been headed for this the entire time. And maybe, it’s been waiting for you all along. You don’t need to do this if you don’t want to. You can go back to the Afterglow Savanna. You’re free to do whatever you want, Vil. Nobody is forcing you to do anything.”

“But I’m scared” Vil says, voice raw, throat hurting. “What if he doesn’t want me?”

“Oh Vil” his father laughs, a hand coming to pat his hair. It looks ridiculous. His father is barely two centimeters taller than Vil. Vil leans into his touch anyways. “The two of you will figure things out.”

Vil doesn’t answer. He doesn’t need to, they both know his father is right. No matter if you’re talking to Eric Venue, or Eric Schönheit, his father will always be right. He’s just that kind of person.

“Your mother and I, we’ve raised you to fight for a brave new world.” His father says, fixing a strand of hair that has come undone behind Vil’s ear, “But it’s okay to wish for more. Sometimes you just want for someone to turn it tender.”

“I’m supposed to be a star” Vil says, rubbing at the corner of his eye. “I have duties. I can’t just do what I want.”

“What about it?” his father asks, and he sounds so honest, so carefree, like Vil could really just up and leave again. Maybe he can. Maybe things can be just that simple. He wants them to be, so badly.

“Everything will work out fine, Vil.” His father tells him, giving his shoulder a gentle nudge. “Don’t worry so much. I’m here. So are your friends. You’re not alone. It’s all going to turn out fine, I promise.

“Now fix your makeup and go back inside. Life can be whatever you want it to be, Vil. You can be direct about it, or you can take the scenic route. Neither is right or wrong. It’s all up to you.”

 

 

Sometimes it really is that simple.

There’s Malleus and Leona trying not to step on each other toes as they swirl through the room looking like tipsy children even though they both are very sober, just cursed with four left feet among them. There’s Azul, actually able to dance like it’s no one’s business, managing to move in tune with both Jade and Floyd who set very different paces but somehow look coherent to the point they look effortless in the way they move together. Jamil and Kalim are somewhere in between, refined but with a strange soft of childish giddiness in the way they jump in time with the beat.

Idia isn’t physically there but Vil wouldn’t have expected him to be. It’s nice to see his tablet float through the air though, the inanimate object doing the impossible and looking frightened by the way Sebek crowds around him for seemingly no reason, Epel nursing a glass of what Vil knows to be apple juice made to look like beer and nodding along to whatever his companions are saying. There’s a mop of red hair next to familiar dots of orange, green and purple. Lilia hangs from the chandelier, Silver fretting underneath him, arms held out to catch him when he inevitably falls, Ruggie laughing next to him, not helping the matter in the slightest. Crewel is doing god’s work by reprimanding Ace, Deuce and Jack for declaring their love for each other in increasingly affectionate ways, the alcohol in their systems making their tongues loose. In the braincell hot potato the former first years like to play none of them seem to currently be doing particularly well.

They’re all familiar, nice and genuine in a way none of his other guests are. They’re by no means good, all wicked smiles and sharp teeth, mischief in their veins, breathing disobedience and trouble. But they make it work, they all make it simple.

A woman behind him takes a sip through the thin straw she uses as a stirrer for her cocktail and stage-whispers something about the Afterglow Savanna into her friend’s ear. Flyod plucks a glass from a random stranger, finishes it in one gulp and slams the heavy-bottomed glass back on the table before hurriedly joining Azul’s side again, Ruggie swipes some of the expensive cutlery into the inner pocket of his jacket, and at the top right corner of Idia’s tablet you could see a small red dot flickering on and off, indicating that everything around him is being recorded and stored straight to his hard-drive.

“- he just up and left and now we’re supposed to welcome him back with open arms? -”

“- you’d think he’d be happy about winning an Golden Apple but you know how actors are. They’re just so spoiled it really makes me angry. If I were him -”

“- he should be grateful. Others would destroy their entire career if they pulled a stunt like him. He doesn’t even care about -”

“- I heard he stayed with that freak from the Afterglow Savanna-”

“Would you like to dance, Roi du Poison?”

And there’s Rook, bowing down low with his hand extended towards Vil. Vil shouldn’t. This is his party, he should float through the room and give everyone their due five minutes of attention, make new business connections, strengthen old ones, smile at the people and stick his tongue to the roof of his mouth so he wouldn’t say any of the words he’s learnt to bite back.

But that’s not what he wants. His father said it was fine to take the scenic route so he does, and he takes Rook’s hand, discarding his half empty glass of bubbly champagne one the nearest table wrapped in white cotton.

“Where have you been?” Vil asks once Rook has one hand securely above his hip, the other holding onto one of Vil’s. “I’ve been waiting for you to make an appearance.”

He had. He’d counted on it, actually. The night is still young but this is Vil’s last dance. There Isn’t much reason to stay at parties like these anymore. He’s talked to all important people, his makeup line could launch smoothly in two weeks’ time; he’ll move to the Afterglow Savanna before then.

“The hero always appears late in the third act” Rook says, effortlessly guiding Vil around the room. There’s an art to the way he moves, with sculpted pale eyebrows and a knowing smirk in just the right moment, the way he speaks close enough just for Vil to hear, the consonants drawn in a pretty accent.

“Oh? So you’re the self-proclaimed hero now?” Vil teases, “What does that make me? The damsel in distress?”

It feels like ages since he’s been this close to Rook. It has been ages since they’ve been together. It’s hard not to lean in a little further than strictly necessary, revel in the proximity just because he can. And he can so he does. He faintly registers the shutter of a camera going off in the background and leans a little closer.

“Oh non, the role doesn’t suit you at all.” Rook says, spinning Vil underneath his arm. “Neither does the role of the hero fit me but it’s nice to pretend, isn’t it?”

Yes, it’s incredibly nice. It’s even nicer to make it a reality.

“It fits” Vil says, using the momentum to change pace, dipping Rook down low before pulling him back up again. “in a way. Though I’d like some character development for the role I’ve been handed. There won’t be a damsel in distress in the future, and I never needed to be saved.

“Rook Hunt” he says, not caring that he’s messing up part of the steps in the way he shifts them around. It’s been a while since he has lead in a dance. It’s rather nice though he’ll have to practice and refine his movements. “Take me home.”

 

 

“Vi-kun!” Neige calls the same moment Vil skips down the last step. The music sounds muffled from out on the front yard but it’s a song Vil has heard a thousand times anyways, one that would be forgotten in two weeks’ time. Dominic and Gran are by his side, just a little to the left. The others most likely aren’t far though Vil doesn’t care to look for them right now. Gran stares at where Vil’s fingers are entwined with Rook’s. Neige’s gaze follows his, down to their hands, swallowing whatever he wanted to say. Dominic elbows Gran in the side. Neige smiles again, so awfully happy and sweet and genuine it’s disgusting.

“Congrats, Vi-kun!” Neige says, giddy and happy in a way that doesn’t make sense. “And good luck.”

“Thank you” Vil says, this time not as strained as he usually sounds while talking to the other. Rook squeezes his hand, gives Neige a wave with the other and receives a smile directed his way for it.

“Vi-kun” Neige says again, adding a pause solely for theatrics. Or maybe he’s thinking of the right thing to say. If Neige contemplates his words before speaking that is. He usually sounds like he talks straight from the heart. It’s annoying, and his best quality. “I’ll come visit you one day.”

No, Vil wants to say. Would’ve said if he wasn’t in such a damn good mood. He nods instead, “You’re welcome anytime.”

Neige smiles, waves and turns on his heels. A moment later he has disappear back inside the house, the music ringing out loud once again and mellowing out when the door closes for good. He squeezes Rook’s hand again, and pulls him towards the parked cars.

 

 

Vil isn’t rough but he presses Rook against the side of the car anyways, hands on either side of the hunter and leans in close. For possibly the first time, Rook tilts his head away.

“Don’t” Rook says, cheeks a curious shade of pink. “We’re in public, Roi du Poison. People will see.”

It takes all of his willpower not to outright laugh at Rook or slap him right across the face. Vil isn’t even drunk. He knows very well what he’s doing, and Rook should know better than to question him.

His eyes flick up, past hunter green and land on a beige hat adorned with a singular feather. He quickly snatches it from Rook’s head and places it on his own. It’s a good thing Rook always wears wide brimmed hats. Like this Vil can easily pull it down far enough to disguise his face from onlookers.

“There” he says, fixing the hat in place, “now they won’t be able to recognize me.”

The outfit might still be a dead giveaway but Vil leans in again before Rook can bring it up.

 

 

In his mind, Vil has already travelled back to a house bordering the jungle and a desert filled with flowers. Maybe he should have been more specific.

He’s fallen asleep somewhere along the ride, hasn’t even questioned it when Rook had turned on the engine of Vil’s car and sped off to some unspecified location. They would have needed a magic mirror to arrive at the Afterglow Savanna in a reasonable time, or drive several hours, cross the entirety of the Rose Kingdom, take a comparatively short boat ride, cut through the Land of Hot Sands, and drive for another four hours before they were anywhere close to Rook’s hometown.

It's the snow crunching underneath Rook’s dress shoes that wakes him. Somewhere in his brain it dawns on him that this is the first time Rook has seen the snow and Vil has completely missed it. It also dawns on him that Rook has seen snow for the first time behind the wheel of the car and simply kept going. Maybe he’s pulled over somewhere and fawned over it’s untouched beauty at some point. Vil has been asleep for a while now after all, but a glance at the middle console reveals that they’ve arrived in record time.

“Réveilles toi, Roi du Poison” Rook says after he cracks the door open, squatting down in the snow outside, “we’re here.”

Vil makes a noncommittal hum, definitely not ready to get up. He pulls his knees closer, tightens his hold on the jacket Rook has draped over him before Vil fell asleep.

“Carry me inside.” He orders though with sleep lacing his words he doesn’t sound as domineering as he’d like to be. Rook indulges him anyways, carefully maneuvering Vil out of the car.

He fumbles with the keys – the ones Vil had pushed into his hand before climbing into the passenger’s seat. The house keys are attached but Rook has to flip through several others unlocking the doors to apartments strewn all across the world to find the right one. Of course, he finds the it on the first try.

For a moment, Rook hesitates. He’s been in every one of Vil’s apartments, the lofts in the Land of Lamentation and the walk-ups in the Rose Kingdom, the alcove studio in the Valley of Thorns and the studios in the Land of Hot Sands. He’s never been in this one, Vil’s childhood home, his favorite house, the one he comes to in between shoots and on extended weekends.

Enough time passes for Vil to question whether perhaps he’d chosen their third year Halloween costume a little too accurately and Rook was indeed a vampire and needed to be invited to be able to enter but Rook seems to have found his courage and carefully toes the door open.

Vil is in and out of consciousness. He doesn’t remember Rook taking off his shoes but he can hear the dull thump of socked feet on the hardwood floor. He doesn’t know how long it takes Rook to locate the right room, vaguely registers his own voice yawning second floor, third room to the left into the crook of Rook’s neck, but Rook never turns on the lights and Vil isn’t really keeping track of where they’re going until he’s lowered onto purple silk sheets.

“Dors bien” Rook says, combing his fingers through Vil’s hair. Next to him, the bed never dips down, Rook doesn’t slide underneath the covers, claiming the right side of the bed as his.

“Rook?” he asks into the darkness. The moon gives off just enough light to show Rook’s silhouette halfway through the door.

“Oui, Roi du Poison?”

“Stay”.

Rook halts, considers, mulls something over in his head, but he doesn’t join Vil in the bed. “Is there something else you need?”

“Stay” Vil say again and means it. Just stay.

Again, Rook stills, thinks, doesn’t come with a reasonable explanation but at least he silently closes the door and moves to stand in front of Vil’s bed.

“Kiss me” Vil orders.

Rook complies, leaning down without another question and presses their lips together. It’s soft enough for Vil to taste green apples and morning dew without waking him any further, it’s firm enough to make falling back asleep impossible. It’s exactly the kind of impossible he’s come to expect from Rook.

“Kiss me again” Vil says the moment Rook pulls away, hands climbing their way into golden hair and gripping tight at the base. He’s tired and can’t find the right words to convey it all. It’s not enough, never has been and perhaps between the two of them Vil has been the greedy one all along. He scrapes his nails across Rook’s skin, right where skull meets spine, tries to put eight years of unsaid feelings in the way he pulls Rook close, the way he tugs at his arm until Rook has to wedge one knee in between Vil’s legs to keep his balance, the way his hand travels lower until it catches at the hem of recently ironed pants, a question for permission.

“Kiss me until I tell you stop.” Vil continues, incessantly chasing after Rook every time he tries to lean away to grasp for air, “and then kiss me again.”

He can feel Rook begin to ease into it, relaxing, staying. It’s like they’re back underneath the covers of his bed in Pomefiore, the first whispered I love you clearing the haze of the aftermath that is blot. It’s a chance, a reason to stay, to finally to stop running.

“You can have all you want” he says, pressing his lips wherever he can reach, Rook’s jaw, right underneath his ear, on his shoulder where his scar begins, and finally his mouth. “Just stay.”

They’ve been dancing around this for too long, eight years of words unspoken now finally bubbling over as Vil pushes their story towards the climax. Rook is actively reciprocating by now, his hands on Vil’s hips, his thighs, tracing the v of his stomach, the knee in between his legs pushing up and grinding against him just so.

It’s not nearly enough.

“And don’t ever leave.”

 

 

Vil has never particularly liked disorder, but he does find delight in the mess of clothes strewn around the floor. Waking up like this is much nicer though the space beside him is empty again. Part of him expects for Rook to be downstairs making breakfast but the hunter is nowhere to be found and a quick scan through the house still leaves him empty handed.

He makes quick work of getting ready, noting how they’re late even for brunch as he brushes his teeth, and wraps himself in a thick jacket and fluffy scarf.

Of course Rook is outside. This is the first time he’s seen snow after all and once Rook discovers a new beauty he’ll fret over it for hours, or until someone forcibly drags him away. What’s unexpected is the lilac lump resting on his lap, Epel spread eagled on the ground, only his head propped up on Rook’s thighs and snoring loudly.

The telltale crunch of snow underneath his boots must alert Rook of his presence but Rook keeps sitting, picking up a handful of snow and watches it melt in his palm. Though he does lift his head the moment Vil stops behind him.

“Bonjour, Roi the Poison” he beams up at him, teeth just as white as the snow around them and infinitely more beautiful.

In lieu of an answer Vil merely leans down and presses a soft kiss to the hunter’s lips. It would be a sweet moment if not for Epel’s sudden retching underneath them.

“Et bonjour Monsieur Cherry Apple.”

“Mind your manners, Epel.”

“Don’t be gross in front of your child.” Epel huffs, rubbing at his eyes as he sits up. “I brought apples.”

Vil eyes the bag next lying next to them, “indeed you did.”

“I knew you’d come here after the party.” He says, carding his fingers through the snow playfully, “Thought I could teach you how to carve them” Epel tells him, his ears turning a dusty shade of pink at the confession before bouncing back to his garish country attitude, “But Rook’s here!” he says, flailing his arms around, pointing at Rook as if Vil couldn’t clearly see him sitting at his feet.

“It’s rude to point at people.”

“But Rook!” Epel practically shouts, “He’s here. Look! We made a snow-Vil.”

“I can see tha- snow-Vil?” Sure enough, there were three tightly packed snow speres stacked on top of one another, each a little smaller than the previous, the smallest wearing a rather unimpressed smile. They even got his braids right.

“We wanted to make snow-us too but I kind of slipped on the ice so I showed Rook how to make snow angles and kinda fell asleep” Epel continues sheepishly.

Rook just chuckles as he stands up.

“Monsieur Cherry Apple is a rather talented teacher” he says, motioning towards the plethora of snow angles around them. “and I do believe we did a rather splendid job at capturing your beauty. Though naturally, nothing could compare to the real deal.”

Despite the snow covered ground it’s not especially cold. It had begun warming up and before soon the snow would be reduced to nothing but little puddles that the squirrels and stray cats would use as impromptu water dish. So while Rook isn’t in immediate danger of freezing to death, Vil still unwraps his scarf and coils it around the other, just for good measure. Rook is from the Afterglow Savanna after all so despite being rather hardy, his limits when it comes to the cold remain untested and Vil wasn’t about to risk the hunter getting sick on his first day playing in the snow. The smile he gets in return is nothing short of blinding, making his cheeks heat up dangerously.

“We should head inside.” Vil says, stepping away far enough for his heartbeat to return to normal.

“I’ll be off then” Epel says, pushing the bag of apples into Vil’s hand. “I’ll teach you another time but you two go have fun now. I’ll bother the others. Ace and Deuce have been talking about going ice skating later. Jack says the ice is too thin but you know Ace and Deuce. I want to see them fall in a lake! And if they don’t fall then I think I’ll skate too. it’s not super manly but Sebek wants to learn it because apparently Leona and Malleus did it last year and Leona is super manly so I think it’s fine.”

“Epel” Vil says, pinching the bridge of his nose. He can already feel another headache coming his way but if Epel wants to drown in a frozen lake so be it. Though he wouldn’t let him hear the last of it if any of them actually got sick. “Just … be safe.”

“You too!” Epel shouts, already running off in the opposite direction like an excited puppy.

“Au revoir” Rook calls back, waving until Epel disappears around the corner.

“Shall we?” he asks, turning to Vil with a soft smile. This time it’s Vil who reaches out his hand, entwining their fingers as he pulls Rook deeper into the town. There was plenty he wanted to show the hunter after all.

 

 

A first he had never thought to actually witness is seeing Rook actually be awkward. They’ve been out nearly the entire day, Vil showing Rook his old school, his favorite coffeeshop, the place where he first met Jack and any other place he deemed even remotely important. Downstairs they have dinner simmering in a pot that was definitely too large for two people but would probably suffice for five sick ones. But here, in Vil’s childhood bedroom, Rook stands and shifts his weight from one foot to the other, so uncharacteristically unsure of himself Vil has half the mind to put his hand on the other’s forehead and check for the beginnings of a fever.

Rook has a weird look Vil hasn’t seen before, a sparkle in his eyes that he’d anticipated – after all this also is many firsts for Rook, the first time he saw actual snow, the first time in Vil’s hometown and in his childhood bedroom and the first time getting to see everything within. It’s almost like Rook is a little overwhelmed at the sight, not knowing which item to examine first while also not wanting to overstep any boundaries, not touching anything and going so far as to keep staring at a neutral spot on the wall where no posters or photos were hung as if simply looking around was already too much prying into Vil’s personal life. Ridiculous really, as if Rook wasn’t a deeply ingrained part of the very same personal life he didn’t want to intrude in now.

“You don’t have to be so stiff” he tells Rook, catching the hunter off guard in his musings and only making him stand a little stiffer, “you know what you told me at your house goes for you too. What’s mine is yours. That extends beyond my apartment and the penthouses, Rook.”

“Ah, oui, merci Roi du Poison” Rook says, his smile a little strained but he at least makes an effort to relax, gingerly sitting down on Vil’s bed and tentatively scanning his room. His eyes land one of the pictures sticky-taped to the wall, one of his family on a trip to the Rose Kingdom back when Vil’s hair was still one color and he had yet to make his debut as an actor.

“You were an adorable child” Rook comments, more to himself than anyone else.

“You still are” he says once he realizes Vil could actually hear him talking even though Vil hadn’t considered his comment rude in the first place.

“Though you’re more beautiful now, I’d say. Stronger, and with a thrilling edge to you. A little less innocent, I suppose. No longer childishly naïve.”

“Did I look naïve back then?” Vil asks, giving his voice a teasing tilt just to ease a bit off the tension.

“Every child does in a way” Rook explains, “They still need to learn that the most beautiful flowers are always poisonous.”

“Are you calling me ugly on the inside in a very roundabout way?” Vil asks, raising an eyebrow a little skeptically.

“Oh non, jamais de la vie. You, beautiful Vil, are the only person I’ve encountered who truly is as beautiful on the inside as you are on the outside.”

“Rook” Vil says though he doesn’t really know what he wants to say. After a moment of chewing on his words like old tasteless bubblegum, he settles on, “dinner will be ready soon. Help me set the table.”

 

 

“Cut it short” Rook tells him, perched on a chair they’d dragged from the kitchen all the way up to the bathroom.

Vil runs his finger through his hair, watches silky golden locks spill between his fingers. “Are you sure?”

“Oui, I think I’m in desperate need for a change.” Rook says, making Vil hum in thought. He’d jokingly suggested it once and while it had genuinely sounded like a good idea back then he wasn’t so sure about it any longer now with the cold metal scissors actually in his hand and not some mere concept that had been sweetened by one of Azul’s mystery cocktails.

“Besides” Rook continues, leaning back against the chair and smiling up at him. “I trust you. Whatever you do, I’m sure I’ll love it so do as you please, Roi du Poison.”

Vil huffs. Well, that certainly was a little less than helpful. By no means was he a trained professional, he’d merely watched enough hairstylists tinker with his his colleague’s hair to replicate them on his dormmates with sufficient results. While it was far from the first time he’d cut Rook’s hair, it always leaves him a little on edge. Clean cuts like Rook’s always needed to be maintained with love and precision. Cutting off more than one centimeter at once seems a little ludicrous, choosing something other than a bob almost a betrayal.

But Rook makes the decision for him, gently taking the scissors out of his hands and cutting off his ponytail in one swift motion. They watch the little bundle float to the ground and Vil hopes this hadn’t been a mistake. His mother once told him true love was loving someone after a haircut so it takes courage and a mental pep talk to look up.

Surprisingly, Rook looks good. Strange, but good. Then again, with a handsome face the hairstyle only ever is secondary and with the way Rook is smiling at him now Vil has to wonder why he is the only one having made modeling a career.

“What do you think?” Rook asks, pushing a hand through his hair. He hasn’t even looked in the mirror yet. Perhaps he was too scared to though Vil feels like Rook simply wants his opinion on the matter before taking a look himself.

“Strange” Vil admits, reaching out his own hand to tangle in the now short hair, “It needs a proper cut but for what it is, it looks good. You look good.”

Rook nods his head and finally turns to look at his reflection, bursting out in laughter the moment he meets his own eyes.

“I look awful, don’t I?” he asks in between gasps of laughter and despite the lamentable situation Vil can feel the start of his own laughing fit bubble up in his chest.

“It’s not so bad.” He tries, hiding his chuckles behind a hand.

Vil” Rook chides though he’s still laughing, kicking at the ponytail on the floor.

“Okay, okay. It might have been a little ill-advised” he admits, spectacularly failing at keeping his laughter under control, “but it’s nothing that can’t be fixed.”

 

 

“I love you” Vil says because it really is that simple.

Rook almost drops the plate he’s been drying. The towel in his hands is mostly wet by now, no good for drying things anymore but Rook has kept trying anyways.

Vil watches an array of emotions flick across the hunter’s eyes, confusion and disbelief, panic and doubt, and a slight tinge of hope all reflected in deep forest green within the span of two seconds.

“You don’t have to” is what Rook settles on. “Say it, I mean. Please don’t feel like you have to say something like this because of the way I act.”

“I don’t say thing I don’t mean.” Vil says, resisting the urge to cross his arms defensively like a child. “You, of all people, know that best.”

Rook takes a deep breath, tries to collect himself but comes up just a little short.

“Belle Reine, is this-” he runs his hand trough his hair, finding it too short and almost looks offended when golden tresses aren’t long enough to slip through the gaps between his fingers. He doesn’t fret like this, but Rook swallows, several times, and ends up sounding a bit choked. “Is this real?”

Vil’s heart only breaks a little at the question, how Rook sounds so torn between convincing himself this is a cruel joke and daring to hope, his voice comes out shaky. He takes the dripping towel from Rook’s hand and discards it in the sink. Rook’s fingers flinch at the loss, grasping for something to do with his hands, something to hold on to so Vil simply entwines their fingers, presses his palm flat against Rook’s sweaty one and pulls both their hands upwards to rest on the beating heart beneath his ribcage.

After eight years of friendship, developing something infinitely more tender that’s just for the two of them, he doesn’t need to say anything. They’re already experts in reading the silence and understanding the weight it carries.

Rook looks like he doesn’t breathe for a moment. Then, Vil suddenly finds himself flush with Rook, his body turning liquid against Rook’s. His hands are fisted in the back of Vil’s shirt, hard enough for there to be ugly crinkles when they’ll pull apart, possibly even stretch the fabric beyond repair – as if it was the only thing grounding him to reality.

“Is it so hard to believe?” Vil asks, trying and failing to come off as teasing. His own voice is mysteriously shaky, not aiding him in taking the edge off the situation, lightening the mood a little.

“No. I just-“ Rook says into the crook of Vil’s neck. Like this Vil can more feel than hear the hunter, the vibrations of his voice carrying through his entire body. This might be the first time Vil has heard Rook stutter. He pushes a hand through golden hair and holds tight. Rook readjusts his grip but doesn’t pull away, holds on tighter. “I just never thought I’d hear you say it.”

It’s the almost sad chuckle that follows that makes Vil’s heart bruise again, beating so fast it strains against his ribcage. Rook is eight years’ worth of love confessions ahead of him. Catching up sounds unfeasible. But it’s not like Vil wasn’t known for doing the impossible. He’d beaten Neige, rightfully snatched the Golden Apple and cemented his victory. He could do anything if he wanted to, even if it’s moving to the Afterglow Savanna, especially when it’s building a life with Rook. He can worry about his work later. Take up less roles an actor, more local photoshoots. Concentrate on his brand, release a new line of products, focus on his music. Or he could do none of that, not live like Vil Schönheit the star but like Vil from the house at the edge of the jungle who helps Monsieur Pompidou find the perfect secret ingredient for his patisserie and taught Berlioz how to tie his bow so it always looks fluffy and crisp. Or maybe he could be both. They could make it work, could make everything work as long as they’re together. Sometimes it's just that simple.

“Well, get used to it” Vil says pulling back just enough to be able to look into Rook’s eyes, hunter green and deep and soft. “I’ll be saying it a lot from now on.” He continues, sliding his fingers through short honey gold hair until he’s cupping Rook’s cheeks, his thumb tracing over his jaw, catching on lips that taste like green apples and morning dew, sometimes like electric blue popsicles, and the entire cosmos condensed.

“Rook Hunt, I love you.”

 

 

“I miss your long hair” Vil says, fingers combing through short golden locks.

“Me too.” Rook admits though there’s not a trace of sadness in his eyes when he smiles at Vil. “It will grow back in all due time.”

Vil hums, pressing his face into the crook of Rook’s neck. That much was true. There was plenty time to grow it back. There was time for everything.

“Do you really want to go back to the Afterglow Savanna?” Rook asks, speaking more into Vil’s hair than to the person himself. Before Vil can dig his nails into Rook’s forearm, he continues, “We could also stay in the Land of Pyroxene if you’d prefer. Managing your career would be easier from here and you’d be closer to your parents. To Epel and Jack too.”

“And what about Mme D'Arque and her pheasants?”

“She’ll be alright” Rook says, twirling a champagne colored strand around his finger.

“Then what about you?”

“If you would kindly direct your eyes outside the window I believe you’ll be met with the sight of a forest.” He says and again only barely misses crescent moon shaped claws digging into his arm. “ I’ll be fine wherever as long as I have you.”

Vil hums, nuzzles closer and relishes in the way Rook chuckles when his nose brushes over the spot right underneath the hunter’s ear, right where the small cut from dull kitchen scissors lies.

“The same goes for me” Vil answers, stretching like a cat and lazily throwing his arm over Rook’s chest. “I can work from wherever. We’ll make it work.”

Underneath him, Rook nods, presses his lips to Vil’s temple and stays there.

“Besides” Vil begins again, batting his eyes up at Rook prettily. “I could always become a hairdresser if things don’t work out quite the way we wanted."

Rook throws his head back in laughter, hitting the wall with a low thud. “As long as you don’t let anyone else handle the scissors I think you’ll be good.”

In the name of the Beautiful Queen, they really had no idea what they were doing, had they? For all his talk of the things he could do once they were back in the Afterglow Savanna, Vil hadn’t actually made any specific plans and certainly not any preparations. His manager will surely kill him once he tells her about his decision. Too bad, he really had hoped she’d help him renew his contracts. Well, he had Azul for that, didn’t he? And Crewel could take over as his manager if things came down to it. It would work out. They’ll make it work.

Rook’s laughter has subsided to low chuckles now, the bedframe no longer shaking slightly. As much as Vil loves his childhood bedroom, it really wasn’t meant to accommodate two fully grown men, one of them tall enough his toes were hanging over the edge slightly. After a well placed kiss on Rook’s forehead, Vil lets himself plop down again, head nestled underneath Rook’s chin, inhaling sweet musk and amber.

Luckily there was time still. There was time for everything, really. For now though, he could focus on the snowflakes dancing outside and the fingers returning to his hair, combing out any leftover knots from last night’s activities.

Vil presses another kiss to Rook’s jawline, for no reason in particular other than he feels like it, nuzzling infinitely closer without the intention of ever letting go again.

“Let’s go home, Vil.”