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If You Give a Ghoul a Clavicle...

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Leil wasn’t really hiding, he consoled himself. He was just cleaning parts of the house he’d never had call to clean before. Just because they were possibly also parts of the house that didn’t need cleaning meant nothing. Absolutely nothing. If he just happened to also miss Astin with the John Doe he was supposed to be dropping off, well, that was just a coincidence. And there was no one to call him on it, anyway.

The delivery bay door was open downstairs and Astin knew where the gurneys were. Leil didn’t need to be downstairs. Maybe he was normally there, but Astin knew how to go about his business without Leil hovering.

It was the coward’s way out; he wasn’t even going to argue with himself about that one. He’d decided he couldn’t hide what he was from Astin anymore, but he found he couldn’t quite bring himself to actually come clean about it either. Much better all around if he just continued hiding upstairs. His living quarters would actually be clean for once and maybe – though it hurt to contemplate – maybe if he avoided Astin when he brought bodies around for long enough, the paramedic would stop coming around. Maybe they’d start sending someone else, someone Leil wasn’t stupidly in love with.

Or, maybe, when he came downstairs several hours after Astin would have made the drop off, he would find that Astin simply waited downstairs in the lobby, long legs stretched in front of him, hands folded behind his head.

“What are you doing here?” His voice echoed sharply in the gloom of the dusk-lit room, and Astin startled up, catching himself on the chair before he could topple out of it. Leil realized with a guilty jolt that Astin had been dozing and he’d shocked him into waking. “Sorry,” he murmured but made no move to bridge the distance between them, merely leaned back on the banister of the stairs he’d just come down.

“Why are you still here?” he questioned again when Astin just blinked at him sleepily.

At that, Astin seemed to shake himself to a higher stage of wakefulness. “Oh! I, uh, I came to drop off the body like scheduled, but you weren’t down here like usual. I figured you were taking care of something upstairs so I’d just wait ‘til you came down so we could catch up with each other.” Pausing, he shot a confused look out the front window, the sun probably much lower than it had been when he arrived. “I must have fallen asleep – it’s been a long shift. What were doing up there for so long, though? You didn’t catch something, did you? There’s a bit of that going around.”

Leil couldn’t it find in him to tell Astin that he wasn’t susceptible to human illnesses, just shook his head slowly. “I was cleaning. Must’ve got caught up and lost track of time. The attic doesn’t really have windows.”

Astin seemed content with that answer, standing with a stretch that Leil could hear across the room pop of few joints, before crossing into the viewing room where he knew Leil also had the coffeemaker. He flipped it on before claiming one of the chairs, spinning it around so he could sit in it backwards, arms folded on the back. “I just got moved to a different shift and it’s throwing me all off. The new guy, Marrock, is such a pain in my ass around the full moon. Fucking werewolves, am I right?”

He sounded like he was going to continue, but he cut off as Leil made a high, choking noise. Leil waved away his concern, trying to play it off as a coughing fit. Before Astin could question him on it, Leil blurted out, “Werewolves aren’t real.”

“I…what?” Astin was giving him a look like he’d just gone off the deep end. “Of course they are?”

Leil shook his head adamantly, feeling like his whole world had suddenly tipped on its axis. “There’s no such thing as werewolves. They’re a bunch of myths.”

Astin’s eyebrows were up somewhere by his hairline, mouth working soundlessly for several long minutes. “Is this some kind of secrecy thing? Like, you don’t hang out with other supernatural creatures and you just assume they’re myths? Or is this just a ghoul thing? Do ghouls avoid the supernatural world? That seems kinda lonely, dude. Or is this just a you thing?”

The chairs littered around the room were the only reason Leil didn’t end up sprawled on the floor. “You…you know I’m a ghoul?”

Somehow, Astin’s eyebrows managed to hike higher. “Yeah? Why do you think I convinced the hospital that you were able and willing to take care of all the John Doe burial arrangements pro bono? I figured that way you’d have a pretty consistent food supply.” Astin cut off, eyes immediately pinching in with concern. “You have been eating them, right? Look, I know nowadays the media and everything gets really preachy and everyone thinks their moral compass is the right one, but they’re human, okay, so that stuff doesn’t all apply to you. You haven’t been starving yourself, have you? I’ve been making sure those bodies come here for a reason, and it’s not so you could wither away because you’re going off of human standards.”

Leil was already shaking his head under the barrage of words. “I haven’t been starving myself; I just…I didn’t know you knew what I was.”

Astin was still breathing a little heavily, but his eyebrows had let up some. “Oh. Yeah, ghouls are usually pretty easy to spot when you know what you’re looking for.”

It felt like he was in some sort of dream as Leil found himself asking, “And you know what you’re looking for?” Then a more pressing question presented itself. “You’re okay with the fact that I eat corpses?”

Astin’s head tipped to the side, forehead wrinkling in confusion. “Well, it’s not like you’re killing people in order to eat them, Leil. Besides, my twin’s done some work for ghouls before. According to him, they were always really respectful about their food, thanked their ghouly gods for their meal, all that jazz. I mostly figured you did the same thing.”

Slowly, Leil nodded. “I thank the earth for providing for me. Once I’ve eaten my fill, I give them last rites and cremate them like I’m expected to, but…they’re humans. Dead when they get here, yeah, but still human. Doesn’t that bother you?” Even amongst the supernatural, there were many who found ghouls off-putting.

 Astin shrugged, a crooked smile tugging at his lips. “Not really? Taran uses things like dragons’ claws and eye of harpy in his work, which he can only get after their death? They’re sentient beings; humans are sentient beings. They’re not using their bodies after death; humans don’t use their bodies after death. Besides, yours is at least a means of survival. Taran just does it for a living. You good now? You were looking a little pale and shaky there.”

“I…” Leil blinked rapidly, completely at a loss for what to say. He’d never had non-ghoul friends who were so comfortable with what he was before. To say this was uncharted territory was a bit of an understatement.

“Look, I’m gonna pretend something for the next couple of minutes, okay?” Leil let Astin take over the conversation with a nod. He didn’t have anywhere to take it anyway. “I’m going to pretend that all those times you flirted with me and then backed off were because you thought I didn’t know you were a ghoul, and you were protecting me from the supernatural world or something like that. Stupidly self-sacrificing maybe, but also kinda sweet despite your assumption being totally wrong. Now, I’m going to do something I’ve been wanting to do for months.”

Astin leaned his chin on his arms, grinning across at Leil like they’d just been in the middle of some other conversation. “Hey, Leil. Wanna grab dinner with me sometime?”

Leil wasn’t sure which way was up anymore, his world tipping on its axis again. “Me? Really?” By human standards, he wasn’t hard on the eyes or anything, but knowingly asking a ghoul on a date…

With a familiar eye roll, Astin pushed out of his seat so he could sway over to Leil. “You, my ghoulish friend, are quite the catch. Now, I don’t know of any restaurants that have human remains on the menu, but –”

“I like steak,” Leil interrupted. “As rare as they’ll give it to me, but, yeah, steak.”

The grin directed at him could’ve split Astin’s face in two. “So, is that a yes?”

Leil finally tried out a smile of his own, though this whole thing still seemed surreal. “Yes, definitely yes.”

Astin braced a hand on the back of Leil’s chair, leaning down into his space. “May I beg your indulgence or would it be a terrible faux pas for me to steal a kiss before our first date?” he murmured into the air between them.

Leil swallowed, mouth suddenly dry. “It’s not a faux pas if you’re dating a ghoul,” he managed to get out.

Astin snorted softly. “I guess I make good life choices then,” he teased, before closing the final gap and sealing their lips together.