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I Got Lost in Front of You

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It was a quiet morning in the flower shop. Pretty typical quiet morning, if Ephrim thought about it. The sun was streaming through the wide front windows of the, glinting softly off the decorative vases, dancing across the sheen of green leaves and colorful petals, casting everything in a pleasant light. He could hear Alyosha moving in the back work room, humming something slow and melodic softly as he took inventory of the flower shipment from earlier this morning. Ephrim was doing his usual morning rounds; checking the plants for pests, changing water, topping off buckets. An autumn holiday was approaching, he would appreciate the quiet while he could.

As he was heading towards the back with a few pails that needed washing before housing new flowers, the front door opened, the bell above chiming softly.

“Be right with you,” he called, turning his head slightly over his shoulder to make sure he was heard. After placing the buckets near the sink near the back of the room, he made sure to smooth the warm yellow of his apron across his front and resettle a few of his bracelets lower around his wrists from where he’d pushed them up while tending before stepping back out. Ephrim pushed the thin curtain separating the work areas and pulled on his best customer service smile -- gentle, a slight pull at the corner of his lips, gaze focused but not too intense -- as he took the few steps to situate himself behind the counter, and looked towards the person who’d walked in a few moments earlier.

Ephrim watched them for a few moments as they took in the shop, pausing at the wall to his right, stopping at some large blooms. They seemed to be about Ephrim’s height, wearing dark pants and boots, a navy blue long sleeve shirt, the sleeves pushed up right before the elbow, showing the brown of their skin and the winding of tattoos on their forearms. Their head was turned in profile, waves of black hair that fell to settle between their shoulder blades obscuring most of their face, save for a lock tucked behind the ear, revealing two different sized hoops shining in silver on their lobe.

Ephrim cleared his throat gently before speaking.

“Welcome, good morning. How can I help you today?” At the sound of his voice they turned, the motion sending the liquid of their hair over a shoulder, and they blinked once in attention, twice in surprise, eyes widening slightly as they gazed at him for a few moments. They were handsome, Ephrim realized, incredibly, almost easily so. The loose waves of their hair made for a gentle frame against the shape of their face -- softness at their jaw, the fullness of their lips, the wide of their nose into high cheekbones and the dark of their eyes. Ephrim felt himself get caught here, the black of their brows and the weight of dark lashes making them seem even deeper. He felt his breath catch in his chest a bit as they returned his gaze comfortably, and then they blinked again, their face opening into the warmest, easiest smile Ephrim had thrown his direction in months, and he’s pretty sure the brightness of it made him forget how to breathe.

“Hey. Hi. Good morning,” their voice, smooth, carrying easy across the short space to settle pleasantly on Ephrim’s ears. “It’s really nice in here.”

Ephrim blinked and drew in a breath -- hopefully not too noticeably -- and felt his own smile pull wider across his face.

“Thank you. Is there anything I can help you find?”

They breathed a laugh — and what a nice sound it was, Ephrim hoped he could hear again before they left — and took the few steps to stand in front of the counter he was behind.

“Yes? I think. Red Jack sent me,” they gestured over their shoulder with one hand in the direction of the tattoo parlor across the street. “He said if I came and asked for the usual? For the front of the shop, they’d know what I meant.” They let their hand fall to tuck into the pant pocket at their hip and looked to the left of Ephrim, breaking eye contact, smile still full on their mouth.

“Oh,” Ephrim blinked, trying to find his way back to work mode. “Yes, I can help you with that. Did he mention anything specific?”

“Nah,” a small shrug, rippling their hair and the edges of that brilliant smile softened a bit. “Nothing like that.” and then a little quieter like it was a secret, “So i’ll trust you with it.”

Ephrim was not going to read into that — they'd just met, there was Nothing to read into, this very beautiful person could not be flirting with him so casually, what was his brain on about — and he busied himself with pushing back the bit of warmth trying to rush into his cheeks as he extended his hand in greeting, bracing the other gently against the counter at his hip as he leaned forward slightly.

“I appreciate it. I’m Ephrim, he/him.” Their gaze fell to his hand and taking a half step closer, they reached to grasp his fingers.

“Throndir,” and Ephrim couldn't help but look back up into those rich eyes — they were a deep brown from this close — as the greeting was returned. “he/they. It’s nice to meet you.” He paused as if to consider something before speaking again. “I think that Red Jack’s mentioned you a few times? Says you come in for jewelry sometimes.” It was very hard to focus on Throndir’s words, between those brown eyes and the fit of their palms together. His hands were bigger than his, long strong and careful fingers into a wide palm, calluses on the bends but still so soft, surprisingly warm, calling to mind the heat that curls into the skin when fitting a hand against a fresh cup of coffee.

Ephrim laughed softly in response, trying to pull himself back to the moment at hand. “Has he? I mean, I do come in for jewelry from time to time, but it doesn't seem worth mentioning? Though, Red Jack is just kind of. Like That.” He felt his smile rest into something soft at the thought. “ In any case, it's nice to meet you. Throndir.” The corners of their eyes crinkled a bit as his smile flashed back to full.

“Yeah. Ephrim.” His name sounded so sweet on Throndir’s lips. He would try not to — and fail at — think about it for the rest of the day. “Likewise.” Throndor glanced down and blinked at their hands still connected. Ephrim watched color rush to his cheeks as he released his hand and smiled apologetically. “Ah, sorry, I got,” they met Ephrim’s gaze again, breathed out, “ distracted.”

Ephrim felt his own face flush at the realization and let out a small nervous laugh and looked over the others shoulder into the rest of the shop. “No, no, it happens,” He cleared his throat as if to brush away the moment. “Let me get started on that bouquet for you.”

Ephrim tucked some of his hair behind his ear and stepped around the counter to start picking blooms from their places around the shop, trying — and failing — to ignore the weight of the others stare on him as he moved and pulled different stems from the buckets. It’s not that pretty people didn't come into the shop often — quite the opposite actually — but there was something about Throndir’s easy smile and gentle gaze that had him stumbling over his casual work tone into something more flirtatious. That also happened from time to time, but Throndir returned so easy, with a flutter of lashes or a pull at the corner of his mouth, and Ephrim was having a hard time keeping up.

“Whoever did your hand tattoos does good work. They suit you really well.” Ephrim turned to his side at their voice, eyes sweeping to find their face. Throndir returned his look with a smirk and a slight tilt of his head. Ephrim fought a rush of heat to his cheeks as he looked down at the flowers in his hands

“Thank you. I’ve been meaning to get a couple spots touched up but the artist who did them moved.” He fit the new flower into the middle of the bouquet, moving the others to cradle around it, an attempt to busy his hands.

“I’d be happy to do it for you.” Throndir’s voice was soft, and Ephrim blinked surprise at the words. Then, as if realizing what he just said, they made a small choking sound. “I- I mean. If you like my work! And want to. You could come by the shop and take a look sometime, and we could talk about it. If you want. I mean.” Out of the corner of his eye Ephrim could see him running a hand through his hair, the waves of black sliding through his fingers. Ephrim had to bite his lip to keep from smiling.

“Sure,” he said, turning back to the wall of flowers to give Throndir a moment. “I’d love to come by and look at your art.” He pulled a few more blooms before walking back to the service counter, reaching underneath the top to pull a sheet of wrapping paper and placing it atop the surface. He made sure to take his time tying the bouquet together — adjusting a few buds here and there — pulling the ribbon snug in the comfortable quiet that had fallen around them. Ephrim gave the flowers a final turn and once over, satisfied, before extending them out to Throndir, and watched as he took them carefully into both hands before moving to the register to ring him up. “Red Jack should be able to fill you in on care but they should last the full week. If you have any questions later though I’d be happy to answer them.” If you had asked Ephrim later, he would deny having said that last bit a little softer with a wink.

Throndir nodded as he moved the flowers to one palm to hand Ephrim payment with the other, a smirk still on his lips.

“Thanks. I think I'm on flower duty for the time being, so. I’ll see you next week?’

Ephrim smiled, handing Throndir the receipt. “Yes.” he met those dark brown eyes again and felt his smile pull a touch wider. “I look forward to it.”

Throndir nodded again and shuffled his feet in preparation to turn. “Alright. Next week then.” He walked to the door and turned after pushing it open, raised his hand in goodbye. “Later”

“Bye.” Ephrim said, returning the wave as he door closed again with the soft chime of the bell above. He stood there a few more moments, thinking of the way Throndir’s eyes crinkled with the width of his smile, and felt a bit of warmth rise up to his face. He shook his head gently, pivoting to walk back into the backroom, where he was immediately greeted with Alyosha paused over the stems he was snipping, giving him a look.

“What?”

Alyosha raised his eyebrows, “Hmm,” paused, bringing fingers to his chin, “I don't think I've ever heard you say a customer’s name like that.” The warmth in Ephrim’s face turned hot, as he stepped fully out from the doorframe and let the curtain held with the back of his hand fall behind him.

“I don't know what you mean, I just said it normally.” Alyosha huffed a laugh at him.

“Please. You practically purred it back to him.”

Ephrim scoffed as he felt all of his face heat. “I did not!” it came out louder than he meant. Why didn't they have a proper door to this room so Alyosha could Not do this to him. He raised his hands, conceding after a moment. “They’re hot, okay!”

Alyosha peered over his glasses at, giving him a mischievous smirk. Ephrim ducked his head to bring the weight of his hair forward and obscure his face as he turned away and took a few quick strides to the buckets by the sink he’s placed earlier.

“He didn't seem to mind, to be fair to you.” Alyosha fully laughed the words to Ephrim’s back hunched over the buckets before the sound of scissors picked back up. He felt a bit of warmth curl in his chest at the thought of their smile and the slight rise of color in Throndir’s cheeks as he repeated the other’s name. He caught his lip in his teeth, trying to fight back the smile climbing onto his face.

Next week. Maybe he could keep it together better then.

 

*

 

Throndir didn't mind tending the front desk of the tattoo shop. He liked watching people walk by; pace leisure or brisk, carrying food from someplace or a dog by their side. He could sketch quick color palettes from people’s outfits and study how the light between buildings caught them. He liked making small talk with the occasional walk in, answering their questions patiently with a smile. It was nice

Plus, they got to choose the music that played in through the speakers overhead when he was up here.

They were looking down at a sketchbook, dragging the pencil across a page in a vaguely swirling pattern - client sketches already finished for the day - when the door opened, sending out a gentle chime. Throndir flipped the cover over before sliding the pencil into the binding and looking up. He blinked at seeing a familiar face, and couldn’t fight the smile that quickly took over his face.

“Ephrim. Hey, welcome,” he said, sliding off the high chair behind the counter to stand. They had seen Ephrim earlier in the week - on the same day as the other 4 weeks - when they went to get a bouquet for the shop, but this was the first time seeing him outside of the flower shop.

Ephrim had to know how beautiful he was right? There's no way someone who looks like that didnt know.

He was wearing his typical (from what Throndir had seen anyway) red and black — dark leather shoes with pointed toes, black high waisted pants that looked near painted on, with a column of gold buttons down the front, and a red silk top that was cut so low it hit mid sternum, showing off his chest and a line of dermal piercings that accented a tattoo. He had a couple of long cardigans layered over the top, the inner a deep crimson and the outer, black with a gold embroidered pattern. It complimented the red waves of Ephrim’s mid-length asymmetrical bob, and brought out the warmth of his skin and the brassy tones of his eyes. He was wearing a bit more jewelry than usual - many matching rings and earrings, layered necklaces, all in the same gold tone as his symmetrical lower lip piercings

Gods it was hard not to stare.

“Hello, Throndir.” Ephrim smiled back at them as he the door closed and he took the few steps to the counter. “It’s nice to see you.”

Throndir felt his face heat a bit and smiled a bit wider. “Yeah, you too. Day off? Can I help you with anything?”

“Yes,” he said giving a small nod, “I’m out running a few errands. If you're not too busy I'd love some help picking out some new pieces for my lip piercings. Some hoops and another set of studs maybe?” Throndirs eyes fell to the plush of ephrims still smiling mouth as he spoke — he was wearing a tinted gloss. They pulled their gaze back to Ephrims eyes, probably too noticeably.

“Yeah, sure. I always have time for you.” Ephrim blinked, pink blooming across his nose and cheeks. Throndir scolded himself, that was definitely too much. He cleared his throat a bit and stepped around the counter, breaking eye contact to gesture to a few display cases to his right and behind. “Uh. Let’s. Right over here.” He took a few steps before hearing Ephrim move behind him.

“Oh ho! Is that Ephrim! I was starting to think you forgot about us!” Red Jack’s voice carried into the room before he stepped out of the hallway that led to the artist studios. Ephrim turned away from the counter and looked up as Red Jack approached to stand between them. Throndir had yet to encounter a person who didn't have to look up at Red Jack.

“Red Jack! Could never forget about you! I’ve been coming here for years, after all.”

Throndir wasn't really paying attention as they caught up. While Ephrim’s attention was shifted away from him, Throndir took the opportunity to trace his face in profile with his eyes. The warm tan of his skin. The cut of his jaw, the plush of his lips pulled back into a gentle smile. The slope of his nose up into his light brown eyes - they reminded him of amber when the light hit them just right- and his dark full brows. Throndir blinked, eyes zoning in on the sharp angle of his eyeliner, and the copper dusting his eyelids.

How was anyone this pretty.

“Oh? Is it just that Throndir’s your new favorite then?” Ephrim visibly straightened and Throndir was suddenly paying too much attention to this conversation, heat licking up the back of his neck. “Alyosha’s told me all about how chatty,” he wiggled his brows, “you two are when they come in for the shop bouquet.”

Ephrim let out a nervous laugh, “I’m just. Doing my job.”

Red Jack leaned down conspiratorially, stage whispering to him. “That's not what I’ve been hearing.” Ephrim coughed, his face was starting to match the red of his shirt. Throndir looked down into the counter, there was no way they weren't also blushing. Red Jack straightened back up and gave Throndir a rough pat on the back before continuing at full volume. “Throndir here has a lot to say about you after their visits too, y’know.”

This was not happening. Absolutely not. Throndir stared straight ahead, heat tearing through his face. Maybe if he didnt say anything this conversation would stop sooner. Was he dreaming? He’s not sure that would be better.

Ephrim’s nervous laugh jumped an octave. “That. That’s really sweet of them.”

If the gods took any pity on him a hole would open up beneath him right now.

“Haven’t heard anything about exchanging numbers yet—”

“Red Jack!” Throndir’s voice cracked as they turned into and started pushing Red Jack in the direction of his studio. If this continued any longer either he or Ephrim was going to drop dead. Maybe Throndir would evaporate from the searing heat on the whole of his face. “Thats enough! Thank you. Don’t you have an appointment to finish prepping for.” Were they yelling? His voice was definitely louder than he meant.

“Alright, alright.” Red Jack laughed as he stepped away from the slow push, waving at Ephrim as he took slow steps back into the hallway. “I’ll leave you two to it!” Throndir could hear the raise of his brows at them. “I’ll see you later Ephrim! Maybe I’ll come get flowers next week!” His laugh carried even after there was the soft click of a door closing.

Throndir took a deep breath through their nose, bringing both hands to his face, collecting himself. He was not going to yell into them. Nope. It was normal to have crushes! No one would fault them for being flustered around Ephrim. He was hot! Gorgeous! Who wouldn't crush on him. Why did Red Jack feel the need to be that embarrassing. Was that his way of match making? Throndir hoped to the gods it wasn’t. He 100% could not withstand another round of…. That, whenever Ephrim visited.

“Oh my gods.” Ephrim said it quietly but it sounded just as exasperated as he felt. Throndir took another deep breath before pushing his hands up and through his hair, letting them fall to his sides before turning back to Ephrim. He would just. Ignore the fire in his cheeks until it went away. Focus on helping Ephrim find what he came in here for in the first place.

Yeah! It was fine!

“Sorry about that!” He couldn't help but laugh. It seemed to break the bit of awkward tension that had settled around them. Ephrim laughed too, moving his own hand away from his face to tuck the long front of his hair behind an ear.

“Gods! Me too! I know Red Jack does that but. It never stops being embarrassing.” He looked at Throndir through his lashes. “Hopefully the teasing isn’t too bad after I leave.”

“I hope so! But i’m not going to think about it right now!” He smiled wider, the laughs still in the back of his throat. Throndir knew this of course, with how much red Ephrim wore, but blush looked good on him. “How about I help you with some jewelry finally?” They moved back to stand next to Ephrim in front of the cases.

Throndir pulled a few trays of the warmer gold pieces out of the display and set them down on top before settling next to Ephrim, comfortably close. Ephrim stepped closer, so their shoulders were nearly brushing, and devoted his attention down. Throndir tried not to focus on the warmth coming off of him and actually be helpful, tipping his head over the studs since it seemed Ephrim was focusing on the hoops and a comfortable quiet formed between them for a few loong moments.

Their eyes settled on a piece with a small, flat red gem in the center, gold prongs clasping it in place that looked to be the same tone of gold as Ephrim’s current pieces. He cleared his throat and glanced to his right where Ephrim was leaning against the counter with him. “How about these?” He pulled the stud out of its place and turned at the same time as Ephrim did to look at him.

Throndir held it near his hand first, comparing it to his rings, “Looks like the gold match is good.” Ephrim gave a small nod.

“How do you think it'd look?” Ephrim moves so his body is angled towards Throndir as he leans heavy on the counter and places his chin in his hand, looking expectantly back at him.

Throndir brings his hand up and to the side of Ephrim’s face, the back of their curled fingers just touching his chin as he looks between the jewelry in his hand and Ephrim’s mouth. There's heat blooming across his cheeks and a pleasant buzz in his chest as they meet his gaze.

Ephrim’s eyes are waiting for his, locking on like he’s trying to fill his gaze with as much of Throndir as possible. His lips pull at the corners into a smirk as his lashes fall heavy on a slow blink. Throndir’s thoughts scatter and an inhale catches in his chest.

There’s the noise of the heating in the shop kicking on behind them and Thondir blinks. How long was he starting? He grins and clears his throat a bit again. “Great. It’d look good against your skin. And the red goes with your hair.”

Ephrim’s grin mirrors his own. “Wonderful. I’ll take those, and this pair here.” Ephrim doesn't break eye contact with them but out of the corner of their eye they can see his fingers move over the tray in front of him.

“Okay,” he breathes, further speech lost on his tongue. Throndir had to stop staring. Not that he didn't want to keep looking Ephrim. He could do that forever, probably, but they did have a shift to get through. He pulled his hand away straightened back up to full height, looking to the register across from them before bringing his eyes back to that gaze. “I’ll package these up and meet you by the register in a moment.”

“Sounds great.” Ephrim fluttered his lashes a bit and stood, ghosting the long of his fingers along Throndir’s arm before moving away. Throdir took his time putting things away and putting the pieces Ephrim picked into small boxes, gathering their thoughts and cooling the blush he was sure spread across the whole of his face.

He felt Ephrim’s eyes on him the whole time he worked and even as they crossed the shop floor to stand behind the register. Ephrim had his payment ready and they went through the transaction easy.

“Hey.” Throndir said after handing Ephrim his receipt, looking just over his shoulder as his nerves flared. “Uh, I know Red Jack brought it up kind of jokingly but, I was gonna ask the next time I saw you. Feel free to say no of course!” He hoped his laugh didn't come out too shaky. “Can I give you my number?”

Ephrim blinked - Throndir’s eyes flicking to the motion - catching his eyes open a little wider in surprise. A smile slid slow across his lips and he chuckled, nodding, his hair shaking with the motion. “Sure. Yes. I’d love that.”

Throndir grinned and pulled a bit of register paper, scrawling his number then his name underneath on the small sheet with a pen. He looked back up to Ephrim and extended his hand.

“Do you prefer texting? Or calling?”

“From you?” Throndir laughed softly. “As long as we get to talk more, whatever is good. Though, texting is probably better during the day since we both work around then.”

“Yes, that’s true.” Ephrim was holding the paper carefully. Throndir wondered idly how warm his hands were. “I should probably head out, I have a few more errands and don't want to-” he flashed a wicked smirk, catching Throndir off guard, “- distract you, from work.”

“Ah. Yeah. Work.” Sentences, Throndir c’mon. “It looks like it’ll be quiet for most of the day. So, send me a message whenever you’ve got some time?”

“Yes, of course,” A playful smirk as Ephrim shifted his clothes and jewelry slightly, still carefully clutching the paper with Throndir’s number. “I’ll see you later.”

Throndir gave a nod and Ephrim walked towards the door, soles of his shoes striking sharp against the floor. As he reached the door he pushed with one hand, threw his hair over his shoulder with a flourish and winked, bringing up his free hand in a short wave. Throndir’s face ignited and he’s sure he stopped breathing. How is anyone that pretty? All that flirting aimed at Throndir was going to short circuit their brain. He barely collected himself enough to remember to wave back before Ephrim stepped fully out of the shop and the door closed softly behind him.

 

*
Two weeks later, sometime in the afternoon.

 

[Sun Flower]
Hello Throndir. I hope your morning went well. Do you have a few moments?

[dogtired]
hey ephrim. my morning was alright, its pretty quiet in the studio.
yes im free, i just sat down for lunch.

[dogtired]
is everything okay?

[Sun Flower]
Oh! Yes, everything is fine. I apologize for worrying you, I had a customer. I just had a question.

[dogtired]
lol ive gotten so used to you calling me for those though :p

[Sun Flower]
Haha, you’re right. I would normally call, but I’m the only one in the shop right now.

[dogtired
fair enough. ask away

[Sun Flower]
Are you available this weekend? To go with me to the park with me for a few hours? The weather is supposed to be nice.

[dogtired]
ephrimmmmm! are you asking me on a date? *smirking emoji*

[Sun Flower]
Well...

[Sun Flower]
Yes. If you’d like.

[dogtired]
of course id like. more than like

[dogtired]
oh! is it okay if I bring my dog? you still havent met kodiak

[Sun Flower]
Sure! I’d love to meet him! I’ve seen so many pictures I would say it’s about time, no?

[dogtired]
lol if i send too many pictures of him you could just say yknow :pp

[Sun Flower]
I didn’t say because there is, in fact, no such thing as too many pet pictures.

[dogtired]
sure sure

[Sun Flower]
Please bring your dog to our date haha

[dogtired]
I will! he’ll be very happy to meet you. what time?

[Sun Flower]
How about 1pm? We can meet at the bicycle rack by the intersection?

[dogtired]
sure, works for me! see you then

[dogtired]
im looking forward to spending more time with you

[Sun Flower]
I’m looking forward to it as well :). See you then <3

[dogtired]
<3

*

 

The weather had turned out to be nice. When there was a breeze it bit with the typical late autumn chill, but they were few and far between.The sun was out, catching in the red and orange of leaves that still managed to cling to their trees. It was probably one of the last warm days of the year. Ephrim had picked a nice day.

Throndir was about a block away from the park when he spotted Ephrim leaning against the end of the bike rack. He was wearing a wide brimmed black hat that partially shadowed his face from the sun. There was a long black coat over his shoulders and under that, a deep red high neck sweater — his pants were the same shade of deep red, and black ankle boots finished off his outfit. Throndir was pleased to see they were dressed to a similar degree; he was wearing a deep blue sweater with a forest green bomber jacket, black jeans and his favorite pair of black boots. It was cold enough that he wore his hair down in near middle part, keeping his ears a little warmer. Perfect outfits for walking through the park, in his opinion.

Ephrim looked up from his phone and spotted them, a smile breaking across his face, and walked to meet Throndir in the middle.

“Hey.” Throndir couldn’t help smiling themself.

“Hello, Throndir. It’s good to see you.” He looked to Throndir’s left. “This must be Kodiak,” his smile softened. Kodiak sat and let out a soft woof, tail wagging slow. Ephrim bent slightly, reaching out a hand for Kodiak to sniff, after which he immediately butted into. Ephrim let out a gentle laugh and looked back to Throndir. “He’s much bigger than I thought. Like. A lot bigger.”

“Yeah,” Throndir chuckled, “I had no idea he was going to be this big when I adopted him” and patted between Kodiak’s shoulder blades a few times. “It's hard to capture his scale in photos.” They paused, eyes tracing over Ephrim’s form. “You look amazing. Though to be fair, you always do.” Was Throndir laying it on a little thick? Yes, but this was a date, and they’d been flirting for weeks at this point, he thought it was fair. Throndir wasn't much for keeping the compliments that crossed his mind to himself, anyway.

Ephrim blinked and Throndir watched a blush spread over the bridge of his nose as he straightened back to full height. “Thank you,” he cleared his throat. “You look lovely as well. That shade of green looks great on you.” Throndir felt their face heat but beamed at him anyway.

“Do you mind if we walk for a bit? For Kodiak’s sake.”

“Of course not. We’ll keep warmer that way.” Ephrim took a few steps towards the path that wound through the greenery of the park, and Throndir fell into step next to him, letting up on Kodiak’s leash some he could walk ahead, tail wagging.

“Keep warm? Are you cold? Did you wait long?” Throndir had tried to keep a close eye on the time, he knew by now Ephrim was very punctual.

“No, I wasn’t waiting long. I’m alright for now. I just,” he shrugged, “get cold easily.” The corners of Throndir’s mouth pulled down, and he readied himself to speak but Ephrim continued. “It’s probably one of the last nice days of the year though. As long as the sun’s out I should be okay. I wanted — ” Throndir looked over at his pause, Ephrim’s eyes were waiting for him. “I wanted to spend it with you.”

A grin split Throndir’s face and he gently bumped into Ephrim’s shoulder. “And I thought I was laying it on.”

Ephrim bumped them back. “Can’t let you have all the fun now, can I?”

They chatted here and there as they walked — Ephrim about some arrangements he was excited for, Throndir about a back piece he was pulling long sessions on, simply enjoying the other’s company. Throndir kept stealing glances at Ephrim — catching him with his head tilted back to gaze at a cloud or eyes following Kodiak’s bouncy gait, or tracing trees into their tops to watch sunlight play through the leaves. Throndir loved looking at Ephrim. Aside from how beautiful he was, it was nice to watch how he took everything around him in. Like he was just happy to see something for what it was, as it was at that moment. It was easy to be around him, with his calm quiet and soft eyes and effortless smiles. Throndir wanted to be near him always.

Caught up in his thoughts— eyes stuck to ephrims profile as he looked ahead— Throndir found their fingers curling around the warmth of his hand. Ephrim’s eyes widened in surprise, looked down at their meeting palms before drawing his gaze up to meet Throndir, interlacing their fingers and giving a gentle squeeze. Throndir grinned and squeezed back.

 

*

 

Dinner had gone so well. Ephrim couldn't remember the last time he had had such a nice dinner date. He’d known them for nearly three months but, still, he was constantly caught off guard by how easy it was to be with Throndir— talking, sharing space, sharing silence. Was falling for someone supposed to feel like this? Throndir gave just the right amount of space for Ephrim to collect his thoughts while staying engaged. And they were funny. Charming. Thoughtful. Gorgeous. He was always thinking about their smile. Ephrim felt spoiled by all their attention — Throndir looked at him like he was the only person who existed — and honestly he couldn't get enough.

Ephrim could only hope he returned some of that all encompassing attention with his own gaze.

Throndir had grasped his hand and pressed their mouth to his knuckles, offered to walk him home with that smile pressed to the back of his palm. Ephrim would have to be a fool to turn down that strong hand on his, the rich of those eyes, the soft of those lips.

Ephrim delighted in the feel of his hand in Throndir’s. It felt like elation and grounding all at once. His body hummed with warmth that ran through him every time their shoulders brushed between light conversation and their steps in time. The heat that rolled off of Throndir was more than welcome in the night chill — Ephrim was practically glued to their side as the two walked.

As they rounded the last block before Ephrim’s apartment building he could feel Throndir’s eyes on him.

“Is there something on your mind?” he asked, pulling slightly away from Throndir’s arm to turn his head and look fully at them. There was a smirk pulling at the corners of his mouth, and their eyes were so, so soft.

“You, mostly.”

Ephrim grinned, “Only mostly?” That earned him one of Throndir’s laughs, which had fast become a favorite sound.

“Alright, alright. All you.” He squeezed their intertwined fingers.

“And what about me?” Ephrim lowered his voice and eyes to look through his lashes, leaning in a bit to tease them. Throndir didn’t move away, and even in the dark he could tell a flush spread across Throndir’s cheeks — he loved making him blush.

They had stopped walking, staring into each other’s eyes under a blanket of stars.

When Throndir spoke his voice was equally low, breath ghosting across Ephrim’s face. “Can I kiss you?”

Ephrim blinked in surprise and felt his own face flush, took a moment to gather himself, and leaned in a little closer still.

“Yes. Please.” He didn't need to think about it. He’d been scolding himself for staring at Throndir’s mouth over dinner — the way they stretched in that blazing smile, how they curled around his words, how they rested in a soft pout in thought, how they shaped around the rim of a glass.

“Okay,” Throndir breathed, bending slow, careful into Ephrim, each of their eyes falling closed.

They met halfway, just a brush of lips, a touch of electricity, feeling each other out. Throndir pulled away just enough to separate before pressing into his mouth again. Again. Again. A longer press of embers to Ephrims lips each time, until, Throndir tilted his head just so, brought up his free hand to cup Ephrim’s face, and fit their lips together in a kiss that had Ephrims whole body tingling and his mind going fuzzy in the most pleasant way.

Ephrim kissed back, trying to print the feel of Throndir against him permanent on his lips. He brought his own hand to Throndir’s face, pulling himself closer until their bodies were flush. He forgot all about the chill nipping at his ears and nose, the bit of fatigue starting to creep on him, all swept away in the warm press of Throndir’s body against his, the seering warmth of their mouths meeting.

He wasn't sure how long they had been kissing but Throndir pulled away , gently, taking a deep inhale as he did. Ephrim kept his eyes closed, revelling in the buzz of his lips just a moment longer, before he also drew air in deep, blinking slow into a half lidded gaze. Throndir was still so close, beaming so much affection at him. Ephrim bit his lip to keep from smiling too hard, but a grin still spread across his mouth.

 

He couldn't remember the last time he liked someone so much. Sure, he went on plenty of dates, and he was never struggling for compliments — but the way throndir looked at him, the way he looked at Throndir, with affection and longing pulling so hard at his heart it nearly hurt — he couldn't remember feeling anything like that before. He wanted to be with them, share any space he could with him, wake up next to them. Any and everything. It was always on his mind.

Ephrim felt his smile pull impossibly wider, staring into Throndir’s eyes, drawing his thumb across the span of their lips. Throndir huffed something of a laugh and withdrew his hand from Ephrim’s face to place his on top — curled his fingers around the span of it, and pulled it from his face just enough to turn and weigh the shape that smile into his palm, never looking away from Ephrim’s eyes.

Ephrim’s breath hitched and he couldn't help the soft laugh that tumbled past his lips. He leaned in again, too tender and full of fondness for words. Throndir met him of course, and they lost a few more moments in the heat of each other.

Ephrim pulled away first this time, catching his breath, regarding the way Throndir’s face relaxed in a kiss before he spoke.

“Throndir, my dear.” They blinked once, eyes focusing steady on Ephrim. “You’re always on mind. I’m so happy with you. Would you be my partner?”

Throndir’s eyes widened slow, in tandem with maybe the biggest grin Ephrim had seen yet, before he laughed — loud and full, ringing out in the night around them — wrapped his strong arms around Ephrim’s waist and spun them both. Ephrim laughed in surprise, looping his arms around Throndir’s neck to steady himself.

“Yes! Yes, Ephrim, I’d love that!”

They placed Ephrim back onto his feet before cupping their warm hands around his face and kissing that smile into Ephrim’s mouth, his nose, each cheek, his forehead, an excited, bubbling “yes'' between each one.

 

*

He and Ephrim had been dating for a few weeks at this point, but this was the first time Throndir would be going over to his place. Ephrim had been to Throndir’s little apartment a few times — which Kodiak thoroughly enjoyed since Ephrim loved to spoil him like he was a giant baby, which, yeah he was — after work because Throndir lived closer to the stripmall the flower shop and tattoo parlor were in. They were going to make dinner together tonight — he let Ephrim pick the recipe this time — so they hadn't dressed up too much; a black button up and dark blue pants, his usual black boots and navy winter coat, and his hair half up to keep it out of his eyes as they cooked.

Throndir was trying not to be too nervous. There wasn't really a reason to be after all — he’d picked out his outfit the night before and asked Red Jack to watch Kodiak until tomorrow — the two of them were dating, Throndir reminded himself, chatting in almost all of their free time over text or call, and walked together after their shifts to the midpoint between their apartments. Sometimes Ephrim would come over early to walk Kodiak with him to the dog daycare a few streets over before work too.

He was constantly amazed by how much he liked Ephrim. And how much he liked them. It felt like home to be around Ephrim, relaxing and warm and grounding and reassuring. He even laughed at Throndir’s horrid puns, all of them, even if he scrunched his nose in displeasure first. His chest ached in the warmest way when they thought of him — the waves of red in Ephrim’s hair, the soft of his touch,the ring of his laugh, the crinkle in the corners of his eyes when he smiles. Nothing else mattered when Ephrim was with him, by his side, accepting every strange edge and odd piece Throndir had to offer.

He took the short flight of stairs to Ephrim’s front door, shifted on his feet a bit and knocked. The door opened almost immediately, warm air rolling out. Ephrim gave a slight shake of his head to clear his hair from his face and a smile bloomed across his mouth.

“Throndir, love,” he smiled, “come in. I hope the walk over wasn’t too cold.” He was wearing a v-neck sweater with a black torso and deep red sleeves, tucked into wider legged black pants, and a light amount of jewelry — a ring on each middle finger, a necklace and those red gemmed studs Throndir had helped him pick out all those weeks ago.

“You know I don’t mind it, even if it was,” Throndir smiled back. “I brought wine. I wasn’t sure what would pair well since I wasn’t sure what we were making, so I got something that I knew you liked.” Ephrim took the bottle from them and closed the door as he moved to shed his boots and coat to hang on the wrack to the right of the door.

“Aw, thank you. You’re really too sweet Throndir, you know you didn’t have to.” Throndir moved back to stand in front of Ephrim and wrapped their arms around his waist.

“No, I know i didn’t have to, but who’s going to spoil you if I don't?” They leaned in and pressed a slow kiss to Ephrim’s lips, feeling his lips lips curve into a smile against him.

“Alright, alright. I’ll accept your spoiling.” He said as they pulled apart, eyes fond. He tucked a stray piece of hair back behind Throndir’s ear with his free hand. “Your face is a lot colder than you let on y’know.”

Throndir wiggled his brows and smirked at that. “Oh, is it? Would you mind warming it up for me?” He turned his head to the side, pressed his nose into the crook of Ephrim’s neck and Ephrim laughed high, his shoulders coming up.

“Throndir! Just because you like the cold doesn’t mean I do!” Throndir laughs too, and kisses the spot they’d nosed as apology.

“I know, but it is fun to tease you sometimes.” Ephrim gives them an exasperated look and tangles his hand into theirs, pulling them further into the apartment.

“Enough teasing for now, let’s get started on dinner.”

Ephrim’s apartment fits him, Throndir thinks. Clean lines and shapes, a limited color palette much like his wardrobe, with accent pieces here and there. It’s more comfortable than stylish, and Throndir thinks with how Ephrim dresses, that's fair enough.

They make pasta and roasted vegetables for dinner, everything from scratch. They chat about everything and nothing — mostly nothing — standing shoulder to shoulder prepping ingredients. They have a bit too much fun rolling out the pasta, which ends with Ephrim covered in so much flour he has to change his sweater. There's singing slightly out of tune with the radio because they're laughing too much, and simple dancing in the living room while they wait for the sauce and vegetables to finish cooking before boiling their odd shaped noodles. “Not bad for our first noodles,” Throndir laughed at the uneven stands between them and Ephrim looked at him so full with affection Throndir flushes nose to neck.

It all comes out perfectly, because it is good, but mostly, Throndir thinks, because they made it together. And every time Throndir looked up through the evening, Ephrim’s eyes were there waiting for him. They clean up together too of course, Throndir washing and Ephrim drying, stacking everything back into its place and packing away leftovers, before they settled in the living room, leaning into each other on Ephrim’s couch, their fingers intertwined atop their touching thighs.

Ephrim had put on a movie he’d been wanting to show Throndir, and it seems to be good, definitely something Throndir would like if he was paying more attention, but his eyes are pulled to Ephrim’s face, the weight of his head resting on their shoulder, the way he’s holding Throndir’s hand with both of his own like its treasure.

It feels like the halfway point in the film when Throndir’s eyes start to wander in Ephrim’s direction. An easy smile pulls at the corners of his mouth when he looks over to see him breathing deep, face smooth in slumber. Ephrim puts so much effort into presenting himself, aiming for as put together and confident as possible. And Throndir does love that — the way Ephrim moves through spaces, chin high — but he might love this more. The way his mouth and brow relax into something peaceful, like after Throndir surprises him with a long languid kiss but more.

He brings a hand up, fingers light against Ephrim’s sleep warm skin — committing this expression to memory like he does with all of Ephrim’s different looks — tracing the light blush from too much smiling and the glass of wine high on his cheeks, to tuck the waves of his hair back into place off of his face.

Throndir feels like his life is resettling into new forms since he and Ephrim met. They smile, planting a kiss on his forehead, excited to see what shapes they make together.