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Softer still

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Bug really likes being in Hue's apartment. It's brutalist – her words; Bug doesn't think there's much meanness to the place, himself – but also very clearly the home of somebody who likes her life a great deal. Portraits of all kinds of artists Bug couldn’t name hang on every wall, alongside instruments that look too pretty to ever be played. There's two mirrors on the bedroom walls alone, not to mention the one above the bed, and that's more reflective surfaces than what’s in the whole flophouse.

The one in the bathroom is especially ornate; gold-gilded and with a little shelf to hold all different lipsticks and perfumes. Bug is careful not to knock any over while washing his sticky hands clean of their post-mission slice of cake. Drying them on the hem of his shirt, he glances up at the movement in the mirror, a brief little heartbeat’s worth of instinct taking him over. Of course, it’s only himself, still a little pink in the cheeks from laughing with the girls back in the kitchen.

It's been a long time since he's seen his reflection proper, maybe, or it could be that he's always had this pinch of soft fat under his bellybutton and just never looked down to notice it. And yeah, maybe he'd had more than just a single slice of lemon tea cake, but Hue had bought the fanciest celebratory treat she could find, and it'd be a real shame if they'd wasted any. Besides, he's strong still. Today proved that well enough, so Bug decides he can't really find it within himself to give much of a darn about a little bit of tummy.

Hue's voice carries with a gentle breeze of magic around the concrete walls, calling everyone back together for cider. She doesn't say out loud that she's got sweet tea set out for Bug, but he knows from past experience that it'll be there, and he's certainly not gonna turn down such a kindness.

He risks a smile at his reflection, takes in the dimples on both sides of his dirty cheeks, his freckles, his beard that maybe Yolanda is right about needing a trim. There are less harsh lines than what he can last recall of himself; less rigid fear to his spine, no flat-lined lips. His hair is longer and smoother every day, and now, a little extra weight on his gut from too many happy occasions to count. Next time, he thinks, maybe he'll be softer still.

--

It’s only recently that Hue has decided she actually likes hosting. Nothing dramatic like Bug’s big soirees on the holidays. Nothing involving more than just herself and her three teammates, actually. Still, having an excuse to break out one of her sets of good china for an afternoon is nice, especially after a particularly un-glamorous week of menial monster-hunting.

The stewed apples at the bottom of the pot of cider are starting to give off a pleasant burned smell, so she takes it off the stove and strains it into three glasses etched with gold. Yolanda lets out a long oooooh as the enchantment on the glassware imbues the contents with a delicate warm glow. Hue takes a sip from her own glass – extra-spiced with cinnamon and cayenne – before clinking a claw against the side of Bug’s mug of peach tea, illuminating it with little golden flecks.

“Here’s yours!” She shouts when Bug eventually turns the corner into the dining area. She passes him his mug, unable to help but roll her eyes when their hands touch and she finds his are damp. He’s still too afraid to use the handtowels in her guest bathroom, it seems, even though they couldn’t be worth more than five gold.

Bug takes it and cups it in both hands, inhaling deep and smiling wide as the warm scent reaches his nose. He always looks so pleased about the tiniest things. It’s great for Hue’s ego. “Thank you!” He bows his head a little as he says so, like he’s addressing royalty – also good for Hue – and sits primly beside Yolanda on the dining room chaise.

Hue wipes a lock of hair out of her face and sighs, picking up her own glass again and taking a long sip. “I need to get off my hooves too, I think,” she says, squeezing in next to Gail on the loveseat opposite.

Gail nods towards her own glass of cider. “You did well.” In Gail’s language, that’s a five-star review, and Hue can’t help but smile in return.

It doesn’t take long until the humans among them are red in the cheeks from the warm drinks and how toasty Hue’s been told she keeps her apartment. Yolanda’s gone a bit mauve, too, having gone back and ladled herself out a second helping of cider. It’s misty outside, not quite snowing but teasing that it could do later, and Hue decides that if her friends fall asleep in her sitting room, she won’t mind too much. Gail’s eyes are droopy already, and Hue might think Yolanda was already meditating, staring out the window like she is, save for how she’s still gently scratching Bug’s scalp.

Bug used to worry her. Big and broad but concave, somehow, and over-apologetic about himself. She’s not sure exactly when she stopped glancing at him on dark nights, checking for shadows on his face, but it feels like an age ago. He looks brighter, now, and not just for the warm pink on his cheeks. He’s got more freckles, too; a few disappear into his laugh lines when he smiles, and Hue is sure it’s only a matter of time before some eager gentleman takes notice. She’ll have to keep an eye on him all over again, when that happens. No one fucks with her brothers.

From beside her, Gail lets out a sigh like a house-cat napping in the sun, the crown of her head coming to rest on Hue’s shoulder. Hue plucks the glassware from Gail’s half-open hand delicately and places it on the coffee table with the rest; all drained empty, but still shimmering with magic and a soft, soft warmth.