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sharp dressed man

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Christopher wasn't going to be able to wear this suit for much longer.

It was the first suit he'd owned since he was perhaps twenty that wasn't bespoke, not that he cared about that any more. The quality was there, as he would expect from anything sold by the place Curran got his own suits. The now-former Beast Lord might not care for such things, might prefer to go through his life in Pack grey sweats, but he understood the purpose of a good suit, which was why he'd offered no argument when Christopher said he needed one before they went to the Casino; which was why, when they walked through the doors of the shop, he'd told the clerk, "He needs a suit, right now, and he needs it to fit off the rack because the only alterations we have time for are nonstandard," when Christopher himself hadn't even thought about the possibility he might need the wings yet, but had realized as soon as he said it that it was a smart ace to have in the hole, walking into the Casino. The poor tailor had nearly choked when she found out exactly what the 'nonstandard alterations' were, but she'd made it happen.

Christopher's only input had been, "A dark color if possible, please." It was fortuitous that the suit that had most closely fit his measurements (the shop was small and appeared to do mostly custom work; Christopher suspected the suit he'd been sold was either someone else's rejected commission or one that hadn't been picked up yet for someone it was more reasonable to piss off than Curran Lennart, which was almost anyone) was black...and the key word there was had. Two weeks ago, the suit had fit, if only just. Good enough for an emergency, anyway, which was exactly what it had been. Today, the pants were still fine, but it was already a bit tight in the shoulders. Not enough to make it unwearable, certainly, not when it was the suit he had, and when Kate and Curran were getting married in a few hours—and regardless of the fact that Kate had really seemed to think she could just show up and get married, it was a formal event—but enough that he noticed it when he put his white dress shirt on, and suspected he would notice it more when he put the jacket on top.

It wasn't a surprise. The measurements he'd almost rattled off from memory when the tape measure came out had turned out to be inaccurate—he'd still been down quite a bit of weight, despite Barabas' best efforts to keep him on track—and now that he was sane enough to remember to eat on his own, and flying, he was putting on muscle through his shoulders and back enough that he'd noticed it even before putting the suit back on. It was not quite human, he thought, to put on muscle this fast, or for his shoulders and back to never be sore after he flew, putting those muscles to a use they'd never been meant for, but then he supposed he wasn't quite human any more, anyway, even when he looked like one. He liked to think Barabas had noticed the change, too, but that was...delicate.

As if summoned by his thinking of him, Barabas knocked on the door to Christopher's room, and at his, "Come in," opened it, letting Maggie in to sniff around his ankles. Christopher hadn't realized he'd accidentally closed her out, but had vaguely wondered why he wasn't tripping over her while getting ready. She must have opted to go see Barabas instead of whining to be let back in. "Hey, how are you—shoulders," Barabas said, and then flushed, which showed up beautifully well on the pale skin that went with that red hair.

Christopher restrained a smirk and pretended not to notice, even though they both knew that was impossible. "Yes," he said, "it's a little tight, but I think it'll be fine for tonight." He rolled his shoulders once to test the theory, watching in the mirror the way Barabas' eyes were glued to them. It didn't necessarily mean anything, he reminded his heart. Barabas had seen him at his lowest, if not his worst—the worst thing he had ever been had come before Deimos. That he thought he was physically attractive, now that he was truly present in his body, didn't mean he had any intent at all of acting on it. "The slits for the wings buy some leeway," he decided. "And I'm not quite busting out of it yet."

He looked down at the dresser, and Barabas shook himself once, unaware that Christopher could still see his reflection out of the corner of his eye. "No, you look—good. I just can't quite believe Curran bought you a suit that was almost too tight."

"We were in a hurry," Christopher said. "And, well. My shoulders have changed."

"They have," Barabas agreed, carefully neutral. "We can get you one that fits better later."

He didn't think his shoulders were done changing, was the thing, and besides, "I don't think I'll have much need for one, after this."

Barabas opened his mouth to reply, then closed it, for once, clearly, not sure what was the right thing to say. Christopher didn't know, either, so he just went back to getting ready. He took his time putting the cufflinks in, sending a silent 'thank you' to Curran Lennart for thinking to have asked if the shop had a shirt in stock in Christopher's size with French cuffs, for understanding that details like that mattered. Christopher had been too out of practice in the art of image, too focused on getting the job done, but he had been glad when Curran had asked and was far more so now. The cufflinks themselves were nothing fancy: steel, he suspected, from the fact that the shop had catered to shapeshifters, and black enamel, but Christopher had never been one for flashy cufflinks anyway. But he was a man who was attracted to men, and so he knew on a downright visceral level what watching someone adjust their cufflinks could do. Just because he was a different man now, hopefully a better one, didn't mean he was above playing a little bit dirty, so he took his time, got them just so. Barabas, usually so sharp, didn't seem to notice that he was doing it on purpose. Probably he thought it was simply because it was the second time he had worn a suit in years.

The tie that had come with the suit was black, the safe, neutral choice, the correct one for the impression he'd wanted to give the Casino. But now Christopher found himself frowning at it as soon as he'd looped it around his neck, and like he was reading his mind, Barabas asked, "A little dour for a wedding?" Some people could get away with black on black as a safe neutral, but Christopher's coloring had always made it look like he was attending a funeral even when his hair had been blond instead of white. Barabas probably had a similar problem. When he'd been Legatus, it had been an effect he cultivated. Now...

"It's a lot of black," Christopher agreed, "but it's the only one I have."

"You can borrow one of mine," Barabas offered, and turned around and walked back down the hall without waiting for his response. Christopher looked at Maggie, shrugged, and picked up his jacket and followed him, since he could think of nothing else to do. Now it was his turn to look at Barabas, he thought, as he scrutinized the tie rack on the back of his closet door like it held all the secrets of the universe. He hardly wore them any more, but he still had a lot of ties, relics of a former life.

Unlike Christopher, Barabas had actually lost a few pounds over the last few weeks, the price of that rapid, magically-aided shapeshifter healing. He barely even limped any more, just enough that you noticed it if you were looking for it, which Christopher usually was. Those first few days after the battle, when he'd still been in the medical ward being treated at regular, practical intervals while the magic held out, Christopher had found his old self slipping through a few times, caught himself thinking frustrated things like, Just get d'Ambray to-- before he remembered that Hugh had probably drunk himself to death by now, and wouldn't have been found healing Barabas at any rate. Christopher had been trying to feed him back up, assisted by Barabas' worried mother and helped along by the fact that he too was always ravenous these days. Every time he bought groceries he winced a little at the bill, and then reminded himself that eventually Barabas would be healed, and his own body would be done recovering and reshaping itself, and things would level off.

Also unlike Christopher, Barabas' suit actually fit, because he owned more than one, and had had time to think about things like minor weight fluctuations and hadn't just had to settle for 'close enough for an emergency.' It was charcoal, not black, cut to accentuate his slender build until he looked as sharp and slim as the blade of a knife, with color brought in through a blue shirt and aggressively paisley tie, both in shades that flattered his coloring. He looked mouth-wateringly good, and it had been so long since Christopher had wanted to flatter a man—not seduce him, they were nowhere near that, yet, he understood, even if he wanted. But it had been so long since he had even tried to flirt, and he had been so different, then. He hadn't had to try very hard before at all, if he was honest.

He had not been a good person, then. He wanted to be better now. Not just for Barabas, but that was certainly part of it.

Barabas kept glancing at him, quick little flickers. Christopher thought mostly he was gauging his coloring against the options on the tie rack, which was fair. Most of the time Christopher didn't know what to make of his coloring now, either, or at least, not the hair, not that it really mattered when most of the time he was in jeans and a t-shirt. He wanted to say something about it, to thank Barabas for being so considerate of him, but it was too close to things like 'taking such good care of him' that were decidedly not what Barabas needed to hear right now. Christopher knew his own mind; he could be patient until Barabas understood that.

I love you, he wanted to say. I loved you before and I love you now, and it's the same and it's different, just as I am the same and different. And he wanted to shout, How can you think I'm smart and think I'm stupid enough about this not to know what I'm feeling? But he wasn't sure which was the right way to go. Maybe both, before it was done, and it might not matter in the end, anyway. Just because Barabas might want him didn't mean he loved him, too, and once he truly knew Christopher he might not even want him. This was such a delicate thing they were trying to find their way through.

"You're going to roast in that," Barabas said after a moment. "It's wool, isn't it?"

"It's fine," Christopher said. "It's summer weight."

Barabas muttered, "Summer weight," under his breath, as if it was the most ridiculous thing he'd ever heard, then asked, "You're not from the South, are you?" Christopher would have thought that was obvious from the time he'd tried to make cornbread when he was still shattered and had put honey in it. Looking at the memory now, he still thought it had come out pretty good, but apparently that was so deeply not the done thing here that Barabas hadn't been able to conceal his initial horror upon biting into it and finding it sweet, and almost everyone on their street—even Kate, who hadn't always lived in Georgia—had reacted about the same way when they heard about it, although George, at least, had been delighted to learn you could put honey in cornbread. Christopher had only been completely puzzled at the time; now, he could only conclude that Southerners were weird and he was going to have to learn their ways.

"California," he said, and Barabas froze and looked up at him, both of them realizing anew in that moment: Barabas had always asked questions, but never in any hope of receiving a reply. But now Christopher could answer. He wasn't a closed book, a broken mirror, any longer. Christopher tried not to think about it too much, if he was honest, because eventually, if Barabas asked enough questions, he would understand who and what Christopher had been before he had been the man in the cage, and then Christopher wouldn't blame him at all if he never wanted anything to do with him again.

He would have to, at the very least, find a way to slip, 'By the way, I'm gay,' into the conversation at some point. He certainly hoped Barabas was observant enough to have worked it out for himself by now, but it never hurt to be clear about these things.

"I'm from California," he said again, and, "I thought you Southerners wore seersucker in the summer."

Barabas scoffed, derisive, and said "Not in the evening," like it was obvious. Maybe if you'd grown up south of the Mason-Dixon line it was, like the cornbread. "This one should be good," he declared, holding up a blue silk tie and gauging it against Christopher's face for a moment before giving a slight, sharp nod. "With your eyes."

"They always have been my best feature," Christopher agreed, stating it as the simple fact it was. While Barabas had been debating his options, Christopher had been debating his, had considered fumbling the knot, asking for assistance just to get him into his space, get his hands on him for a moment or two. He missed when Barabas wouldn't hesitate to touch him, and now the only way it seemed like he would without being self conscious about it was if Christopher was having one of his bad moments, which were definitely still a problem, although he was better every day they got further from the battle and everyone's dread of it. But it was a little too obvious, a little too cheap for what he wanted from Barabas, which was everything, and besides he already knew perfectly well that his hands still held this muscle memory. And there was value, too, in the way Barabas' gaze went a little too focused as Christopher tied it into a neat Windsor knot, which more or less confirmed Christopher's suspicion that Barabas liked his hands. That was good. Christopher liked Barabas' hands, too. How quick they were, how gentle.

He put on his jacket and brushed off a bit of dust, a few stray hairs—Maggie or mongoose, who knew, they both got everywhere in the house—and asked, "How do I look?"

"Good," Barabas said after half a heartbeat's hesitation that made Christopher inwardly preen. "You look...good."

He'd take it.

Later, during the reception, the lingering, sweltering heat of a Georgia summer evening helped along by the bonfires burning for Ivan Kupala Night, Christopher would remove the borrowed tie and loosen his collar, take off the suit jacket, tuck the cufflinks into his pocket and roll up his sleeves to the elbow. The white cotton shirt would stretch just a little too tight across his shoulders, skin peeking through the slits cut for wings that didn't exist at the moment, and Barabas would look, and Christopher would let him. Maybe he would let himself be caught looking back. It was a start. It was enough for now.