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Other Side - Love Collection

Chapter Text

The scratch of the pencil floated over the rustling of the grass beneath the wind, and the chirps and twitters of the birds surrounding them - in the trees, or flying high above in lazy circles to enjoy the late Tuesday afternoon breeze beneath the July sun.

Violet eyes periodically flicking upward from her work with a little smile tugging at the corners of her mouth, Sabrina Regison tucked a stray lock of long, black hair behind her ear and paused to push her large, round glasses back up the bridge of her small nose with the eraser of her pencil, before getting back to work - slowly. Drawing usually came quite swiftly and naturally to her, but she wanted to take her time with this piece. Savor it a little.

Perched on the edge of the mountaintop with one long leg casually dangling over the edge, and the other propped up with his fingers laced over his knee, Vaughn Dalton let his own gaze drift out over the sparkling ocean, enjoying the comfortable silence. He could see a cruise ship out in the distance - and, beyond that, the hazy outline of Archeton Cove, a bustling seaside city on the far shore.

His face pulled into a wry grimace at the sight - only a few more hours before he'd have to turn in early for the night to catch his boat out in the morning. Another five-day work week out on the road, driving from town to town to make deliveries and pickups, negotiating prices with stubborn tightwads, and crashing at inns that... were actually pretty nice, and had decent breakfasts, at least.

Still... that damn summer traffic, he thought, catching Sabrina's understanding smile from the corner of his eye. He shot a wry grin back, uttering a short, light laugh under his breath. "Is it weird that I actually hate Tuesdays more than Wednesdays sometimes?" he asked her, wanting to rub the back of his neck, but not sure if she was still sketching out that area.

Sabrina hummed in response, looking up again and watching as the breeze rustled his long, silver hair slightly, gleaming in the sun in the absence of his black Stetson. A few strands clung to his forehead and the back of his neck with perspiration, and she worked to capture that on the paper as well. "Counting down," she mused aloud, neither accusing or teasing. Still, she smiled, tracing the outline of his lips - the lower one a bit fuller than the upper, slightly parted, with the corner caught between his teeth in that way he had when he was deep in thought.

"It's natural, though... something we look forward to coming up, something we dread, we count down in our heads until it happens... I do it, too, sometimes," she added shyly, pale cheeks coloring with the confession as Vaughn spared her another curious sideways glance, still maintaining his relaxed posture overall. She ducked her head, focusing much more intently on the sketch. "W-well, you know... the hours until your... y-your boat gets back on Sunday nights," she went on, clearing her throat and wondering whether or not to erase the mouth and re-draw it with the slight smile he now wore. On second thought... I'll keep it as is, she decided, instead opting to capture the crinkle at the corner of his eye. "And then... I... I just let myself lose track of time with you..."

Vaughn's own nose and cheeks dusted pink at her words, and he closed his eyes, taking a deep breath of the fresh air. She had the right idea - not focusing on how many hours they had left together before they had to be apart again. Just letting it all... be. As much as her gentle, patient presence calmed his nerves, he tended to find himself dreading the loss of that feeling the closer his work week got back to starting up again. Five days straight without her - sometimes more, depending on how busy things got on the mainland.

"I oughta take a leaf outta your book," he murmured, eyes lazily following a bright blue butterfly that had flapped over from a nearby shrub and was now hovering in front of his face. "...Hey, Bri," he added, his low voice carrying a hint of amusement and causing his girlfriend to look up curiously. "Check it out. Sheesh, gimme a little space, buddy," he added to the butterfly, which continued to flutter back and forth before him as he laid there, stock-still. "You wanna fight?"

Sabrina cracked a small grin at this, which only widened as she quickly stifled a loud giggle - the butterfly had ignored Vaughn's request and perched right on the tip of his long, straight nose, flapping its wings lazily.

"...I'm not gonna repeat what it said to me," he added wryly, only causing Sabrina to laugh harder. "It was real rude, though."

Shaking her head haplessly, Sabrina lifted her glasses and wiped at her eyes, letting out a sigh. "Well, that won't do at all. And I was thinking of adding it to the sketch, too..." Despite her words, her pencil was already deftly tracing out the shape of the pretty insect, trusting Vaughn to remain still long enough to not scare it off. It already said a lot about him that the butterfly had chosen to rest on him to begin with. "...Aren't the bright ones poisonous?" she added aloud, letting her curiosity slip into the air.

"Think so," Vaughn returned quietly, trying not to move his mouth as much - his eyes were almost crossed as he focused on the butterfly now, wanting to see how long it'd decide to perch there and amuse them before finding other things to do. "Generally, yeah, but I think you gotta eat 'em to get poisoned. Good thing you brought those cookies earlier."

Clucking her tongue in amusement, Sabrina added the finishing touches to the rough sketch - his gloves hanging out of his vest pocket, and how loosely his fingers were laced over his knee. "Ahh... there we are," she announced moments later, sounding as satisfied as she looked.

"Can I see?" Vaughn asked, eyes lighting up with curiosity - though he didn't dare turn his head or make any other sudden movements in her direction, with his visitor still hanging out dead-center on his face.

"Hmm..." Tapping her chin in mock-contemplation, Sabrina set the sketchpad and pencil down in the lap of her long, coral-pink dress. "Ohh... but your friend looks so comfortable. What if I scare him off?" She, too, wanted to see how long the butterfly was planning to relax on Vaughn. Suddenly starting to giggle again, she shook her head, getting another sidelong glance, with a silver eyebrow quirked. "...I-I'm sorry," she told him, though her mirthful voice gave her away. "...Just... y-you're like a - a Disney princess right now."

Grimacing, Vaughn pulled a face. "Oh, God, I am," he groaned in mortified realization, nonetheless laughing along with her - meanwhile, the butterfly took that as its cue to finally end its visit, flapping away towards a small cluster of wildflowers growing near the base of the shrub. "Heh. Guess it didn't like princesses, huh?"

"I suppose that's its loss," Sabrina agreed brightly, getting up from the large, flat rock on which she'd been sitting to go sit next to Vaughn - she didn't bother to brush off the back of her dress as she sat back down in the dirt, legs folded up beneath her. Brushing another loose lock of hair back, she slipped the sketchpad into his hands with a small smile, watching him study it and patiently awaiting his feedback.

Vaughn hummed appreciatively as he eyed the drawing, face heating up when he spotted another detail Sabrina had seamlessly drawn in - he was suddenly quite aware of the breeze brushing the skin of his lower back, which had been exposed slightly by his black jeans pulling down a bit when he'd shifted his position a few times. She'd even sketched the visible waistband of his briefs peeking over the top. At least she didn't draw my buttcrack, he thought gratefully. With a self-conscious grunt, he lifted his hips slightly to pull the jeans back up, shooting a wry grin at an equally red-faced Sabrina.

"Bri, you pervert," he chided playfully in spite of his mortification, causing her to turn redder and look away with an embarrassed laugh, rubbing the back of her sunburnt neck. "Heh. Didn't know you had it in you."

Sabrina squeaked and shook her head. "Oh! W-well, I, umm... d-didn't mean to... oh, Vaughn!" she huffed defeatedly, nonetheless leaning against him when he wrapped an arm around her and pulled her in close, pressing his lips to her temple. "...Well, m-maybe I, err... l-liked the... th-the view a-a little bit," she hesitantly admitted moments later, feeling his shoulders shake with laughter.

"Hanging around Julia's gotta be rubbing off on you," he mused, rubbing her bare, pale arm. "...But... it's a great drawing. You're getting a lot better." When she stammered her gratitude to him, he drummed his fingers against her skin, tapping the sketchpad on his knee a few times. Maybe he wouldn't be able to do it tonight - it was getting late, and he needed to go double-check the week's itinerary before bed - but... maybe it'd make the long work weeks more bearable in the future. Even just a little. "Hey, Bri."

"Mmm?" Sabrina's eyes were closing, her body relaxing against his warmth.

He hesitated - he knew she wouldn't mind at all, but he hoped she wouldn't pry into why he was asking. He still wasn't entirely used to being very open about his feelings with other people, including her - even for as far as they'd come in their six months together. Even for something like confessing how he sometimes hated Tuesdays. "You think maybe next time... I could, I dunno... draw one? Of - of you?"

Her face lit up, and she smiled up at him, brushing his long, shaggy bangs back. "Of course! I'd love that. Up here again?"

He leaned in and gave her a quick peck on the lips, pulling back with a matching smile. "Yeah, sure. Maybe we can even ask that butterfly if it'll pose with you, too."

She chuckled softly and relaxed back against him, turning her gaze out to watch the sea and the distant city with him. "I hope it will. Hmm... do you think it would accept a bribe?"

He snorted and shook his head without a response, handing the sketchpad back to her and leaning his head atop hers to watch the world go by, not bothering to count down the hours in his head this time. Just letting the moment be.

Chapter Text

Blowing her red-tinged nose with a loud honk that drowned out the downpour outside, Mary Welvin sighed and dropped the tissue into the wastebasket beside her bed, snuggling back into her pillows with a hoarse groan and pushing her dark bangs back from her forehead. Closing her eyes, arms feeling too heavy to reach up and pluck off her glasses, she simply lay there for a few moments to listen to the rain continue hammering down outside, cozy beneath her blankets even with the window cracked open to allow the October chill in.

No matter how much her mother insisted it was freezing out - "And you'll make your cold worse, and don't think for one minute I won't direct Elli's wrath your way, young lady!" - Mary found the sensation rather comforting. It made her wish for the weather, and her cold, to clear up soon - to picnic beneath the shedding, colorful branches of the trees up on Mother's Hill, watching the cool breeze ripple the surface of the lake. Huddling for warmth with-

"...Are you awake, Princess?"

The unexpectedly soft voice of her father, Basil, startled Mary out of her calm state and she jumped up with a gasp - she hadn't even heard the door creak as it cracked open slightly. Catching his apologetic grimace, she coughed and waved it off, beckoning to him. "Oh, Dad - no, it's okay, I've been up. You didn't wake me at all."

Rubbing the back of his neck with an awkward chuckle that only amplified his boyish appearance, Basil nodded sheepishly. "Ah, that's good - how're you feeling?"

He seemed to be hanging back by the door, almost reluctant to enter the room. While her cold was fairly contagious, Mary nonetheless raised her eyebrows at this - he'd just gotten over one recently, himself. "I'm actually feeling a little better, thank you... are you alright?"

"Oh, I'm alright," he assured her with a little grin. "Your mom and I were about to settle in with a movie. Glad to hear you're doing better, though - think you might be up for a visitor?"

Feeling herself grin as well as she worked out who it was - her father wouldn't act this mysterious if it were one of the girls visiting - Mary nodded, pink-tinged face brightening further as the door opened wider. "Ah, Gray!"

"Hey, Mary," Gray Donaghue greeted with a slight nod, a small, shy smile on his face. His usual tip of a blue trucker hat was impaired by the absence of said hat in favor of a blue-and-black beanie, and the presence of a brown paper bag in one hand. The other held a Styrofoam cup with a lid on, which he raised in further salute. "Mr. Welvin-"

"Basil," Basil interjected quickly, giving his daughter's boyfriend a friendly nudge.

Gray's ears went red at this - he was still getting used to being allowed to call at least one of Mary's parents by their first name. "R-right, err -Basil said you already ate earlier," he went on, shrugging, "but Ann wouldn't let me leave 'till I took this with me... chicken noodle soup and mint tea," he explained, wiggling the bag very slightly so as to avoid upsetting the covered bowl inside. "And, uhh... I thought - err-" He chuckled awkwardly, a bit embarrassed at saying it with her father standing right there, no matter how friendly the man was, "-maybe... maybe you'd like the company...?"

Her own face heating up a bit more now - and less so from her cold - Mary, drew her knees up to her chest and folded her arms atop them with a rapid nod, quickly patting her bedside. The chair from her writing desk was still perched next to it from Elli's visit the other day. "I-I'd love the company," she agreed shyly, giving her father a pleading look as Gray ducked his head and scampered over. "Thank you..."

"Yeah," Gray agreed in a murmur as he sat down and handed her the meal, biting at his lip - even though Mary was sick, he still had to resist the urge to lean over and give her a quick kiss on the cheek... though the presence of Basil still lingering behind them in the doorway was deterrent enough.

Sensing that maybe he should give the couple some privacy, Basil, cleared his throat and gave them a small wave. "Alright, well... I'm gonna head back downstairs, now," he announced, trying to sound casual as he took one step back and waved again, taking his time swinging the door closed. He paused and shrugged, chuckling. "...If it were up to me," he added, scratching at his cheek, "I'd shut the door all the way, since I trust you two. But, well... you know what your mother's like." He shot Mary and Gray a crooked, apologetic smile, which was returned.

"No, I understand," Mary assured him, albeit a bit self-conscious at the implications. "Thank you, Dad."

"You're good," Gray agreed, sharing a quiet laugh with Mary when they heard Basil padding down the stairs. He fiddled anxiously with his beanie, and shot her another lopsided grin, reaching over to adjust her pillows and blanket for her, waving off her slight protests at his fussing. "Ahhh, lemme do it... so, you figured out who you're gonna pass this on to yet?" he teased, causing Mary to giggle before trailing into a cough.

"Oh, behave," she chided lightly, popping the lid off of the tea to inhale the pleasant aroma and take a sip - the soup was on the bedside table for later, since she had last eaten only a short time ago. Shaking her head ruefully, she listened to the rain continue to pour down outside - Gray's umbrella was most likely downstairs on the stand, since aside from a few spatters of water on his jeans, windbreaker, and face, he looked otherwise dry. Still, she couldn't help but feel bad. "But you didn't have to come out in this for me, Gray - I don't want you getting sick next!"

"Ahh..." Gray shrugged nonchalantly, hands jammed in the pockets of his windbreaker as he considered her words. "...I can handle a little cold. Don't let the crotchety old goat tell you otherwise, eh?"

Sniffling, Mary reached for another tissue, shooting him a playful look over her shoulder. Her dark eyes twinkled behind her glasses. "Oh? Should I write that down for later, hmm?"

Scoffing, Gray shook his head and kicked at one of the wheels on the chair, idly rolling it back and forth over the carpeted floor. He knew she wasn't referring to the 'crotchety old goat' remark. "What, you don't believe me?"

"Flu season," Mary responded promptly, having fun watching him fidget in the chair. And again, his ears went red at the reminder.

"W-well - the flu sucks, though, Mary," he reasoned with a slight whine, digging around in one of his pockets now. "Especially working for Gramps when you're sick as a dog. Makes me wanna stick my head in the forge. But... speaking of writing, I actually did bring you something else! This," he explained, pulling out what looked to be a few folded, slightly-crinkled and rumpled pieces of paper that had been stapled together in one corner.

Mary's brow wrinkled curiously, her teasing quickly forgotten. "Oh? And what's that you've got with you?"

"Some literature," Gray elaborated, corner of his mouth quirking back up when he saw Mary's eyebrows inch higher.

"...You're going to read me a story?" she asked, feeling her heart warm at the notion. They read together sometimes, when they had the downtime - it had been how they'd grown closer from their initial friendship, after all, and it calmed his usual frayed nerves and cleared her mind when it was blocked or constantly swirling with a tornado of ideas and worries. Gray could be a little awkward and rough at times, but he certainly did the sweetest things, all the same.

"I wrote you a story," Gray corrected, cheeks once again going pink with the admission as Mary's expression grew even more touched, before clearing his throat and adding: "To, uhh... to read to you, yeah..."

"Y-you wrote me something?" she echoed, hand to her heart. God, it was fluttering a lot.

"W-well! It..." Face blazing as he unfolded the papers, Gray fiddled with his beanie and kept his eyes fixed to the paper, looking pleased all the same at her reaction. A few stray locks of shaggy, strawberry-blonde hair had tumbled out from underneath the cap, and he tucked them back in. "It's not much. Just - just a short little... y'know. Thing..."

Despite the urge to tease him just a little for his word choice in light of writing her a story, Mary took another pull of her tea instead, settling back against her pillows and watching him expectantly. His light blue eyes were gleaming now, and his cheek dimpled with a mischievous smirk as he prepared to spin his yarn. "Oh, God," she uttered aloud with a wry laugh, already wondering what he'd whipped up for her.

"Alright, so... once upon a time," Gray read, his tone light and casual, "there was a girl - a princess, named... eh, we'll call her Jo."

"Princess Jo," Mary repeated, amused.

"Princess Jo," Gray confirmed, giving an embarrassed chuckle at the name he'd chosen. "Yeah, I suck at naming things... anyway, Jo lived in a kingdom. Except she didn't live in a castle. She lived in a little cottage. It wasn't even her kingdom, anyway. She was just crashing there with another princess, Sue, while her own kingdom's castle got the plumbing fixed. Sue was living in a cottage because her old man was cheap."

"Princess Jo and Princess Sue," Mary mused aloud, trying to hold back her hoarse giggles. "From the magical kingdom of... Oklahoma?"

Clapping a hand over his mouth to stifle the short, loud laugh that almost escaped, Gray managed to reduce it to a snicker, shaking his head. "Or Texas," he suggested, causing Mary to laugh again as well, before he cleared his throat and got back to the story, voice a little shakier this time as he struggled to keep from bursting into giggles: "Princess Jo didn't mind staying with Princess Sue, though. In fact, she quite liked Princess Sue's kingdom very much. She wished her own kingdom were more like it. So she overthrew the kingdom while Sue was asleep one night, and don't ask me how that happened," he added to Mary with a wry smile. "Uhh, magic. Bible Belt Princess magic."

"So - so you're saying-" Mary stopped mid-sentence to cough in her fist, before sniffling again and wiping at her nose, "-Jo shot her?"

Snickering, Gray shrugged. "Sure, but that's going to make this next part pretty awkward... 'Princess, no!' Sue yelled, clutching an unspecified gunshot wound-" Here, Mary immediately gave in and cracked up, causing Gray to work harder to keep his own face straight as he went on, "-but Jo ignored her pleas and took the kingdom anyway. And then she looked at the kingdom next door. 'Gee, that sure looks nice,' she thought. 'Why stop at one? Who does that?' Before long, Jo had annexed the entire world and ruled it happily from atop her throne, laughing forever and ever. Everyone loved her. The end," he finished, smiling proudly as Mary's face went red behind her hand - the shaking shoulders gave her away, and she hurriedly took a long swig of the tea before she started into another coughing fit.

"Th-that was... quite magical," Mary finally managed between nearly-hysterical giggles, tossing her head back against her pillows with a muted flump. For a moment, she almost forgot about her cold entirely. "Gr-Gray, what - what on Earth?!"

"W-well! You're - you're always saying you'd like a fairy tale that empowers women," he defended cheekily, causing her to aim a playful swat at him. "Princess Jo rules the world and everyone loves her! Besides - don't they say laughter is the best medicine?" he went on, pointing victoriously at her. "I bet I practically saved you a Nyquil just now!"

"You've been hanging around Kai too long," Mary chuckled, swatting at him again. Gray rolled backwards, out of her reach, with a smug little smile. Mocking the expression, Mary settled back down, still grinning and shaking her head. "I mean, everyone loved her? Even the people she overthrew? Including Sue, whom - need I remind you - Jo shot after Sue so graciously took her in?"

Hmm. She had a point. "Sue... Sue thought... she'd be a better leader? Later on?" Gray tried feebly.

Pausing, Mary looked up at the ceiling as if in deep thought for a moment, clearing her throat and sniffling again. "...I suppose that suffices," she decided after working to keep another cough at bay. She smiled at him. "I'll ask Harris to deliver the Pulitzer tomorrow. Congratulations."

Gray clucked his tongue, rolling his chair over right beside Mary's bed to wrap her in a one-armed hug, which she returned. "Awesome! That'll be something to rub in the old man's face!"

"As long as he doesn't make you melt it down in the forge," Mary laughed, letting out a startled squeak when Gray leaned in and kissed her on the cheek.

He jolted back up, rubbing the back of his now-flushed neck and casting a guilty glance towards the window. The downpour was still audible, but it was getting darker out now, the soft golden glows of the streetlights down below blooming through the gloom. "Err, s-sorry," he muttered apologetically, shoulders hunched. "I - I probably should've asked-"

"Oh, i-it's not that," Mary assured him, hand pressed to the spot on her own red cheek, as if to keep the tingling warmth of his lips on there as long as she could. "I - I just don't want you getting this cold, too... I mean, if Saibara made you work straight through that nasty flu you had..."

The thought struck him, and Gray blanched briefly, before swallowing it and pushing it aside - he'd dealt with worse. "Ehh... still worth it," he decided, keeping his arm around her and leaning in close to her, head plopped next to hers on the pillow. It strained his neck a bit, but he didn't mind. Shooting her a little grin, he turned his head to face her. "You up for another story?"

"Hmm..." Mary pulled him closer, seeing that he didn't seem to really mind the fact that she was still laid up with a cold, and rubbed his shoulder, listening to the material of his windbreaker rustle. "How about I tell one, now? I'm not sure it can top yours," she added jokingly, causing him to snort, "but I'll give it a try. Let's see..."

With Mary laying out her own goofy tale now, and Gray relaxing at her side and laughing, neither of them noticed a figure looking in on them from the cracked bedroom door.

Anna Welvin hummed in amusement as she watched them for a few moments, shaking her head and eventually closing the bedroom door as quietly as she possibly could to avoid attracting their attention, before turning and heading back down the stairs to continue watching the movie with Basil. Maybe he was right to trust them after all.

Chapter Text

"I'm too hot! Hot damn! Call the police and the firemen, I'm too hot! Hot damn!"

The crickets outside in the sultry July air accompanied Bruno Mars's voice as it blared throughout the Blue Bar from the radio, the last regular preparing to depart for the night - though not without dropping her offering into the tip jar, first.

"Great stout, Griff," Nami Senkako said with a small smile and a curt nod - which, for her, was as good as gushing praise. "Lemme know when you get some more in, yeah?"

Rag squeaking around the rim of the empty mug, Griffin Conway nodded over his shoulder at her from his place at the sink. "You got it, Red. Next shipment's... what's it, Tuesday?" He looked over to the curvy blonde currently counting out the tips and the cash in the register, getting a bright nod in response.

"Tuesday," Muffy Breckenridge confirmed, grinning at Nami as she put the money away and grabbed a rag, moving out to start wiping down the empty tables. "We got some new stuff coming in on Monday, too, though, if you're interested."

Nami hummed, pushing her stool back in and stooping down to re-tie a sneaker. "Heh. Using novelty to appeal to me? Sneaky. Well, I guess we'll see how the wind's blowing that night, eh?" she added, standing up straight and stretching her long, pale arms above her head with a grunt, before nodding to both of them again. "Definitely in for Tuesday, though. Especially if Muff isn't allowed to pick the station again. I hate this shit," she added with a wry smirk, prompting Muffy to blow a loud raspberry at her in response. "Great argument."

"Better than your taste," Muffy teased, chuckling when Nami flipped her the bird. "Great argument," she echoed dryly.

"Damn right it is," Nami affirmed. "Welp - later, guys." And she was out the door, with Griffin and Muffy's goodbyes trailing behind her.

Still laughing to himself as he dried off the last of the dishes and put them away, Griffin caught Muffy humming along to the radio and shook his head. A new song was playing now - some bouncy, disco-sounding pop number. He vaguely recognized the voice of some old boy band heartthrob singing it.

Catching the gesture, Muffy cocked an eyebrow at his amused expression and tilted her head, blonde curls bouncing with the motion. "What's up, Griff?"

Shooting a grin at her from beneath his bushy gray mustache as he grabbed his own damp rag to begin wiping the bar down, Griffin nodded in the direction of the radio. "Gotta say, think I'm with Red on this one."

Scoffing, Muffy grabbed a broom and began sweeping up, nose in the air. "Oh, you'll get your Johnny Cash and your Reba back tomorrow night, don't worry! Philistine," she added, green eyes twinkling playfully.

"See, we don't use them fancy-ass, high-falutin' words in our good ol' down-home country," Griffin chided in an exaggerated drawl, causing Muffy to sag against the broom in a sudden burst of giggles - while he normally had a slight twang to his voice, dialing it up to ridiculous degrees was a guaranteed way to make her crack right up. "But I weren't likin' that there tone you used when ya saids it," he went on, now making her slump against the wall and laugh even harder.

"Jesus, Griff, you're gonna make me pee myself!" Muffy choked out, wiping at her eyes with her free hand and letting out another giggle when she saw him cringe.

"Yeah, well - you're moppin' that up if you do," he informed her, giving a little shudder as he dipped his rag in the sink to re-wet it, wring it out, and get back to work.

"Fine, fine..." Still pink-cheeked, Muffy clicked over to the radio and shut it off, garnering a confused look from Griffin. "I mean, if it's just sooo tortuous," she informed him dramatically, watching him give a good-natured roll of his eyes in response as she went back to sweeping, now pushing the broom in a deliberate rhythm. "See? I'm considerate!"

"You're somethin'," Griffin returned cheekily, humming in satisfaction at his grizzled reflection in the bar's surface - chipped, cracked, and warped with age, but otherwise still polished well enough. It did its job. Watching Muffy sweep, he noted that she seemed to be sticking to one spot now - and the scratch of the bristles against the wooden flooring was making a rather catchy noise. "...Muff, what in tarnation are you doin'?" he added, thin arms folded over his chest in amusement. He couldn't help but bob his head a bit to the noise - it seemed to be working well with the crickets outside.

Flashing him a mischievous grin, Muffy continued her little routine. "Just making a little music, Griff," she responded innocently, starting to hum again in time with the other sounds.

Griffin nodded, leaning over the bar with his arms now propped atop it, fingers drumming lazily as he watched her go about it. "Heh. Sounds better than that damn radio already, I'll say."

"Nyehh!" Muffy stuck her tongue out again. "Your percussion doesn't, though."

"I ain't a drummer, girly," he reminded her, foot starting to tap now. Nonetheless, despite his words, he flattened his hands out and started to tap them on the countertop in his own little rhythm, pausing between syllables for effect. "I'm a guiii-" Whap whap-whap, "-tar-" Whap whap whap-whap, "-ist." Whap, whap.

"You can learn," came the simple response, though Muffy was already starting to bop around with her broom as Griffin kept up his impromptu rhythm section. "See? There you go, Griff! Girls love drummers!"

A bushy eyebrow rose, tapping foot now aiding Griffin's hands in keeping time. "'Zat so? Guess I'd better stop, then - don't want you gettin' jealous and kickin' their asses."

"Ahhh..." Muffy waved it off, though a light tinge dusted her cheeks and nose, barely visible in the dim light of the bar. She couldn't dig up a decent defense against that one, and shrugged as they both laughed, before starting to vocalize wordlessly in time with their sudden jam session - her own foot was tapping as well, black pump clicking the heel a few times, then the toe. "Ba ba bee boo doo," she sang, giving Griffin a hapless shrug when he snickered.

"Real jazzy, Muff."

"Ba-ba dee, shut up, up up," she shot back in her song, making his hand-drumming go slightly off tempo as he snorted and shook his head. "Shoo-bee-bop, shut up," she repeated, grin widening. The broom was no longer swishing side-to-side, but was now her dance partner as she twirled about with it to the rhythm, the skirt of her sky-blue sundress flaring out with each spin and swivel of her hips.

By now, Griffin had tossed his rag back into the sink and made his way around the counter to join her, tapping the broom handle - their song was all Muffy for the moment, eyes sparkling as she continued to sing and giggling when Griffin asked: "'Scuse me, sir, mind if I have a spin with the lady?"

Still chuckling, Muffy leaned the broom against the wall and took Griffin's proffered hands - settling one about her waist, and holding the other. "Sure thing, Griff. He says he hates this song, anyway."

Griffin clicked his tongue as they started to move to no particular rhythm or pattern now, though Muffy had gone back to humming - her alto was really quite pleasant all on its own. "Ahh... he'd probably rather listen to that damn teenybopper mess, anyhow. Ain't got no taste."

Pouting as they twirled around, Muffy spun and pressed herself back against Griffin, feeling his arms enfold her and laying her own hands atop his as they swayed back and forth now. His tall, lanky frame wasn't the broad-chested, Fabio-esque ideal her girlfriends back in the city had grown up on, but she personally found it adorable - and the faint scent of cigarette smoke and lemon furniture polish was oddly homey, to her, even against her own preference for things like sandalwood and lavender. "Aww, don't insult the broom's taste in music! That's how we hit it off so well!" she scolded mockingly.

"Damn broom was makin' me jealous," Griffin explained in a teasing tone, leaning down to nip at her earlobe. Grinning as he heard her breath catch, he kissed right below her ear next. "But I think I got a couple tricks on it, eh?"

"If that broom starts - ooh - kissing me like this - ah, do that again, Griff - then I'm getting the hell - ahhh..." Muffy let her voice trail off as Griffin trailed light nibbles and kisses down her neck, the pair still swaying gently in place with their hands joined at her waist. "Thinking of making-" she paused to let out another light gasp, "-some... ahh, steamier music, Griff?"

"Mmmm-hmm. Filthy, filthy music," he murmured into her ear with another kiss to the lobe, causing her to crane her neck back so she could grin at him - the hunger in her own eyes said plenty.

Still, that didn't stop her from voicing her own opinion on the matter, in her own way: "A wockachicka-wockachicka-wockachicka," she sang, causing him to bury his face in the crook of her shoulder, shaking with near-hysterical laughter. She quickly followed suit, reaching up to pat the top of his fluffy gray head and tug playfully at his ponytail. "Didn't get you outta the mood, did I?"

Letting his laughter subside into little giggles, Griffin shook his head. "Girly... a damn serial killer couldn't get me outta the mood right now," he assured her, whirling her around so that she was facing him now. After pulling her into a long, deep, intense kiss, he brushed her hair back and motioned towards the back of the room with his head, feeling her laced, manicured fingers resting at the back of his neck. "But, I'm thinkin'... maybe we'd get better acoustics back in the bedroom, eh?"

With a sly smile and a wink, Muffy tugged at one of his suspenders and nodded, walking backwards and leading the way for them. "Oh, those are definitely very important," she agreed in a low purr, swiftly undoing the buttons to his shirt with one hand, and fumbling for the doorknob behind her as her back hit the door. "The louder the better, I say..." She reached over and turned off the bar's lights, pulling Griffin in for another kiss.

Moments later - giggling like teenagers in the dark, sultry summer air pervading the bar - they slipped into Griffin's bedroom and clicked the door shut to continue their activities for the evening. Neither one noticed - nor did they really care, at the moment - that the open windows of the bar would broadcast the sounds to any late-night passers-by... though they would certainly hear no end of it from their amused neighbors when they opened the next day.

Chapter Text

The swelling song of the cicadas clashed with the chatter, laughter, and shouts rising up from the western end of Castanet, locals and tourists milling through the colorful seaside town. The late July sun colored the sky and distant bank of dark clouds a deep vermilion on its way to sleep beneath the sea for the night, glinting off the little golden trophy Toby Nishimura was proudly accepting from the mayor down on the beach. His massive catch was displayed beside him, and the onlookers clapped, then laughed as his little cousin Paolo loudly rattled off all the ways he thought Toby should cook and season it for dinner later.

Chuckling to herself as she let her own applause taper off, Anissa Sellers craned her neck to scan the town's network of maze-like stairs and levels for any sign of her boyfriend returning with the blanket. The fireworks were still a little while off, but the best spots on the beach and pier weren't going to remain unclaimed for much longer. Shrugging when she didn't spot him, she turned to head back onto the pier and up the stairs by the bar, waving and greeting her friends and neighbors as she passed - the muggy, salty air was perfumed in an unusual yet appetizing mixture of cooked meats, sugar, and fresh fruits and vegetables, and her mouth was watering already as she approached Kathy Sullivan's table outside the Brass Bar. With the doors and windows open, she could see Kathy's father Hayden working in the kitchen, as well as Kathy's boyfriend, Owen.

Looking up from the grill where she was minding an array of squash, ears of corn, pineapple rings, chicken breasts, and hamburgers, Kathy grinned and waved her spatula, wiping a bit of sweat from her forehead. Her long, blonde hair was pulled back into a high bun, bangs plastered across her sunburned forehead. "Yo, Ani! What's crackin', honey?"

"More like rumbling," Anissa corrected with a little smile, looking over the grill's contents hungrily. "I'm surprised you didn't hear my stomach."

Kathy waved it off teasingly. "Ahh... thought it mighta been the fireworks goin' off early," she cracked, making them both laugh. "So, what're you wantin' to chow down on, eh?"

Finger to her chin in thought, Anissa squinted one eye and cocked her head to the side, her frizzy, dark brown braid swinging with the motion. "Gosh... it all looks so good... I think I'll go with a hamburger and some of the grilled pineapple, please... and a grilled chicken sandwich for Jin, once he gets here. And some sweet iced tea?"

"You got it, honey!" Nodding as she flipped one of the burgers onto a bun and began topping it to Anissa's request, Kathy waved to someone else passing by. "Yo, Kase! Wanna grab some more grub? Got some more moo-burgers out for ya," she added in a wheedling tone as she fixed up Jin's sandwich, wafting the scent of the food towards the approaching farmer. Almost everyone else attending the Ocean Festival had already eaten their fill by now, and business was starting to flag - though she knew Owen could put away the leftovers like a beast if it came down to it.

Kasey Manatos smiled and waved to them as he slowed his steps, shaking his head, but nonetheless inhaling the scent. Two large, fluffy stuffed animals were wedged under his other arm - a turtle and a shark. "Hey! Hey, Ani," he added with a bright nod to Anissa, who returned it as she pulled some money from her purse and paid Kathy. "I seriously wish I could, but I think I'll actually explode if I eat another one."

"Ooh, where'd you win those?" Anissa asked, pointing at the turtle and shark with interest. "They're adorable!"

"Oh, thanks - uhh, up over in the plaza," Kasey responded, pointing up in the direction of the church. "Babs has one of those games set up where you knock over milk bottles, so..." He hefted the stuffed animals up again, face reddening a bit as he chuckled sheepishly and rubbed at the back of his neck. "...The, uhh - the turtle's for Toby. And then I figured I'd win one for Paolo, too, so he woudn't feel left out..."

"D'awwwwww!" Kathy cooed in a teasing, babyish voice, embarrassing Kasey further and watching him duck his head. "That's so cuuuuuuute~"

"They're down on the beach right now," Anissa informed him after she swallowed a bite of her burger, getting a grateful smile in response. "They actually just finished judging the fishing contest - he came in first!"

"He did? Oh, cool!" Kasey's dark brown eyes lit up briefly with the news, before a look of alarm suddenly crossed his features. "Wait - I missed the judging?! Ahhh, shit - I must've lost track of time. I gotta go congratulate him!" And, before Kathy or Anissa could say anything else, he was darting off down the stairs towards the beach, shouting his thanks to them over his shoulder with the gifts in tow.

Sharing a giggle with Anissa at the sight, Kathy shook her head. "Ahh, he's such a precious lil' thing... wish I hadn't roped Owen into helping in the kitchen now. Y'think it's too late to have him go win me some kinda giant fluffy whatsit?"

"Spoken like a true poet," another voice piped up from behind them, prompting Anissa to turn around and smile at the source as Kathy stuck her tongue out playfully behind them. "Sorry it took so long, Anissa," Jin Kwan added, pulling her in for a quick peck on the cheek, which she returned. A blue-and-white checkered blanket was draped over his left shoulder. "Grandma, Miss Shelly, and Miss Yolanda were chatting, and then they saw me passing by, and..." His cheeks went pink, and he chuckled wryly. "I couldn't leave until they re-tied my hair. And made sure my clothes were nice and neat," he went on, nodding to the neatly-pressed khakis and sky-blue polo shirt he was wearing. "And that my glasses weren't on crooked." And Yolanda - never one to mince words or miss the opportunity for a good ribbing - had started to ask Jin if he'd remembered to take a condom along, before a scathing look from Irene cut her off. Thank God, he thought, face heating up a bit more at the memory.

Laughing at the mental image of the three older ladies fussing over him, Anissa reached behind his head and flicked at the long, straight, black ponytail hanging down his back, blown about slightly by the gentle sea breeze. "Well, I hope all that hassle made you hungry, then! I got you something, too," she went on, turning and picking up the paper plates and plastic cups from the table as Kathy served a few more customers behind them.

Jin's eyes lit up as he took his plate and cup, nodding a wordless goodbye to Kathy while he followed Anissa back towards the stairs to the pier. "Oh, thank you!" he exclaimed, carefully balancing the cup in the crook of his arm so he could lift his sandwich for a bite without dropping or spilling anything. Looking around as he chewed, he saw a few other couples already beginning to set their blankets down on the sand - and some had wandered further down towards the lighthouse for some more privacy. "So," he went on after he'd swallowed, "where did you want to sit?"

Finishing her own meal and dropping the plate and cup into a wastebin as they passed it by, Anissa looked about the darkening beach. Her little brother, Taylor, was a short distance away with Paolo and their friend Chloe, watching and cheering as Kasey and Toby entertained them by engaging in a mock battle with the stuffed animals. Grinning at the sight, Anissa led Jin over to the far side of the beach, slipping the blanket off of his shoulder and flapping it out to settle down on the sand. "Well - I wanted to try and keep an eye on Taylor, but I think that's taken care of for now, hmm?"

"I'd say," Jin agreed, watching the display in amusement for a few moments as he sat down next to Anissa atop the blanket, polishing off his sandwich and chasing it down with the last of his tea. He crumpled up the plate and cup to set in his lap so he could toss them out later. "Any bets on the winner?" he added, turning his head and smiling at Anissa as he leaned back to stretch his legs out and prop himself up with his hands.

"A shark versus a turtle," Anissa reminded him, eyebrows raising. "And may I ask you how the shark wouldn't win this one? Sharks do eat turtles, after all, don't they?"

Chuckling, Jin shrugged his shoulders, kicking off his black flip-flops and crossing his bare ankles. "That's a question for Pascal, not me. But turtles tend to live for quite a long time, remember? I doubt they'd get that kind of reputation if they went around getting themselves killed by sharks. I think I'll call this one for Toby."

"I think you're thinking of tortoises," Anissa corrected lightly, making Jin snort and shake his head, before adding in a lilting tone: "And here I thought you were so... scientific!"

Pursing his lips and musing upon it for a moment, Jin shrugged again and cracked a wry grin. "...I guess that's why I'm a physician, and not a marine biologist, eh?"

"I'm sorry, Jin, but I think I've lost all faith in you," Anissa returned primly, laughing with him before they both turned back to watch the outcome of the match - giggling hysterically, Kasey had fallen into the sand on his side, shielding himself with the shark and yelling "Uncle!" as a similarly-jovial Toby gave him a few good, hearty whacks with the turtle.

Without a word, Jin turned to smirk at Anissa, eyebrow quirked up in a silent question.

"...I also think that match was rigged," she decided with a little pout, nonetheless shaking her head haplessly at the sight. Paolo had snatched up the shark from Kasey, vowing to avenge him before resuming the battle against his cousin. "Ah, there we go. I have faith in Paolo," she said in a slightly cheerier tone, muffling a laugh behind her hand when Paolo decided to just start repeatedly hitting Toby in the groin with the shark, cackling all the while.

"He's such a pragmatic fighter, isn't he?" Jin noted in a dry tone, nonetheless chuckling as Toby resorted to shielding himself with the turtle, calling out his surrender. "Well, damn."

"I suppose that makes us even, huh?" Anissa teased, happily scooting up closer to him when he draped an arm around her and pulled her in, pressing a kiss to the top of her head.

"I don't know if I should feel proud of how Paolo won that one, though," Jin responded - all around them, everyone else was starting to settle down as well, though the buzz of chatter still thrummed in the air. The sun's glow was now a barely-visible strip of deep gold on the horizon, and the sky above was dark enough that the clouds over the sea were almost indistinguishable from it. Over where Kasey, Toby, and the kids still were, Taylor caught sight of Anissa and waved as the breeze whipped his spiky blond hair about, shouting across the beach:

"Hey, Ani! Ani! I'm gonna watch the fireworks with Paolo and Chloe, okay?!"

"That's fine, Taylor, just stay where we can see you! And listen to Kasey and Toby!" she called back, smiling wryly when the boys in question turned as well. "I'm sorry, guys - I hope it's not too much trouble?"

Kasey shook his head and flashed them a thumbs-up. "No, you're cool, Ani! We've got it!"

"Right - it's no trouble at all! We'll be happy to keep an eye on them for you, don't worry!" Toby added, ushering the group over to a blanket a short ways in front of Jin and Anissa's.

"Oh," Anissa went on, causing them to look back at her as she giggled, "and congratulations to Paolo for his win earlier!"

"Thanks, Anissa!"

"Excuse you, Paolo, don't make me exile you to their blanket," Toby threatened jokingly, sticking his tongue out at them.

"You did well too, Toby!" Jin chimed in, making Anissa give him a light shove even as Toby grinned and saluted him. "What?" he continued, turning to Anissa. "I appeased him, didn't I?"

"And threw me right under the bus, yes."

"And how exactly did I do this?" he wanted to know, prompting Anissa to try - and fail - to come up with a defense to her claim, before ultimately giving up with a hapless shrug. "Uhhh-huh."

"Hush," Anissa shot back, snuggling back up against him. "The fireworks are about to start."

Indeed, the sky had darkened further, and Mayor Hamilton was now giving the usual short, introductory speech to the evening's festivities at the shoreline. After he tottered off to go join his son and daughter-in-law at their viewing spot, the familiar whistles, kabooms, crackles, and pops began to pierce the sky, painting glowing blossoms of color across the night.

Seeing Anissa watch the sky with the bright bursts reflected in her wide, burgundy eyes, Jin rubbed her shoulder, humming. "You know," he told her in a low voice under the loud booms, drawing her attention only slightly, "I always found it funny that you hate thunder, but you're okay with fireworks."

Now frowning at him in confusion, Anissa's brow twisted. "Really? Why?"

"Well..." Scratching at the back of his neck, Jin searched around for a way to elaborate upon his opinion, quickly finding himself at a loss when he realized how stupid the reasoning sounded: "I, err... always figured you... uhh... hated loud noises...?"

Scoffing, Anissa shook her head. "Between my parents and Taylor? Really?"

Jin didn't have an argument for that one. "Okay, fair point..."

"Well... either way," Anissa went on, settling back against him and continuing to watch the fireworks happily, "they don't really sound that much alike, for one. Plus... fireworks are aesthetically pleasing. I just... associate thunder with more negative things - floods, storms, tornadoes, lightning... fireworks are at least celebratory."

Mulling over her point, Jin nodded slowly, turning his gaze back up to continue watching the dazzling array of lights pop across the sky. "But it's not all bad," he mused aloud. "I mean, usually, thunder comes with rain, and the rain's replenishing the earth... saving you and your family the trouble of toiling out in the fields sometimes, right?"

"...That is true," Anissa admitted, head perched in the crook of his neck. "...Not that I plan to stop hating it any time soon, though," she went on, feeling Jin laugh against her. "But... I guess I can try thinking of it that way next time there's a storm..."

"Well, I'll always be glad to-"

Jin's words were cut off as a loud rumble cut through the sky, pinned under the higher-pitched shrieks and pops of the fireworks. A few groans rose up from the crowd - though Anissa's startled squeal jumped up above them all - and the breeze began to pick up a bit faster. Rain was definitely not far off from the shore, as the sky had been threatening throughout the latter half the day.

"Well," Jin mused, slightly disappointed as he stood up to slip his flip-flops back on, collected his trash from his meal earlier, and helped Anissa up, "I suppose that's our cue to wrap up the festival, huh?"

"Sounds like it," Anissa sighed, hoping the rain wouldn't fall before she and Taylor could get home to the other side of Castanet. She knelt down to help Jin fold the blanket back up, giving him a quick kiss on the lips and chuckling wryly. "By the way, before you say anything about my reaction just now-"

"Couldn't even stick to your resolution for a second, huh?" Jin cut in, his tone teasing as he clucked his tongue. "Really, now, Anissa."

"Oh, be quiet," she huffed, shaking her head - right as another rumble of thunder rolled overhead, making her jump. "Like I said - not a word!" she warned Jin, though she turned when Taylor came darting over towards her, tugging at the skirt of her yellow-and-white striped dress. "Hey there, Taylor! Are you ready to head home now?"

"Nah," Taylor answered, causing Anissa's eyebrows to go up. "I was wonderin' if I could stay over at Paolo's tonight with him and Chloe? Pleeeeease?" he added, letting go of the dress to clasp his hands in almost-comical begging. "Toby said it's okay, and Owen said Chloe could go, and Kasey and Toby and Ozzie are all gonna be there to keep an eye on us, so we'll be good!"

"And you made sure Ozzie's okay with this?" Anissa asked, arms folded over her chest, wondering if he was implying that they raised Hell when the adults weren't keeping an eye on them. ...Why wouldn't that surprise me? she mused, with a little smile, and relaxed when Taylor nodded. "Alright - I'll let Mom and Dad know, then. Have fun, okay? And - and don't give them too much trouble!" She had to raise her voice to call after her little brother as he cheered and darted off to rejoin his friends and their impromptu babysitters, his thanks shouted across the beach.

"Well, that sounds like a good idea," Jin mused as they made their way back up onto the pier, stopping at the stairs by the fishery. He offered his arm to Anissa, the wind blowing a bit harder now and sending their long hair and Anissa's dress flapping about even more. "What do you say? Save yourself a trip back home in this before it gets bad?"

He didn't even have to wait for an answer - yet another boom of thunder sounded, and Anissa squeaked and gulped, shaking her head at her own reactions before accepting Jin's arm. She'd hear it no matter where she was, but she had a feeling it'd be a lot more bearable with him by her side. "I think I'd have a heart attack if I tried heading home right now," she admitted with a sheepish, self-deprecating giggle as they made their way up the stairs.

"Well, we can't have that. But if you do have one, well... at least you're dating a doctor," Jin mused, getting another laugh and a little smack on the chest from her.

"Now, Jin, don't make me go join the slumber party at Ozzie's," Anissa warned lightly.

Jin chuckled as ambled past the inn, towards the clinic. "Certainly not. Besides, I think you and I can have a much more entertaining slumber party ourselves later on tonight," he added in a softer voice, making Anissa's face heat up and her lips curve upward with a sly smile. "And I can think of a few ways to help you keep your mind off that thunder..."

"Well, then, I'll hold you to that promise," Anissa murmured, grinning at him and curling a strand of his long, black hair around her index finger to give a playful tug.

As the first few drops of rain began to patter down across Harmonica Town, the pair slipped into the warm shelter of the clinic to ride out the incoming storm together.

Chapter Text

"Okay... 'Apni... miak...keinelm.' Apni... apni..." Eyebrows knitting together, Phoebe Kern shut her eyes, refusing the temptation to look at the open book laying off to her left for the answer. "Okay," she murmured, wracking her brain and running a hand through her chin-length, jade-green hair, "I know 'miak' is 'sanctuary,' 'keinelm' is 'spring,' so..."

"Soooo...?" a voice drawled from behind her, laced with amusement.

Opening her eyes, Phoebe looked over her shoulder to see Calvin Hawke lazily tracing a sideways figure-eight in the air with his index finger, and she groaned and slumped in her chair. "'Eternal!' Eternal Sanctuary of Spring - I almost had it, Calvin!" she uttered with a slight whine creeping into her voice, her words muffled by the arm she'd draped over her face.

Chuckling as he reclined on his bed in the cozy inn suite, Calvin shrugged his shoulders, light blue eyes twinkling. "Sorry, Pheebs, sorry... but let's not pretend you didn't do the same to me when I was deciphering those carvings, eh?"

Sighing, Phoebe raised her own index finger in the air to strike an imaginary point. "Alright, you big... omni-lingual... lug. Showing off like that." Despite her grumbling, there was a faint note of teasing to her words, and she uncovered her eyes and hunched back over her translations. "Alright... so... 'Apni miak qej,' that's pretty simple..."

"'Eternal Sanctuary of-'"

"'-Winter!'" Phoebe finished triumphantly, turning to flash a victorious smirk at a very puzzled Calvin. The smirk faded somewhat. "...What's that face for?" she added, raising an eyebrow over the rim of her red-framed glasses.

"Wait, 'qej' is 'winter?'" Calvin asked, sitting up cross-legged with a deepening frown and his hands folded in the lap of his brown cargo pants. Despite his square, chiseled features and his stubbly jawline fitting his thirty-five years quite nicely, he often looked like a puzzled teenager when he got confused, with his lips pursed like they were. Phoebe couldn't help but find it endearing... no matter how crazy he drove her sometimes.

"'Qej' is 'winter,' yeah," Phoebe echoed back, nodding at him. Turning about in her chair with her arms folded over the back, she rested her chin and stared at him in curiosity. "What did you think it meant?"

Passing a hand through his already-rumpled, dirty-blond hair, Calvin chuckled sheepishly. "You... you sure, Pheebs? I thought it was 'qej' for fall, 've' for winter... didn't the Sephani end their calendar with the shortest name?"

"They did end it with the shortest, yes - but that would be fall, or 've,'" Phoebe corrected him, unable to help a small swelling of pride in her chest at knowing this - Calvin was seven years her senior, with many more years of experience under his belt in the field of ancient civilizations and linguistics... but some languages tripped him up, all the same, like that of the ancient Sephani people he'd come to study when he'd arrived in Castanet. Or "Woop Woop," as he affectionately referred to it sometimes. It felt nice to be able to catch up and learn with him a little bit, sometimes, instead of just from him. Even better when she got the rare occasion to teach him something.

She tended to savor those moments, watching his eyes light up with interest as she went on: "They end and begin with the shortest words, but their calendar ends with fall, and starts with winter, since winter - to them - was basically starting over from zero. Resetting after the rich bounty of fall, you see? They wanted the start of the year to represent humble, meager beginnings, and the end to represent the fruitful success of hard work," she went on, her heart fluttering at the proud grin slowly spreading over Calvin's face as she wrapped up her little history lesson.

"Good on ya, Pheebs!" he congratulated her sincerely, chuckling and shaking his head. "When you put it like that, it shoulda been smack in my face, but..." He trailed off with a hapless shrug, shaking his head wryly. "Must be losing my touch in this old age."

Phoebe rolled her eyes with good humor. "Ah, right. I forgot, you're so ancient that you pre-date the Sephani people. Gee, and to think, you have trouble with the language whose birth you were around to witness!"

"Pffff!" Calvin hung his head and snorted at this, shoulders shaking. "Nahhh, what was that - about 6 B.C.? Think I was still hanging around in Oz back then."

"Well, you've held up very well," Phoebe complimented dryly, turning to slide the book off the desk and getting up from her chair. "Scoot," she added, waving her hand at him so she could hop onto the double bed with him, stretching her legs out and kicking her feet together. Leaning in as Calvin wrapped an arm around her shoulder, she looked up at him with a sly smile, turning the book away. "I figured we could go over some of these translations," she explained brightly, nudging his leg with hers as he grinned down at her.

"Ah, really? Without letting me look, eh? What's it, some kinda pop quiz?"

"We can call it that, sure," Phoebe agreed with a shrug, though her green eyes twinkled mischievously as Calvin groaned. "Oh, I think you'll like this one, though..."

Mood brightening some, Calvin's eyebrows went up wordlessly.

Wagging a finger at him, Phoebe shook her head. "Oh, you'll find out if you get the answers right! Ready?"

"Shoot, love."

"Alright... let's see... okay!" Clearing her throat, Phoebe adjusted her glasses, and read off the passage where her finger hovered: "'Lupeta nali peva ri.' And no peeking!" she warned him, looking up and laughing when she saw him cover his eyes and turn away. "I was going to suggest a blindfold, but sure, that works too..."

"A blindfold?!" Calvin repeated incredulously, a faint hint of delight and intrigue in his voice. "Kinky little minx, aren't you, Pheebs?"

Laughing harder, Phoebe shut the book on her finger to keep from losing her page, and smacked Calvin on the shoulder with it. "Oh, shut up! Pervert."

"Guilty as charged," Calvin conceded, tongue sticking out slightly as he tried to swallow his laughter and focus. "Okay, right... right..." He muttered the Sephani phrase under his breath, turning his brain around and around for answers. "'Lupeta nali,' that's 'on the peak' or 'on the summit,' I reckon, probably 'atop' in this context... 'peva'... 'world!' 'From atop the summit of the world?'" he answered excitedly, breaking into a broad grin when he heard Phoebe click her fingers in approval. "I got it?!"

"You did, yeah!" she confirmed, nudging his side in congratulations. "Okay, are you ready for another one?"

Calvin swallowed, then nodded - she'd probably started him on a pretty easy one just to warm him up. "Bring it on," he said, a slight squeak in his voice betraying his false bravado - something Phoebe didn't let go unnoticed, as she laughed at the sound.

"Oh, you'll be fine... we'll keep it short, okay?"

"Sounds good - I think I might be getting a bit knackered, really..."

She bit her lip as her mouth curved up in a grin. He was saying that now, anyway. "Alright, we'll do a bonus round after this, and then we'll stop?"

"Sounds right to me, sure."

"Alright... here we go! 'Qama rasul batrana ri.'"

Letting out a low whistle at this, Calvin grunted and sagged against Phoebe, clicking his fingers with his tongue between his teeth. "Right, right... 'qama rasul,' right... something... about shelter... preposition. Erm... 'from within the shelter?'"

"...Of?" Phoebe prompted, repeating the last noun left: "'Batrana?'"

"Right..." With a frustrated sigh, Calvin drummed the fingers of his free hand on the red-and-gold-checked duvet, before flat-out drumming his palm on it. "The hell's that thing, a... no, not a forest... like a forest, but - a - a clearing? No..."

Phoebe almost wanted to blurt it out, with him being so close, before he smacked the duvet in triumph: "Grove!' Right?! 'From within the shelter of the grove?!'"

"'From within the shelter of the grove!'" Phoebe repeated cheerfully, slamming the book shut as Calvin uncovered his eyes, beaming - he slapped her proffered palm in a high-five, the two of them laughing cheerfully. "There you go!" Phoebe added, planting a congratulatory kiss on his cheek and rumpling his already-messy hair. "Hey, maybe we can get you fluent in Sephani after all!"

"Think I'll be in a retirement home by that point," Calvin cracked, "but we can give it a fair go, yeah." He raised an eyebrow as he went on, tipping her chin up and leaning his face down to brush their noses together. "And what's this bonus round of yours, now...?"

Cheeks pink and eyes half-lidded but bright, Phoebe tilted her head. "Hmm... I was thinking... you join the right two Sephani phrases together - we'll use those last four we translated - and... then maybe... we can do a little joining up of our own?" Her fingers ran playfully through his hair, and she turned to press their chests together, making him squeak again. "Hmm? If you're not feeling too... knackered?"

Face now blazing to match hers, Calvin broke out into a hopeful grin at this proposition. He couldn't help but find it adorable when Phoebe mimicked his speaking mannerisms. "Yeah? Well, I reckon I'm not that knackered, then... kiss for good luck, eh?"

Pulling at his blue-and-white button-down to bring him in for a deep, intense "good luck" kiss, Phoebe pulled away with a loud whoosh of air, patting his cheek playfully. "How's that?"

"Luckiest man alive," Calvin assured her happily, now scrunching up his face in concentration as he thought over the four phrases they'd just worked out. He knew they were part of an old poem describing the dwellings of Castanet's local deities - Ignis, the Harvest God; and Sephia, the Harvest Goddess. "Okay, then... okay..." Brow furrowed, he leaned his forehead against Phoebe's, his own eyes shut even as hers watched him with encouraging interest. "Mmm... hmm. Hmm! Right, then!" Eyes snapping open, he shot her another grin: "'Apni miak keinelm... qama rasul batrana ri. Apni miak qej, lupeta nali peva ri!' Right?"

"...Well... you've got them backwards," Phoebe informed him almost gravely, watching his face fall in disappointment... before she gave him a light shove on the chest, and another peck on the cheek. "...But only in the sense that you're supposed to say where the sanctuaries are located first, then name them. Otherwise, you paired them up right! 'From within the shelter of the grove,Eternal Sanctuary of Spring...'"

"'...From atop the summit of the world, Eternal Sanctuary of Winter,'" Calvin finished for her, back to beaming with pride at his victory. Well... almost-complete victory, anyway. "Nice... you're a pretty spiffy teacher, Pheebs."

Coyly twirling a lock of his dirty-blond hair about one finger, Phoebe shrugged, though she was quite clearly pleased by the compliment. Her eyes grew heavy-lidded - she knew her friends would probably playfully tease her over how nerdy it was, but flirting with Calvin through their shared research was one of her favorite rushes. "Well, I guess it comes from having one myself, huh?"

"Guess so," Calvin echoed, voice growing a bit husky as his hand trailed down her neck, her shoulder, and her arm. He saw her shudder and felt the gooseflesh ripple up under his callused fingers. "So... think you're up to translating a little body language next, love?"

Biting her lip and smirking at him, Phoebe decided to forego words for the time being - they'd worked with those plenty over the past few hours - and simply pulled him back in to give her answer instead, bringing him down on top of her as she laid back on the duvet and sent the book tumbling to the floor.

FIN