Lukiel was all smiles on the walk home.
When he left Clorenthia for a few weeks away, he couldn't have imagined things would turn out as they did when he got back. He didn't expect Adonai to be there, and he never thought he'd find a new building in place of the old inn.
After the hell of the past ten years, he'd started to believe he would never catch a break. Now he had pretty much everything he could ever want. How did he get so lucky?
Adonai distracted him with a light poke to the ribs. "Someone's in a good mood."
The vampire grinned and looped his arm through the other man's as they wandered down the street. "Of course I am. I came home to the best surprise ever."
By the look on his face, the phoenix caught on to the actual meaning of that remark. But of course, he had to be a smart ass, and he didn't bother to hide it. "I should hope so. That inn was a lot of work."
Lukiel pulled him to a stop and turned Adonai to face him. "You know what I mean." Suddenly feeling bold, he leaned in to steal a kiss. The phoenix took him a bit by surprise when he wrapped his arms around his waist to draw him in closer.
An hour ago, the vampire would have felt an embarrassed flush rise in his cheeks, and it might have been enough to make him move away in such a public space. But after everything that happened tonight ... he didn't care.
No one else was on the darkened road, but even if there had been, it wouldn't have deterred him. He draped his arms around Adonai's neck to tug him down to his level, and he deepened the kiss as much as he could. Yes, the former hunter knew how he felt about him now, but Lukiel still wanted to make sure there was no room for doubt.
When they pulled apart, Adonai still wore that infuriating - yet endearing - smirk. "Look at you," he teased. "Not so shy anymore."
Lukiel had a retort lined up for that. But he barely spat out the first couple words before it caught in his throat. His gaze wandered behind the other man at the sound of an opened door - and he froze when he saw who stood on the porch.
The phoenix raised an eyebrow in confusion, and then he turned to see what was up.
Tajali hovered in the open doorway to his house, staring in silence at the two in the street.
Crap ... Taj ... How the hell do I break this to Taj?
Lukiel's first instinct was to push away from Adonai, a move he immediately regretted. Even so, the urge to immediately apologize to the phoenix quickly gave way to the need to talk to his best friend. "Tajali - "
The brunette cut him off with a curt wave, his expression and tone controlled and unreadable. "Sorry to interrupt." After that, he quickly closed the door.
"Taj, wait - " The vampire bolted for the house but had to stop when Adonai caught him by the arm.
"Let him be."
Lukiel sent a quick glance behind him. "But - "
"Give him a couple days to take it in. He won't listen if you approach him now."
Yeah ... Probably not. Tajali could be difficult when he was in a mood. It didn't pay to -
A brief panic shot through him again as he spun around to face the other man. "My god, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to push away like that, I - "
Adonai cut him off again and took a firm hold of the vampire's shoulders to steady him. This time, though, where in the past there might have been a scowl at such an overreaction, the phoenix instead offered an understanding grin. "Hey, easy. It's all right, I get it."
The reassurance helped the vampire to calm himself down. Consciously, he knew by now Adonai wouldn't have taken the push the wrong way, but Lukiel's anxiety had a tendency to make him overexcited about the silliest things. It was something he knew he had to work on.
Right now, however, his focus was on his best friend. He had to talk to Tajali - but it would have to wait at least until morning.
Lukiel somehow managed to wait four full days before he attempted to approach the brunette. Tajali should have checked in by then, but he hadn't. It made the vampire uneasy, and he worried the situation had been left to fester for too long.
His concern grew when he knocked on his friend's door and received no answer. Lukiel would normally just walk right inside in this case, but if Tajali was upset with him, he doubted it would be a good idea this time.
Instead, after a couple of failed attempts at knocking, he peeked through the windows as best as he could. He saw no signs of his friend being home, so the next place to check would be his aunt's house.
Tajali wasn't there, either, but at least Emeria knew where to find him. She'd sent him out to the woods to collect some herbs she used in her practice.
"He might be gone for most of the day," she explained. "The plants I need can be tough to find this time of year."
Lukiel would be lying if he said he wasn't a tiny bit relieved. He knew he had to settle things with the other man, but he also had a bad habit of stalling when confrontation was unavoidable. And if Tajali was occupied elsewhere, it provided as good an excuse as any to put this conversation off a little longer.
To the medic, he said, "When he gets back, could you let him know I want to talk to him? I'll wait for him at the inn."
If Emeria knew what was going on between the two guys, she didn't let on. "Sure. I'll send him right over."
The vampire muttered a quick thanks as he ducked out of the house. He took a deep breath to steady himself, and then he made his way back up the road, stopping at the house only long enough to let Adonai and Lucien know where he would be before he headed towards the new building.
The inn still sat empty at the moment. Some things needed to be in order before the business could properly reopen, so for now at least, Lukiel could use it as a hiding spot. A place where he could sit in silence and think.
More specifically, he wanted to disappear into that crawlspace in the office. Once he pulled the panel closed behind him, he found himself in total darkness. The lack of light didn't bother him. On the contrary, it made it easier to close his eyes and clear his mind.
He had no clue what he would say to Tajali. With Lukiel's luck, it would be the wrong thing, and his friend would hat him for this forever.
The vampire shook his head to banish the thought. There was no way Tajali would ever flat-out hate him, right? They'd been close since childhood. It should take a lot more than this to tear them apart.
Then again ... the brunette never really did click with Adonai. Lukiel suspected the reason to be the whole hunter/vampire dynamic that was so prevalent when they first got to Clorenthia. Tajali was the kind to always be suspicious of those he felt wanted to hurt someone he cared about.
The question remained, then, whether his friend would be willing to look past all of that now.
At some point, a muffled noise caught his attention. Lukiel suddenly realized he'd lost track of how long he'd sat in this crawlspace with his own thoughts. Had to have been a few hours, at this point.
It took a second to identify the noise as the front door to the inn. Probably wouldn't have heard it if he was human. Footsteps wandered around the building but never stepped into the office. If Lucien or Adonai were checking on him, they wouldn't know about his hiding spot.
He leaned forward to open the panel but stopped at the sound of a familiar voice.
"Come on, Lukiel. I know you're in here somewhere."
The vampire hesitated. He couldn't put this off anymore. May as well get it over with.
Instead of simply opening the door, however, Lukiel rapped his knuckles against the wood - two long knocks and three short ones. A childish part of him wanted to know if his friend remembered their code knocks from when they were kids.
A brief silence passed before the footsteps resumed. They came closer to his hiding spot and stopped, replaced by the sound of someone picking at the edge of the panel. A moment later, light flooded into the cubbyhole. Lukiel snapped his eyes shut against the change and turned his face away.
Even after his sight adjusted, though, he made no move to stand up. More stall tactics.
"Well? You coming out of there or what?"
Tajali sounded irritated. No surprise. The tone was enough to drain what little resolve the vampire had to settle this. So rather than give an answer, Lukiel pulled his knees up to this chest and stared at the floor to his left.
The brunette looked like he wanted to say something about the lack of response, but he didn't. Instead, he moved to lean against the wall and crossed his arms. "So. How long has this been going on?"
Reluctantly, the vampire spoke up. "I ... I started to feel something for Adonai when we went to make my protection pass permanent. I didn't say anything because I thought he would leave. But what you saw in the street - that did just happen. I didn't think he felt the same, and he'd just told me otherwise that night."
He continued to ramble, unable to stop himself. Neither could he yet meet his friend's gaze, though. "Taj, I'm sorry. I didn't mean for you to find out that way. I know how you feel about me, and I wish I could return it, but I can't. I can't see you in that light."
The brunette cut in before Lukiel to say any more. "I'm not upset about that. I know you don't feel that way, and I'm not trying to change your mind."
Tajali pushed away from the wall to peek into the crawlspace. He looked marginally calmer, but it was tough to tell until he spoke again. "To be honest, I started to suspect a while ago. I guess seeing it confirmed threw me for a loop."
The vampire finally met the other man's gaze, shock written all over his face. So ... wait. Tajali wasn't angry at him? He didn't hate him for loving someone else?
Lukiel opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. His surprise caused the words to lodge in his throat - although, he could only guess what he'd meant to say. Nothing came to mind.
To his amazement, his friend found amusement at his inability to speak. Tajali held a hand out, and it took a second to recognize it as an offer to help Lukiel to his feet.
Though hesitant, the vampire eventually accepted the hand and allowed himself to be pulled out of the cubbyhole. Once on his feet, the brunette pulled him into an unexpectedly tight hug.
Lukiel did his best to return it, but his uncertainty lingered. "So you're ... You don't - "
"I told you, didn't I? I could never hate you. It hasn't changed."
His tension immediately drained away, and he heard himself laugh quietly. Of course Tajali could guess what he was about to ask. The man knew Lukiel better than the vampire knew himself sometimes.
He wrapped his arms around his best friend, completely relaxed now. "Thanks for understanding."
"Just so you know ... " Tajali eased out of the embrace to look Lukiel in the eye. "Just because you can't return my feelings doesn't mean I don't want you to be happy."
The vampire threw his arms around the other man's neck. Tears of relief threatened to fall, but he managed to hold them back. "You'll find someone, Taj. I know you will."
"Yeah, yeah." The brunette playfully shoved him away. "Now get lost. You know how your brother worries when you're gone too long."
Lukiel retaliated with a light punch to his friend's arm on his way out of the building. As he stepped onto the street, he realized he'd sat in that crawlspace for quite a few hours. It was afternoon when he came to the inn, and now it looked to be well into the early evening hours.
Lucien would have indeed had a fit if the vampire hadn't told him where he'd gone ahead of time.
As the house came into view, he spotted the phoenix seated on the front steps. Adonai looked bored more than anything, but it became clear he'd also been waiting for Lukiel to return. As soon as he noticed the silver-haired man, he stood to meet him on the porch.
"Well? What's the damage?"
Lukiel took in a relaxed breath, the first one in a while. "I told him everything. And surprisingly, he's okay with all of it. Just ... didn't know how to react, I guess."
Adonai smirked. "And here you were worried over nothing."
Lukiel sent him a look and purposely bumped into the phoenix rather roughly as he went into the house. His tone made it obvious he was just being a pain. "Yeah, I know, I'm good at that."
Once inside, he suddenly remembered something and spun around to face the former hunter. "Oh! I can't believe I forgot to tell you. Alli and Johnny said to say hi to Mr. Nuts."
Adonai winced at the nickname. It was a satisfying reaction to see.
"And they also asked me to give you one of these." He stepped forward to pull the phoenix into a tight hug, although he made sure it lingered for quite some time.
Adonai seemed to catch on to what the vampire was up to. "That true, or are you using it as an excuse?"
Lukiel pulled back only enough to tip his face up towards him and steal a quick kiss. "A little bit of both?"
The phoenix snickered as he returned the kiss - and took it a little farther. Lukiel felt himself pulled firmly against the other man's chest, and a hand trailed lightly up and down his back. He let himself relax into the embrace as he draped his arms around Adonai's neck.
"Ew. Get a room, guys."
Both men flinched away from each other as they fought to contain their laughter.
The vampire pulled himself together and looked toward the stairway. Lucien hovered halfway up with a wide smug grin on his face in response to his older brother's half-hearted scowl.
The younger McNallie all but skipped down the remaining stairs, clearly in a good mood. "You two are gonna be so much fun to tease."
Lukiel shot him a glare. He tried to appear serious but was well aware of the amusement that slipped through in his words. "Better watch it, boy. Adonai used to hunt, remember? That means he knows how to hide a body."
Lucien paused and glanced at the phoenix, who also didn't really succeed in keeping a straight face. After a moment, the kid shrugged. "Eh. I ain't worried."
The older men couldn't hold in their laughter any longer.
The boy returned his attention to his brother. "So how did things go with Tajali? Everything all right?"
Lukiel lifted his gaze to meet Adonai's, and a smile crept onto his face as he gave his answer. "Yeah. Yeah, I think it will be."
And for once, he actually believed it.