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Well Suited

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Jude stood in front of the mirror and wondered what Milla would think of his look. It was Alvin who’d sent Jude a message saying the young doctor had to dress up for a dinner date tonight in Drellin with Milla. But thinking about what Alvin would say about Jude’s attempts to impress the Lord of Spirits — probably something like “You still look like you have no idea what bazongas are no matter what you do” — made him annoyed all over again. He could be spending time with Milla right now. Instead, he was wasting the little time she could spend in the human realm choosing between the pink tie that matched Milla’s eyes and the minty green one that matched the streak in her hair at Alvin’s cryptic behest.

“You can thank me later,” Alvin’s follow-up text read. Yeah, right.

Conscious of the clock ticking the minutes away, Jude chose the pink tie with surety, knotted it, and tucked it into his vest. He gave himself one last once-over in the mirror, again wondering if Milla would even recognize him. 

It’d been over a half a year since they’d last seen each other. Then, his hair had been about as long as it’d been when they first met; now, he’d let it grow out even more, and he had a short ponytail, with long side bangs. Since he’d started wearing suits for work meetings on occasion and hated how they made him feel like a schoolboy pretending to be a distinguished, degreed grownup, he opted now to wear just a black vest over a white dress shirt instead. He thought he looked dapper. He hoped Milla also thought he looked dapper.

Jude dashed out the door to catch the train to Drellin before he could make the mistake of switching to the green tie.

When he got off in Drellin, he power-walked his way to the inn, where he was meeting Milla for dinner. He stopped in front of the door to the establishment and took a deep breath to calm the mix of giddy and nervous and tired and anxious that swirled inside him. 

His breath stopped upon opening the door and seeing Milla in the corner of the dining area. He stood just inside the doorway, trying to process what he saw.

Milla was wearing a tuxedo.

Jude gawked long enough at the entrance that Milla started waving at him from her seat, trying to catch his attention, as if he could miss her full head of blond hair and her indomitable presence. A blush flooded his cheeks as he waved once and made his way to the table.

“Did my attire surprise you?” Milla asked as soon as he was seated. “Is it not suitable?”

The chuckle escaped before he could stop it. “I don’t know what to be more surprised by, the tux or the use of silly puns. Maybe you’ve been hanging around Alvin and Rowen too much.”

“Hm, well, I did spend most of the day shopping with Alvin, so I suppose that’s entirely possible,” Milla admitted. “What do you think of our main purchase of the day? Does it suit me?”

“You’re doing these puns on purpose, right?”

"I’m not answering that question until you answer mine, which I’ve asked twice now,” Milla said matter of factly.

“Alright, fair enough,” Jude stalled. Because he wasn’t quite sure what to say about her classic black-and-white tux. Because there was too much to say. Because he didn’t want to stare at her too much. Because all he wanted to do was take in all the details. Because seeing her in Elympios’ men’s fashion was utterly unexpected and unexpectedly appealing. Because no matter what Milla wore, she commanded attention. Because for once, her hands weren’t covered in gloves, and all he wanted to do was hold them. Because the small, slightly crooked bow tie in place of her collar made her so adorable. Because he was torn between the urge to fix her bow tie here and now or to take her back to his apartment, where he could undo it entirely, unbutton the stifling top button of her dress shirt, kiss her.

“Of course it suits you,” Jude finally ventured. “You are the Lord of Spirits, after all.”

Milla laughed. “That’s right. Strictly speaking, the concept of gender doesn’t apply to me. I must admit, it’s kind of fun wearing clothes predominantly designed for men. It’s much more comfortable than I expected.”

“Well, you’re beautiful no matter what you’re wearing,” Jude said, willing himself to maintain eye contact, even as he felt his face burn up.

“Thank you. And yes, the puns were on purpose. It’s been so long since I got to joke with you humans.” It looked like she wanted to say more, but the waiter interrupted to take their dinner order.

“I’ve missed you,” Jude admitted once the waiter had walked away. “This is a nice surprise.”

“Of course. I couldn’t miss your 20th birthday,” Milla replied.

“Wait, what?” Jude asked, trying hard to remember what day it was in Elympios, and what that corresponded to in Rieze Maxia.

“Alvin told me you would forget it’s your birthday. But today’s date is in fact the same day that you came into existence 20 years ago. Happy birthday, Jude.”

“Thank you,” he replied quietly. “I’m now the same age that you were when we first met.”

"That’s right. That’s why I didn’t want to miss it. I know this is the age your society considers you an adult. I wanted to be one of the first to see an adult Jude.”

The breath caught in Jude’s throat at Milla’s proclamations. She had saved his life, given it direction, influenced the man he’d become. Every day, he dedicated his life to his spyrite research, in the hope he could help revitalize the spirit population and restore balance to the world. Every day, he wondered what Milla would say to him, if she were here to give him encouragement and guidance.

“Well, as the first to see adult Jude, what do you think?” he asked. “Does he seem different?” He scratched the side of his chin with his left hand out of nervous habit, embarrassed by his forwardness. 

Milla picked up his right hand from the table and turned it over in hers, running her fingers over his calluses. Then she pressed her palm against his and intertwined their fingers. “He doesn’t seem too different. He still has strong but gentle hands,” Milla said. “He seems to have acquired a new sense of style, though. I like it.”

“If I had known you were going to be wearing a tuxedo, I would have at least put on a full suit,” Jude said, feeling too informally dressed in just a vest. Feeling unsure how to take this string of compliments. Feeling elated that they were finally holding hands.

“No, no. Then we would match too much. I like it better this way.”

Dinner was served — gnocchi with clams for Jude, shrimp scampi with pasta for Milla — and he laughed at how much she relished the taste after so long away from the human realm. They talked about Alvin and Yurgen’s unlikely business successes, Elle and Elize’s excelling studies, Leia’s strange bent toward journalism, and Rowen and Gaius’ leadership in a reshaped world. About Jude’s spyrite research helping more and more people, particularly those with disabilities, live an easier and more rewarding life. About how the landscape of Elympios was slowly turning green again. About the tensions that still existed between Rieze Maxians and Elympions. About Milla’s adventures and arbitrations with the Four, protecting the birth of new spirits. 

The glimpses Milla gave him into the spirit world fascinated him. Milla had already explored the entirety of the human world with Jude and their friends, so she had a strong basis to understand the events he talked about, even if she didn’t come back for months and only stayed for what felt like seconds. But he had never seen the spirit realm before, so he struggled to fully grasp and appreciate Milla’s explanations about the river of souls and the spirit birth process. Any time they talked about it, though, he listened attentively, for the betterment of spyrite and human-spirit harmony. 

“I know that spirits and humans age differently,” Jude said. “You age slower, right? So what’s our age gap now? Am I going to surpass you soon?”

“I suppose you are going to catch up with me in the next few years,” Milla said, raising an eyebrow in troubled thought. 

“Will you still love me, when I’m old and wrinkly and you’re still young and pretty?” he asked. Turning 20 seemed to have made him bolder, at the very least.

“You’ve gotten handsomer with age. I’m sure you’ll still be a charmer when you’re old,” she said. Very noncommittal, he noticed. “When you die, you become a new spirit, and then I’ll be much older than you again. But why are we getting so far ahead of ourselves? You’re only 20 now. You’re still very young, even by human standards. Only your soul is old.”

“Right.” Jude had no idea what to say to the idea of being together for the actual equivalent of forever in their universe. It reassured and excited and frightened him, all at the same time. But as Milla said, his 20th birthday was perhaps not the time to be thinking about death. There was still so much he had to do in his human lifetime to help Milla, so that she could have spirits to lord over to begin with. She needed him here, in Elympios and Rieze Maxia, for the foreseeable future.

A waiter came and took their empty dinner plates, and with the table cleared, Jude couldn’t help feeling a pang in his chest. He knew they were chasing forever, but he wished to have more time with Milla right now. The sooner dinner came to a close, the sooner they would have to part for another long stint.

But maybe she could spend the night with him. Maybe they could see Alvin together tomorrow. Maybe he could show her firsthand all the progress he was making with spyrites. 

Maybe he was getting his hopes up. 

He was about to ask how long she could stay, but he nearly fell out of his chair, when she pulled hers around the table and put it next to his.

“Wh-what are you doing?” Jude asked. With her right next to him, he became even more conscious of her new attire, the way it covered much more of her than she usually preferred. In her default attire, she’d been clear about her clothes’ purpose of attracting men’s attention and allowing her to move freely in combat. But somehow, this buttoned-up look made her even more alluring than when she showed off her toned stomach and thighs. The suit left things up to his imagination, and his imagination was running wild.

“I ordered dessert for us to share,” Milla said excitedly.

“Oh, yeah? And we need to sit side-by-side to eat it?” Jude said, trying his best to hide how flustered he still was.

“Yes, it’s easier this way.”

“Okay. Well now that you’re over here, can I fix your bow tie?” Jude offered, even though he didn’t really trust himself to straighten it out rather than unravel it. If her surprising attire was his birthday present, then he was like a child who wanted to skip the formalities and get straight to opening the gifts.

Milla’s first instinct was to try to look down at the bow tie, even though he was sure she couldn’t see it very well, if at all. “Did I tie it wrong? Is it crooked?”

“It’s pretty crooked.” It had gotten looser in the move to his side of the table, and now was no longer slightly off in an elegant way. “May I?”

“Go ahead,” she said, closing her eyes. Stray strands of blond hair hovered all around the tie, so he did his best to whisk them away without touching Milla’s neck, afraid of tickling her, worried he’d break down and caress her and kiss her and die of embarrassment. Instead he restrained himself and wrangled the bow tie back into proper disarray, still slightly sideways, still a little bit too rumpled. 

“There,” Jude said quietly, putting his hands in his lap. “You’re back to looking perfectly upstanding now.”

“Just in time,” Milla said. The waiter had reappeared carrying a small birthday cake. He placed it on the table and bowed.

“Happy birthday, Dr. Mathis,” the waiter said.

“Thank you.”

The waiter left the cake — vanilla icing, with strawberries on top, and a delicious mystery under it all — and two forks between Jude and Milla. With no knife, he didn’t see the point in trying to split the dessert evenly. He handed a fork to Milla, who was practically drooling. He tried hard not to laugh or comment on her enthusiasm for common human pleasures.

Milla took off a huge piece first (vanilla inside, with more strawberries), but aimed her fork at him. “The birthday boy has to accept the first bite from me,” she said, as if this explained the oddity of her actions.

“Okay, but that piece is really big.”

“Hmm. You’re right,” she said. He expected her to eat part of it and then feed him the rest so that she indirectly kissed him. He expected to be a gentleman and feed her a much more reasonably sized piece back. He expected they would then feed themselves once more, like people usually do in public, and that she would eat most of the cake herself while he watched, bemused.

He did not expect her to smash the piece of cake into his face. But that’s what she chose to do. 

And then she laughed and laughed at the mess she’d made of his face, covered in icing and spongy cake bits and pure shock.

“W-what? Why’d you do that?” he finally managed to ask. He ate the strawberry that had fallen onto the napkin in his lap, then he smeared the cake bits clinging to his chin toward his mouth, trying to eat as much as he could before wiping the affected areas with the napkin.

“I read that smashing cake into people’s faces is a human tradition,” Milla said. “Why are you surprised?”

“That’s a wedding tradition,” Jude said, still too confused and mortified to laugh off her mistake.

“Wedding?” Milla said, confused herself, and not spending any time helping him clean up.

"It’s the ceremony people have to get married.” Though he’d gotten all the cake off his face — or at least, he was pretty sure he did — that sticky feeling from the sugar was setting in on his skin.

“Oh! Marriage! I know what that is!”

“At weddings, there’s usually a really, really big cake, and the bride and groom feed each other the first bite. But sometimes they smash it into each other’s faces instead.”

“If they love each other, why are they smashing cake into each other’s faces? What’s the point of that?” Milla asked.

“I don’t know, why did you just smash cake into my face?” Jude asked.

“It was very funny.”

“Well, I’m glad it amused you,” he said, briefly but genuinely annoyed that she was having fun at his expense. He wanted to smear cake all over her face now, but he didn’t want to potentially dirty her tuxedo.

“There’s still some cake on your face, you know.”

“What? Where?” He started feeling around his chin and cheeks blindly with his napkin again, since he couldn’t feel anything except the sugar extract seeping further and further into his skin. Maybe some icing had clung to one of his side bangs?

“Right here,” she said, just before her hand touched his check and she kissed him on the corner of his mouth.

It was what he’d wanted all night, yet the chaste kiss made him much hungrier than before, for something much more sustaining than a slice of birthday cake. For more kisses, however fleeting, that promised forever and a day. For more small ways to close the gap in time and space that separated him from Milla. For him and Milla to develop traditions that were all their own.

The cake couldn’t solve all his problems. But it could serve as a conduit to more sweetness.

“I thought spirits couldn’t tell lies,” Jude said quietly.

“I wasn’t lying. There was cake on your face.”

“Well, now there’s cake on your face.”

“No, there’s not,” Milla said flatly. 

“Sure there is,” Jude said, making sure to hold her piercing pink eyes with his unassuming golden boy ones. “Right here.” He touched his index finger — which he’d made sure to discreetly cover in icing — to her lips, before moving in for a quick sugar-filled kiss. “See?” he said once he was sitting back again, feeling somewhat smug that he’d been able to surprise her.

“Yes, I see now. Thank you for your help cleaning that up,” she said, smiling. “I must admit, the cake tastes very good. Can we finally eat it before we go back to your place?”

“I like this plan,” was his understatement of the night.