Chapter 5 : Embers
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Night was smothering, wrapped around the shoreline and each of the brother’s shoulders, edging its way closer to the smoldering fire with each passing second. Thick, black tendrils of air writhed against the coming waves, retreating and charging again while the water smashed against the sand.
“What time is it?” Lorcan asked, his words fogging out in warm clouds. The pair had remained silent for almost an hour, listening instead to the faint snaps of sparks and the grumbling sea.
Lysander rolled over to pull a pocketwatch out of his trouser pocket, squinting at the time and dusting off the glass surface. “Almost two.”
“Really?” The twin laughed, rocking forward to grab his ankles. “It’s been that long? Merlin, we should go.”
“Or we could stay a bit longer.” The fire sparkled in response.
The pair had stumbled toward the distant ocean once the festivities had come to a close, after bidding fond farewells to their guests and kissing loved ones goodbye. Their shoes dangling in hand, toting a full bottle of champagne with their ties undone, they had jogged down the hillside and through the bunches of tall, tilting grass that signaled the start of the beach. “A fire!” Lorcan had declared, and Lysander made it so.
“She’s going to be angry with me,” the groom breathed, barely a whisper above the waves. “She didn’t get her wedding night.”
Lysander was silent, fingering the clock’s chain. “You’ll have other occasions,” he said finally, and though he turned to look at his brother, Lorcan was staring straight to the flames. The response was stale, anyway, because of course she was going to be angry and of course Lorcan should not have spent his night on the beach. But the fire was so alluring, shimmering against the black, and the effects of the champagne were just beginning to ebb.
“I haven’t told her yet, you know.”
They fell silent again, listening to the waves berate the coast. The herbologist could hear it clearly - the dull smash of tumultuous water against the solid barrier of sand - and yet the black of the night was so enveloping, even with the enormous moon, he couldn’t begin to make out the shoreline. He listened instead, turning his attention back to their fire and pulsating embers, his brother’s knee barely skirting his own.
“I hope I’ve made the right decision, Lysander.” The words were dark and hollow, weighted, sinking against the salty air.
“I’m sure you have,” he said. He was sobered by the abrupt darkness that clouded Lorcan’s voice, the lightness left from their gallivant toward the sand vanishing entirely.
“But... there’s a lot that I... I’m not sure if...”
Lysander could hear the tension pull tight through his brother’s chest, the craving for love and promise and acceptance claw against each other in his lungs and throat. The words weren’t forming, and it was almost visible on his twin’s face as Lysander watched the glimmering shadows of the flames catch his grimace.
The quiet fell again, their hesitant speech replaced with the crackle of the fire and Lorcan’s deep, steady breathing. His fingers played against the mouth of the empty champagne bottle, circling the glass, and his eyes were beginning to drift shut. It was rare that Lysander saw his brother so silent, even doleful. And though the two had scampered toward their sandy hideaway with nothing but gleeful smiles and laughter, happy to be solely in the other’s company for the first time that evening, he was beginning to sense the mood growing somber.
“Did you meet my guest?” he asked, an unfamiliar trepidation beginning to swell in his stomach.
“Blonde, wasn’t he?” Lorcan’s voice was dim, his half-lidded eyes resting on their dwindling fire. His usual felicity had dissolved.
“His name is Scorpius,” Lysander continued.
“I saw you two run off together,” Lorcan said, fingers still snaking around the bottle’s rim. “After dessert, I mean.”
The herbologist could feel the scarlet begin to creep back into his cheeks. “I... You know how I am in large-”
“Oh, it was nothing against you leaving the table during-”
“- social functions like that.”
“- the reception, because I would’ve as well.”
The talking ceased almost immediately, and Lysander couldn’t help but meet his twin’s eye and laugh. “We do that too often.”
“Well,” Lorcan said, a smile beginning to creep back into his features, “I say what I need to say, and you do too. It just happens that sometimes that may be... at the same time.”
The thundering of the ocean wormed its way back between them, growing more pronounced as neither said a word. Each were left smiling, though, staring ahead at the smoldering coals with the sea at their backs.
“Do you like him?” Lorcan asked, low and quiet.
“... I do.”
“When did you meet?”
“He came into the office a few weeks ago, right before you told me about your engagement,” Lysander answered, reaching out to rake his fingertips through the cold sand. “And then I ran into him at this little pub around the corner from my flat.”
“And...?” Lorcan’s brief involvement in the conversation was quiet and gravelly, his eyes fixed on the slow burning of the fire’s cinders, but there was a certain note of interest that continued to shade his words.
“And I’m very... taken with him.”
“He’s so confident. Everything he does has a purpose. And that’s so...”
“Exactly,” Lysander sighed, leaning back onto his elbows. “And I... I feel like I was a little... rash tonight.”
“That’s unlike you.”
“I left the reception and he followed, and for once in my life I didn’t know somebody was behind me...”
“Alcohol can do that.”
“... And then I saw him and the moon was so large and there was just something about him that I... I just...”
The words came easily, perhaps spurred by the emptied champagne bottle, and before he knew it Lysander was launching into his catalogue of the apparently-extraordinary Mr. Malfoy. With the waves as a constant, steady beat behind him, he talked of Scorpius’ hair, the way his collar stuck to the back of his neck, the scent of sumac that drifted toward him as he - and here is where Lorcan let out an appropriate, rousing hoot - kissed him. His brother sat to his right, fingers tracing the bottleneck, stare never leaving the smoke curling from their modest fire.
“Sometimes,” Lorcan said, confident that his twin had finished his monologue, “things happen quickly. And we’re human and we act impulsively and perhaps we don’t... think about things. We just do.” He exhaled slowly, waiting until all the air in his lungs had diminished before speaking again. “And Lysander?”
“That’s OK. That’s alright.”
The herbologist listened to the ocean, the soft drum of the water against the sand, and the low, constant tick of his pulse. The air was still and silent, as the ocean breeze that often accompanied the shoreline and seagrass was absent.
“He’s very sharp looking,” Lorcan added, tucking the neck of the champagne bottle into the cradle of his elbow.
Lysander turned, surprised. “You think so?”
His brother laughed, though he didn’t shift his gaze. “Oh, you. Of course I do. Very tall. Dressed smartly. New shoes.”
“You noticed the shoes?”
“I’m not so different from you, dear brother.”
In the days that followed, Lysander suffered from a distinct lack of focus.
The plants in his office had begun to droop, some with leaves so noticeably slumped that his coworkers would often buzz around his doorframe and ask if the famed Doctor Salamander was feeling ill. The small clay pots, each with looping calligraphy inked around the rims, gathered dust on his windowsill, their soil growing stale.
There was a constant, aching reminder of someone else, a vibrant memory of the man with polished shoes and a warm face that drifted, unchanging, in the back of his mind. Instead of focusing on his office, on the green spilling from every surface within, his thoughts were elsewhere, lingering on the wedding and the beach and the heat that had occupied that evening.
Lysander sighed, fingering a silvery leaf of a flower that swayed before him and glancing at the clock ticking merrily on the wall. The basement’s enchanted lights were burning, meant to simulate the rays of the sun, though it didn’t seem to change the waxy complexion of the herbologists that spent their days under them. It was infamously warm, though, and Lysander could feel the beads of perspiration that had begun to edge against his hairline.
The plant arched away from him, dipping to meet the wood of the table before straightening. Lysander’s hands, though practiced and steady, were not quick enough. He cursed, and when he shut his eyes, breathing deeply, he was again greeted with the image of a laughing, well-dressed man.
“You have a visitor upstairs, Mr. Scamander.”
The voice was enough to startle him, though his hovering hands never wavered. “Who, now?” Lysander asked, gritting out the words. Again, he reached for the sterling flower, but its stem bowed against him.
“Looks like a client. Maybe a donor, sir.”
The scientist conceded, his fingers falling to his sides while he eyed the flower with a malice, frustration, fatigue he hadn’t felt in months. “Can somebody else see him?” Exhaustion was creeping into his knuckles. If the lingering receptionist would climb back up the stairs, maybe choke out the lights until all that was left was a deep, firm darkness, Lysander’s thoughts might arrange themselves into a more amiable disposition.
“He asked for you by name, sir.”
The plant quivered, its leaves reflecting light back onto the herbologist’s face. “Right,” Lysander said, shielding his brow from the mirrored glow and nodding toward the exit. “I’ll follow you out.”
One, two, three steps to the staircase, four, five... And the count was lost, numbers fading until they were gone completely.
The blinds in his office were open. As soon as the scientist rounded the corner, his eyes again assaulted with a brilliant white, he could feel his heartbeat begin to drum against his veins. Whatever irritation that had trailed around the fringes of his psyche began to melt away, replaced with a strange mixture of apprehension and excitement.
“Scorpius?” The light flooding from the window was a clear indication.
The blonde turned, beaming, his hands sliding into his pockets. His figure was outlined in black, the sun streaming from behind him and illuminating the sharp curves of his shoulders and the few strands of hair that had managed to wisp away from his forehead. “Hello,” he said, the edges of his eyes crinkling into crow’s feet as he smiled.
They stood there for a few moments, Lysander waiting for the receptionist to continue her amble down the hallway before striding forward. “You’ve been distracting me,” he said, a laugh threatening to spill out of his lungs.
“What, from my own office?” Scorpius’ hands slipped away from him, finding fabric to smooth on Lysander’s back as they embraced. His fingers moved over and between the other’s shoulder blades, tracing the linear ridges as if they were familiar. “Across town?”
Lysander righted himself, smiling. “My mind is an odd sort of machine,” he replied, and silence fanned across the room.
“I came to ask you to dinner,” Scorpius said suddenly. He stepped backward, leaning against the wood of the window frame.
“It’s not such a foreign concept, is it?” The familiar felicity that was laced in his laugh came again. “I was at work today and was just thinking that we never really did the whole ‘so what’s your family like and what are your quirky, hide-away hobbies?’ sort of thing.”
Lysander’s heart slowed, ticking dully in his ears as he nodded. “Yes, yes of course. I’d love to.”
“Excellent. I’ve got to get back,” Scorpius said, coming forward again, “but I thought I would ask in the time I had before meetings.”
“I’m glad you did.”
There was a warm, easy kiss on his cheek before Lysander could register the other man even moving, and three light fingers on the edges of his shoulder. “Tonight, then?” Scorpius whispered, his breath skimming the contours of the scientist’s earlobe. “Magnolia Street? We’ll go from there."
And he was gone, sweeping out of the room, the touch on Lysander’s back vanishing almost as soon as it had come.
A/N: Late, late, late, I know! Hopefully our little romance here will begin to unfold a little faster now. As always, special thanks to the ever-so-lovely Rachel, who's the best motivator in the whole world.