Sitting hunched over his desk, staring down at plans for the carnival, Raven could feel the weight of his years on his shoulders.
Years spent as David Adams, toiling away at Justacorp for nothing. Years spent at the playhouse with Lloyd, finding his footing and figuring out who he was and who he could be. Years, decades, spent in the collective unconscious, trapped and longing for a man who had left him. He’d long since lost the hope that Lloyd would come back, despite the man’s promise the last time they’d seen each other.
He was so tired. Tired of pining, tired of loving, tired of all of this. The carnival was the only thing he had to look forward to, but even surrounded by the Floozies and the crowd, it was lonelier than he ever would have imagined. Things would get better. Everyone went through ruts. But god, this one seemed never ending.
There was a knock at the door, pulling him out of his thoughts, and he groaned as he rubbed his hands over his face, pushing the papers on his desk to the side before speaking.
“What is it?” he asked, rolling his shoulders to try and relieve some tension.
A Floozy opened the door, smiling widely at him. One of the ditzier ones, but most of them had hearts of gold.
“Got a few visitors for ya, Raven baby,” she said cheerfully. “That Han woman from the cabaret and a dolly.”
Han Mi and a doll. It was rare to find dolls nowadays, after the various purges. As far as he knew, the laws against them were still in effect, having never been taken out of the books. And Han Mi...hm. When she left, he’d assumed that was the last he’d see of her.
“Let them in,” he said, sitting back in his chair. The Floozy nodded and grinned, stepping out of the way so his guests could come into the room before closing the door behind them.
Han Mi looked just as she had when she left, though there was a weight to her shoulders that wasn’t there before, and a tired look in her eyes. Something must have happened after, though he wouldn’t bother guessing what. The doll was obviously an antique, kept in amazing condition. At one point its wood had been a vibrant purple, though time had long since dulled it. Raven was suddenly struck with the urge to perform some maintenance and tinker, but, no. That was an actual person, and they tended not to like being messed with.
“Lovely to see you, Miss Han Mi,” Raven said with a grin, gesturing to the two seats in front of his desk. “I wasn’t sure I’d see you again so soon.”
“I didn’t think so either,” she said, taking her seat in one of the chairs. The dolls movements were nowhere near as smooth, but they were able to sit down with no problem, their radio silent as their head was turned towards Raven. He had the distinct feeling he was being stared at, and turned his attention towards Han Mi, trying to ignore the chills the doll sent up his spine.
“So, what exactly brings you and your friend here today? Looking to run away and join the carnival? Need some helpful tips and tricks from a fellow postie?” he asked, twirling his pen in his fingers. Han looked at the doll, raising an eyebrow, and Raven followed her gaze. The dolls ‘face’ was still pointed at Raven.
“Are you going to talk, or just sit there? You’re the one who wanted to come here,” she said, obviously unimpressed. There was a soft burst of static as the dolls radio kicked on, a voice coming through that made Raven’s heart stop in his chest.
“Excuse me for needing a moment, it’s just…a lot,” the doll said, using his love’s voice. Were they doing this to be cruel? Was this some sort of punishment? His fingers tightened on his pen. This couldn’t be him, this couldn’t actually be him. There was no way that Lloyd could have gone off and died, he was too smart for that, too careful. Just the idea of it was insane.
“I know about the radio show, and I certainly know what your kind is capable of. Recording his voice is a cheap trick. You need to leave,” Raven said, his voice cold as he made to turn back to his paperwork. Han Mi protested, but Raven couldn’t hear her exact words over the static and clicks of the dolls radio, switching from channel after channel as if searching for something. The noise was grating, and he found himself growing more and more agitated until he finally snapped, slamming a fist down onto his desk.
“If you don’t shut that damn thing off right now, I swear to whatever higher being exists-“ He was cut off by a song, one he’d heard hundreds of times, one he’d sang just as often. Only a handful of people in the world knew his connection to the song, and there was no way they would have told a doll.
Who can take tomorrow, dip it in a dream? Soak up all the sorrow and collect up all the cream? The candy man, oh the candy man can. The candy man can cause he mixes it with love and makes the world taste good.
The radio shut off, leaving the room in silence as Raven stared at the purple doll across from him. No, not purple. Lilac.
Han Mi was staring between the two of them as if waiting for something to happen. Raven felt frozen. Lloyd was here, Lloyd came back, Lloyd had died.
“I told you I would always come back, Ravey,” Lloyd said, his voice gentle. There was a nervous undertone to it, as if waiting for Raven to explode. “I’ll admit, it...took a little longer than expected. Things were rough for a long while, but I promised I would come back.”
It had been years since Raven had been truly speechless, but right now, all he could do was stare at the doll. Lloyd, he reminded himself. It was his Lloyd, his Lilac. If it was even possible, he could see the other man getting nervous, his wooden fingers twitching and tapping against the arm of his chair.
Raven had imagined this reunion thousands of times before, what it might be like, what they might do. He’d grab Lloyd and hug him, or he’d press him against the wall and kiss him until they were both flushed and breathless. Maybe he’d be too angry for anything, and he’d give Lloyd the cold shoulder. Now, though, in the very moment that he’d dreamt of, the options were limitless and he was almost at a loss for what to do.
He pushed his chair back from his desk, its legs scraping loudly against the floor, and stood up. Han Mi was quiet as she watched, no doubt wanting to stay out of whatever happened here. He couldn’t be bothered to spare a thought for her as he made his way to Lloyd, grabbing one of his wooden arms and pulling him up from his chair into a firm hug. The wood was unforgiving, his antique joints creaking loudly at the sudden movement, but Lloyd hugged him back nonetheless. His thin arms were wrapped around Raven, holding him as tightly as he could, his wooden head pressed into his chest in a way that was familiar and not familiar all at once. It wasn’t like it had been before, nor was it like what he’d imagined, but Lloyd was here. Lloyd was back, and that was all he could ask for.
For the first time in what felt like forever, with Lloyd’s arms tight around him, the walls he’d so carefully built around himself were coming down. Lloyd tended to have that effect on him, and it always left him feeling like an exposed nerve, like he’d shatter into a thousand pieces with one wrong move. And sometimes, in moments like this, he did shatter, the world crushing in around him. It was hard not to.
Lloyd moved, pulling away from him just enough to look at his face, and Raven had to fight the urge to hold tight and keep him immobile, stuck with him forever. Nothing good could ever come of something like that. Instead, he let his hands slide from his back to his hips, resting there over his pants.
“I promised I would come back, Ravey,” he repeated softly, sounding somehow choked up through the ambient sound of the radio. “I haven’t broken a promise yet, have I?”
“There’s a first time for everything,” Raven said. Despite himself, and his words, he found himself smiling a little, looking at Lloyd’s featureless face. He could almost see the old Lloyd looking up at him, his eyes bright and gleaming.
In moments when he thought he’d break, he knew that he’d have Lloyd there to help piece himself back together, just like Lloyd had him to do the same when things got rough. They would be okay.