The branches outside of Hearst's front door were coated white, as just about anything else in Valerian's sight. He was currently waiting outside the front door for someone to let him in, his head tilted watch the small birds making small jumps from the branches, leaving little prints behind. He was bundled up warmly, the scarf Eskel had given him the other day was wrapped tightly around him. It was still a week away from Christmas Eve, but Eskel had already begun to slowly give Valerian gifts. Today Eskel had invited him to spend time at his family's little holiday gathering. While it wasn't anything as big as the holiday party his parents would be held in the next few days, Valerian was excited nonetheless. Besides Eskel's main family his grandparents were supposed to be there, as well as Willow and Eden with their close family. Anabelle had her own friends coming, and Valerian was sure Shasha and Sebastion would have their own friends around too. Lily had opted not to come, as she was currently at her father's house sick in bed. She had encouraged him to go anyways, but Eskel was already pestering Valerian that they go see Lily together after the party. Valerian looked up with a smile as one of the housekeepers opened the door and led him in. He was clutching a rather large collection of paintings accented with bows, gifts from Lily. His own presents for Eskel were handing out of his arm in a small collection of gift bags.
"Everyone's in the living room" the housekeeper smiled before heading back to her work in the kitchen with the others.
The warmth of the house battled Valerian's cold away as he set his presents down and pulled his boots off. He left them to dry on the rack and moved to take out the nicer pair of shoes he'd brought to change into. Sasha was always so bent on dirty shoes in her house, Valerian supposed it was because her house was primarily made of white and silver decore. Keeping it clean and shiny with Eskel running around was likely hard enough. Valerian hung his coat and everything else up and collected his gifts again.
The house was decorated neatly. White and blue shaded lights hung uniform, garland strung around railings, Christmas figurines were set out, along with other decorations for the party. The tree was the first thing Valerian spotted in the living room. It was tall and fluffy with white branches. A gold star was placed on top. Red, silver, and gold ornaments of all shapes and sizes decorated it perfectly, along with a gold trail of garland winding around it with gold lights. There was already a mini mountain of shiny wrapped gifts and glitter bags under it. The living room also contained the family and friends of Eskel huddled and talking all about the room. There was music playing softly in the background and the television was playing a movie.
Valerian felt a slight tug on his land leg, looking down he found Madame waiting for him. The poodle stood there with an expectant look on her face as if he were required to pet her. Valerian smiled and did so, only to be interrupted a few seconds later. "Valerian" he faintly heard Eskel hiss from around the corner before he peeked his head out and glanced around. "Valerian you are to come to my room this instant!" He quietly motioned for him to follow. Valerian, a bit awkwardly, grabbed his things and hurried upstairs.
"Eskel, why aren't we staying downstairs?" He asked, closing the door as he stepped in.
Eskel was still clad in what looked like his pajamas, "mama said to dress nice today, but I don't know what I'm doing!" He sighed dramatically, "go into my closet and find me an outfit."
Valerian smiled, that wouldn't be hard at all. "Here, you can have these while I do that."
Eskel eagerly took the gifts while Valerian wandered into the walk-in closet. Kirron was likely the most fashionable brother, but Valerian knew with all the expensive clothes Eskel owned it wouldn't be too hard. He picked out a cream-colored sweater that still had the tags on it, along with a pair of brown pants, he grabbed a pair of shoes from the floor and headed back out to present them to Eskel for approval.
"So many elephants!" Eskel beamed, flipping through Lily's painting with a smile.
"She was going to just paint you one like you wanted, but she was having fun and kept going," Valerian explained, stopping before Eskel and holding the clothing up for him.
"I love them" Eskel smiled, setting them aside before going for Valerian's gifts. Eskel peeked in one bag before turning it upside down and letting a dozen small stuffed animals slide out. He grabbed them all, crawling to set them up on top of the headboard of the bed, alongside his older ones. The other bag was filled neatly with odd little trinkets and figurines that Valerian had spent the past few weeks collecting for him. Eskel was an easy person to shop for, as well as being hard. He liked trivial little things- stuffed dogs and odd or wonky figures, but Valerian had felt rather odd getting him those. It was Christmas and he wanted to give all his friends thoughtful and nice gifts. So Valerian smiled to himself at the thought of the smaller wrapped gift hidden in his coat pocket downstairs. He was going to wait to let Eskel have that one after they've had their fun for the evening.
"Thank you" Eskel sang as he got up to take his clothes. "You can have your present later" he commented before disappearing into the closet to change.
Valerian sat down, "What are your grandparent's names again?"
"Aleksandr and Calina Andreev, but you don't have to call them that. Just call them…" Eskel paused with a small hum, "I don't know, address them however you want, I guess."
"Thanks for the help" Valerian sighed, "they speak English right?"
"They do. It's a bit broken sometimes, but it's expected. They only travel here for Christmas really." Valerian nodded to himself, it was good to know he could talk to Eskel's grandparents freely, rather than making Eskel stay and translate for them. Eskel already wasn't very spectacular with his family language in the first place, getting a bit lost at times as Valerian had observed in his time at the Heart household. It seemed even Sebastion knew it better, and he'd taken it up after marrying Sasha and having his first kid. Eskel had been taught from birth but didn't care much for it.
"Well, don't I just look dashing?" Eskel questioned, walking out of the closet with a small twirl. The sweater looked a bit big on his thin frame, but he looked nice nonetheless. Eskel brushed his hair and worked to fix it before moving to his desk and taking a box out from the drawer. He opened and rummaged for a second, picking out a few pieces of jewelry. He clipped a thin gold necklace on, struggled to get his watch on, and finished with a gold ring with a small collection of diamonds around it. Eskel made putting it on look like such a chore. "It's a family ring, everyone has one." He explained, walking by to open his bedroom door. "We can go now, I look decent enough for them."
When they got downstairs Valerian found that a few more people had arrived. Eden and Willow were near the front door slipping their coats off, while Eden's wife was already talking Sasha's ear off. Eskel left to say a quick hello to Juliet and Violet, leaving Valerian to wander a bit farther into the living room. He felt a bit shy with all the unfamiliar faces turning to him. He'd only officially met Willow and Eden once, and seen them a few times after, but he'd never really met their families. Annabelle was too busy with her friends to notice him, so he looked for the only other person he knew decently: Emerson.
The oldest sibling was in the next room watching over a small group of younger children as they played and ran around. He noticed Valerian quicker than Valerian had anticipated. He was beside him in a few long strides, "I'm glad you came Valerian" he offered a warm smile, setting his empty glass on the table behind them. "Eskel was worried you'd have other holiday plans today."
"No, but I will soon." He smiled, thinking about all the preparations he'd be helping with his parent's party.
"Who won't be? The holidays just wind everyone up, keep us busy and stressed" Emerson sighed.
Valerian raised an eyebrow, "I don't think they're like that...for me at least. I enjoy the Holidays, they have such a nice and warm feeling."
"Our mother can make anything stressful" Emerson laughed, "she doesn't mean to, she's just worried about this year...you know, about everything that's been happening. She forbids anyone from bringing up the outcome of the trial, and is still calling all those tabloids threatening to sue them for reporting the way they did." Emerson shrugged with a smile, "Eskel and I ruined these past few months, she doesn't want anyone ruining Christmas."
"You didn't ruin anything" Valerian spoke, a bit quieter now. "But I understand, she doesn't want Gale to keep ruining things, right?"
"Exactly" Emerson whispered, "it's going to be New Years soon, it's time we push Gale to the side and start new."
"I take it you're doing well then?" Valerian smiled, it was good to know Emerson had such a good view on entering the New Year and letting go of Gale, beginning the process to let go at least. He was far more updated on Eskel's feelings than his.
"Wonderful actually" Emerson beamed, "it takes a lot to be, but right now it's wonderful. By the way, I wanted to ask you something. I know we should leave the Gale problem out of the holidays, but does Eskel seem like he's doing good? He talks to us, but he doesn't really talk to us, you know?"
"I think…" Valerian clasped his hands together as he thought about it. "I think he's doing okay, he doesn't talk about it as much anymore, but I don't know if it's because he's moving on or if he's just hiding things."
"I think he's hiding a lot of hate inside him." Emerson began, "I think he's very angry at a lot of people and things."
Valerian looked down, "I think so too, sometimes he just gets so worked up over little things or if things just don't the way they should. I've been trying to get him to talk more about it, but I don't want to push him."
"Valerian!" Emerson looked up at the sound of Eskel calling for Valerian. He smiled and patted Valerian's shoulder lightly.
"Well, it was nice talking to you, but I think Eskel will have a fit if you don't go join him again."
"Yeah, he's been excited about showing me to your grandparents" Valerian laughed, "it was nice talking. I'll see you later."
Valerian turned to walk away but was stopped by Emerson for a second. "Hey, I appreciate you being there for my brother, but just remember that you're not his personal therapist Valerian. Don't worry yourself over all this stuff too much, okay?"
"Ugh, Emerson, get your own friend." Eskel scoffed as he burst into the room. He walked right up to Valerian, wrapping his own arms around one of Valerian's. "Everyone is dying to meet you, Valerian." He tugged him along, leaving Emerson to turn back to the children that were growing a bit too loud. Valerian gave a nervous smile at the eyes shifting on him as the walked in.
"Oh Nicholas, you're a riot!" Valerian's eyes traveled to Eskel's mother, who was walking by with Nicholas Jones in tow. Eskel didn't notice his surprised expression, or he didn't address it. Valerian looked around again at the new faces. Celine and Catherine were here too, their mother talking to Eden.
"I didn't know they were coming" Valerian stated, hushed as he inched closer to Eskel.
"Oh they're just friends of mom" Eskel brushed it off. He looked over at Valerian with a curious expression, "oh, you don't like them do you?"
"I don't really know them I guess, but Cathrine and Celine are…"
"Horrendously mean and spoiled, I know. Don't worry, they have to behave here." Eskel assured him, "they probably won't even leave their parents side, how tragic. They can't even handle to behave themselves."
"Oh, what is this I hear, gossip?" Valerian felt an arm snake around his neck and pull him closer along with Eskel. Violet wore a cunning smirk, "are we trashing Catherine? You know I love any-"
"Oh, I know you love Catherine" Eskel teased.
"Ah, shut up" she gave him shove before letting go of Valerian. "What's your name again?"
Valerian stood quietly for a moment before answering, "Valerian, you are?"
"Violet." She stated. Valerian had met her at the first dinner he attended at the Hearst's, but her existence had been outshined by Gale and Eskel's odd behavior. All he could remember was that she was Willow's adopted daughter and was always poking at Eskel, but other than that Valerian wasn't even sure if he had even had a conversation with her before. "It's nice to see you again" she didn't smile but extended her hand to him. Eskel shoved her off before Valerian could take it.
"I'm sure Valerian doesn't want to touch you."
Violet scowled, "well, I'm sure he doesn't-" Violet's words fell off as her head whipped around at the sound of someone calling for her.
"Eck, I hate her" Eskel looked to Valerian with a small frown. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
Valerian had frowned, "you don't really hate her, do you?"
"Eh? Why do ask?"
"It's just a really strong word" Valerian began, "I don't think there are many people we truly hate."
"Really? I hate a lot of people." He stated, turning to scan the room. "Enough of your wisdom Valerian, come meet my grandparents."
Valerian pouted a bit before pulling together a smile as Eskel dragged him towards the sofa. Eskel's father was sitting across from an older couple. "Valerian is my grandpa Aleksandr." Eskel introduced. The man was thinner in appearance, with fair skin and twinkling brown eyes. He wore a warm smile tucked in his trimmed beard. His hair was light brown, whisping over in soft curls and combed over. He was wearing a blue sweater, a dress shirt tucked neatly under it. Valerian somewhat nervously offered his hand for the older to shake. "It's a real pleasure to meet you." He smiled.
Aleksandr looked to his wife and said something in Russian before turning to Valerian. His wife was giggling to herself, quietly trying to hide her smile. Eskel, on the other hand, didn't look very happy. "It's nice to meet you!" Aleksandr boomed, standing abruptly. Valerian took a step back to give the man space but was only dragged into a big bear hug. Valerian couldn't help but smile as Eskel's grandfather went on, "very nice to meet you!" He exclaimed again.
"You know how to pick them my sunshine" Aleksandr's wife was up next, over her laughing fit and poking at Valerian. Calina was shorter with paler skin than her husband. Her eyes were light blue. Her hair was blonde, grey streaks beginning to come in as her locks twirled in curls that begged to break free from her braid. She was holding Valerian's hand and seemed to be taking in everything about his appearance and clothing at the moment. She was wearing a dark green dress, a sweater with a pretty knitted white shawl tied over her shoulders. There was a pearl brooch pinned on her collar and she had the same diamond ring as Eskel and Aleksandr. "Adorable!" She exclaimed, causing Valerian to smile shyly. He hadn't expected Eskel's grandparents to fawn over him at all.
"Sunshine, how long?" Calina turned to Eskel, "long?"
"Never" Eskel spat with a frown. "Never will either. I told you who he was." He tossed an arm around Valerian with a scowl, "just friends." He stated clearly. Valerian raised his eyebrows in slight surprise as he worked out the vagueness of the conversation. Did his grandparents think they were together?
Calina scoffed, "then when will you date?" She questioned. "If not him, then who? He is beautiful!" She gestured to Valerian with a smug smile.
"I don't know, I'm not thinking of a relationship." Eskel scoffed, pushing Valerian away and sauntering up to his grandma.
"They're convinced you're dating at this point" Valerian looked down as Anabelle pushed her way up to Valerian's side.
"Yeah, but you know it's Eskel's fault. Whenever he tells them about you he just raves about how great you are, really makes up out to an angel. That and they've always teased Eskel about getting a girlfriend."
"Well, besides that they seem really nice. Very…excited." Valerian laughed, looking over as Aleksandr spun Eskel around in his own bear hug.
"We just tease!" Calina laughed before looking over at Valerian, "just friends!" She smiled, making sure Valerian knew she was just joking.
"While they catch up Valerian, how about you come to help me with something?" Anabelle tugged his sleeve gently. "I would really appreciate it, it's for my brothers."
"Oh, of course," Valerian looked over to where Eskel was trapped on the sofa with his family. He looked positively annoyed being stuck, but with how Shasha was staring him down Valerian had a feeling Eskel wouldn't be getting free anytime soon.
He followed Anabelle outside through the patio doors in the dining room. She led him around to the front of the house so that no one could see them. There was a car waiting towards the end of driveways, out of sight of the living room windows. She ran up it, Anabelle knocked on the window to get the drivers attention. "Hey, thanks for bringing them to me." She smiled pulling her wallet out and handing over a few hundred bills. The side door slid open and Valerian was met with two cages. There was a meowing kitten in one and a bird huddled in the other, a blanket over both of them. Anabelle grabbed the birdcage, "take the kitten for me."
Valerian melted at the soft feline curling up in his hands. It was rolling and flailing around as he tucked it into his coat. "You got these for your brothers?" He asked, trudging through the snow at her side.
"Yeah" she shrugged, "the birds for Emerson. He's such a dork, what fun is a bird? The kitten is Eskels."
"Eskel likes dogs though" Valerian pointed out, "why no another puppy?"
"Please, there's already three dogs here we don't need another one. Besides, I think a cat will do him some good. You know, they're supposed to reduce stress and depression, ease loneliness and help anxiety. I think caring for her will help Eskel improve." She explained. "I don't know if he tells you, but he gets really lonely and sad sometimes" she looked down, "and angry, I just thought a kitten would take his mind off things and help him cope better." She looked back up at him, "what do you think? Do you think he'll like her?"
"I don't see how he wouldn't" Valerian smiled, "I think that's really nice of you Annabelle, really it's awesome."
"Whatever makes him feel better" she shrugged, "It's no big deal, you've done more for him anyways. You're really cool, I'll miss you when we leave."
"Leave?" Valerian watched Anabelle hurry inside and run upstairs, trying to hide her presence. They got to her room, where she set the birdcage down and took the kitten. Valerian stood a bit awkwardly but repeated himself. "What do you mean leave?"
Anabelle looked over as she rummaged around for a bow. "Didn't he tell you?"
Valerian could feel a sense of dread creeping in him. "No I- I don't know what you're talking about."
Anabelle pulled a nervous expression, "I thought you knew or I wouldn't have said anything...um mom and dad have just been talking about moving. Mom wants to move back to Russia and be our grandparents."
Valerian stared at her unlinking for a moment. He left her room without another word, walking down the hall. Move? He questioned himself. Eskel couldn't move away, especially not across the world! He could feel his stomach shifting as he grew nervous, what would he do if Eskel moved away like that? They were so close now, Eskel needed him to be there. What would happen? Valerian felt the slight burn of tears prick his eyes as he thought about it, why didn't he tell him?
Valerian didn't bring it up for the rest of the party. He rejoined Eskel at some point and had dinner, socialize a bit with everyone there, and just enjoyed the festive party. Eventually when everyone left, minus the grandparents He and Eskel finally returned to Eskel's room for a break. Valerian had agreed just to stay the night with him and leave in the morning. It was quiet and dark as Eskel turned his lamp on and laid down. Valerian was slow to take a seat, watching as Eskel yawned and pressed his head into a pillow. "Too much socializing" he sighed. Valerian nodded quietly.
"What's wrong with you?" Eskel sounded tired as opposed to his usual upbeat self. He sat back up and kicked his shoes and socks off before going to find something comfier to relax in. Eskel could tell Valerian's demeanor had changed, leaving him to shift to a much more somber tone. What'd I do? He wondered, shaking pants off and changing into his pajamas. Had his grandparents joking upset him? Had Anabelle annoyed him when she took him away earlier? Did the food make him sick? Or was he just tired of him at this point?
"Nothing's wrong." Valerian yawned, running his hands through his hair. Maybe he'd just wait to ask about the moving fiasco.
"If nothing is wrong, then don't ignore me" Valerian turned his eyes to Eskel's change in tone. Eskel turned to finish the buttons on his top and glaring.
"You are!" Eskel snapped, "you've been acting like this all night! Maybe you shouldn't stay the night if all I do is wear you out so much, go hang out with Lily or something!"
"Eskel" Valerian frowned, "why are you acting like this? We had a nice time, I don't see why-"
"Oh just say it, you hate me!"
"What?" Valerian stood up, his tone finally raising a bit. "Who said that? Why are you saying that?"
"It's obvious I've been annoying you" he hurried up to Valerian, putting his hands on his shoulders, "whatever I did to upset you, I'm sorry. Don't be mad at me." He whined, "just don't don't be mad at me, please."
Valerian moved to grab Eskel's hands, "Eskel, I'm not mad. I'm sorry if I made you think I was, I just...I heard that you might be...leaving." He sighed, "I know your mom wants to move back home for you and Emerson, I've just been thinking about it all."
Eskel's face grew red and guilty, "I…"
"I don't want you to leave" Valerian frowned, "you're my friend, I really care about you. We've been going through so much together these past few months I don't know what I'd do if you leave."
"I'm not- I'm not leaving!"
"But Anabelle said your parents are talking about moving."
"They are, but do you think I'd let them make me move? That's why I didn't tell you anything, there wasn't any use if I was just going to make sure they know they can't make me leave. It would just make me sadder, they wouldn't move if they knew that."
"But if it'd help you with healing then I don't want you to-"
"It wouldn't! Maybe it would a little since I'd be by the rest of my family, but I think I'd just be lonely and sad not having you to spend time with. Honestly, you're the only reason I leave the house most of the time Valerian, you're the only other person I can talk to outside of my family. I...need you." He admitted, "you're my best friend." Eskel took his hands back from Valerain's grip. "I'm sorry. When I thought you were mad at me I got worried."
"I'm sorry I was kind of down all night." Valerian gave a small smile, "you're my best friend too Eskel, I was just worried. Besides, how could I be mad at you?"
"It's quite easy, I do like getting on people's nerves." Eskel pointed out.
"You know it takes a lot to get on my nerves" Valerian chuckled. Eskel nodded before moving to sit back down on the bed. He was quiet, maybe a bit embarrassed over how he'd acted. Valerian could tell, so he moved to his where he'd set his coat when he brought it up earlier. He dug into his pocket, pulling out a small box. "Here," he began, handing it over to Eskel. "It's your other gift."
Eskel took it curiously, wasting no time in tearing the bow off and taking the top off. He pulled out a small charm and dangled it before his eyes. It was silver and flat with a small yellow gem in it. Eskel tipped his head, "what is it?"
"It's a charm" Valerian began, moving to pull out a matching silver charm. He looked like a little moon, silver with faint dark freckles. There was a cutout in the center, leaving room for Eskel's to clip into place.
"You got us friendship charms?" Eskel questioned, looking up with big eyes. "I've always wanted to have a friendship with someone!" He exclaimed, clipping them into place a few times.
"You can put it on a necklace or something, or your keys, wherever you want." Valerian smiled, he had seen Eskel eyeing things like them at the mall the past few weeks, leaving Valerian to make sure he got one for the Holidays. What better thing to give Eskel? He seemed overjoyed with it, which made Valerian smile proudly.
Eskel spent the rest of the night playing with them. He liked to make Valerian pull it out and clip them together at any moment, always getting a spark of joy from it. They hang around the house a little more and spent more time with Calina and Aleksandr, along with the rest of the family. Eskel and Emerson both almost cried when they got their new pets. Eskel had been unsure about a kitten at first, the moment the little feline crawled into his lap and fell asleep he was sold. Eventually, Valerian and Eskel both fell asleep in a poorly made fort. Eskel was sleeping long before Valerian, who was left to smile and lay back for the night.
Their sleepover was turning out much better than last time.