Like most things, it starts gradually. So gradually, in fact, that Call doesn’t notice it at first. It starts with shared glances and inside jokes with touches so fleeting you’d mistake them for something accidental. It starts with Aaron smiling at him across their common room, and Call’s heartbeat pounding in his ears for three minutes after. He doesn’t notice it until it’s too late to back away -and even then he thinks that he wouldn’t want to take it back anyway.
It goes like this;
i. They’re sat watching a movie in the magisterium’s Gallery when it first happens. Call can’t focus on the movie to save his life, his mind is whirling with thoughts and images from the past few days, and the voice in his head gets louder if he tries to shut it up so he stops trying. Instead he stares unseeingly at the movie playing, and hopes that no one notices his disinterest. Giving how dark the room is, except for the light coming from the fizzy drinks area and the movie, he thinks he’ll get away with it. He doesn’t.
Aaron nudges him halfway through the movie, tilting his head in an obvious what’s wrong gesture when Call turns to look at him. Call shrugs, playing it off as he always does, and mouths nothing. Aaron doesn’t look convinced.
Nearing the end of the movie Aaron moves to sit closer to Call and the latter bites down a sigh. He shouldn’t be surprised considering how many worried glances Aaron threw his way in the past hour or so, but his friend’s ability to always sense Call’s moods never ceases to amaze him.
Aaron leans in his face very close to Call’s, striking and elegant in the half shadows, and says in a whisper, “I can hear you thinking all the way over here. Stop worrying.”
His proximity isn’t lost on Call, and it causes something to lodge painfully in his throat. He nods once, mostly to appease Aaron.
Aaron smiles a small disbelieving smile and squeezes Call’s arm once. When he moves away, it’s still not far enough for his body to stop emitting heat in Call’s direction. He feels both the place Aaron touched him and the side of his body closest to him burning up. He thinks Aaron is so warm and his stomach swoops down at the thought.
After that he tries to blank his head and think nothing at all. It doesn’t work.
ii. They’re sat in the dining hall, Tamara on Call’s left and Aaron to his right. Jasper says something irritating, the way Jasper always does, and Tamara answers back. They start bickering and Aaron exchanges an amused glance with Call as the argument progresses.
Aaron looks nice like this, Call thinks, with mischief in his eyes and a smile on his lips. Call thinks that out of all the nice looking people he’s seen, Aaron looks the nicest.
The thought distracts him so much that he almost jumps when someone calls his name. They ask him which one of them is right -agreeing with Tamara is a no-brainer even if he hadn’t been listening- and after a few tense seconds in which he has to stammer out a response, their attention shift again. He lets out a sigh of relief and turns to look at Aaron -only to find that Aaron has already been looking at him with a thoughtful expression on his face. Call feels his stomach dipping down, down, down into his shoes.
“Try this, it tastes good,” Aaron offers, pushing his plate towards Call and finally looking away. The lichen he offers tastes like Call’s favorite ice cream and looks slightly less disgusting than the usual lichen.
“This is my favorite flavor,” Call says in wonder, scooping another spoon.
Aaron’s lips twitch upwards. Aaron says, “I know.”
iii. It becomes somewhat familiar in the following weeks; that swoop low in his abdomen, the fast beating of his heart whenever his bestfriend smiles at him. Call isn’t sure whether it’s a crush or a passing infatuation, but he decides to ignore it until it goes away and focus on Havoc and school instead. That plan works about as well as he thinks it would. Which is, admittedly, not very well at all.
Aaron is sitting against a couch in the common room, his long legs stretched towards the fire in an attempt to warm his feet and a huge tome sitting on his lab. He turns sixteen this year and the changes in his face are subtle but still there. Call can point out the place Aaron’s jaw had gotten more defined, the way his cheekbones have lost their roundness and made him look like a greek God instead. Even his hair somehow looks more like spun gold and swoops adorably into his eyes. Call is so infuriated by how handsome Aaron looks that he feels a surge of magic bolting inside him. He quells it down with effort.
“I’m heading out,” Call says to Aaron because it’s the only way to stop himself from staring. Aaron looks up in question, causing Call to avert his gaze. Mission accomplished. “Master Rufus wants me to train outside to test some limits. Something about using my disadvantage to disarm the enemy.”
“Are you going to be out long? Tamara wants us to train with her later,” Aaron drums his fingers against his leg, a habit he might have picked up from Call himself, and gives Call a strange look.
“Dunno,” Call shrugs, heading towards the door as he speaks. He feels like he’s forgetting something but his traitorous pulse is reacting to Aaron, and Call need to get out of here fast. “Depends on Master Rufus but if I’m late you guys start without me.” Call is almost to the door by the end of his sentence, his leg already aching with the cold weather, when Aaron speaks again.
“Wait,” Aaron says and closes the tome he was reading. He hurries to his room and reemerges with something clutched in his hands a few seconds later. “Here. The uniform won’t do much with the weather outside. You’ll freeze to death.”
It’s a jacket. Aaron’s jacket. Soft and worn out and probably smelling like Aaron. Call feels his fingers curling with the want to take it.
“Tolerance is the point of the exercise,” Call says in a weak voice. He knows he’s on the verge of blushing but his eyes must be even more telling, because Aaron moves forward with a small smile and places the jacket on Call’s shoulders. It suddenly feels like all of the air magic in the world wouldn’t be able to help Call breath.
“You can’t tolerate things if you’re frozen, Hunt,” Aaron rolls his eyes but his expression remains open and warm. Everything that Aaron is and Call isn’t. “Just wear the jacket.”
Call nods and slips his arms into the jacket’s holes, securing well on his abdomen. It’s huge on him and he’ll have to fold back the sleeves to be able to cast any magic, but its dizzying warmth makes Call weak in the knees. Or maybe that’s just Aaron.
“Okay,” Call says instead of thanks, the blush finally making its way up the back of his neck and coloring his cheeks.
“Okay,” Aaron repeats and goes back to his previous position on the floor.
When Call glances one last time at him before closing the door, Aaron is smiling down at his book.
iv. They’re both sixteen when it finally hits Call -if he’s being honest, he had known all along, but Call is seldom honest with himself these days- and he thinks I should really do something about this. Doing something is definitely more Call’s area, but he’s at a loss about this particular case. It’s not like anyone hands you a book labeled “What To Do When You’re In Love With Your Bestfriend 101″, you have to figure out that crap yourself. So that’s what Call tries to do.
He and Aaron are closer now than ever before; with repeated prophecies and the weight of the entire Assembly’s worries down their neck, both them and Tamara have no one but each other, but it’s lost on nobody that Call and Aaron are often labeled as a unit even with Tamara’s equal importance and Jasper’s presence.
Them. CallAndAaron. Always tied together in everybody’s minds and always attached at the hip in reality. It makes things harder and easier in equal measures for Call. He knows what he should do. Knows Aaron better than he knows his own mind sometimes, but he doesn’t know how to go about confessing his feelings to him.
As it turns out Call doesn’t need to figure it out after all because like everything else about them, it just happens.
Call throws a rock at the lake, counting the times it skips before it drowns. To his right Havoc is jumping up and down while playing with Tamara, and Jasper is asleep somewhere near the dock. Aaron watches the rocks Call throws and occasionally smiles at him, warm and brilliant in the night chill, his legs dangling near the water’s surface. After a while, Call drops the collection of rocks and pebbles and settles next to him.
“I like this mission, I don’t want it to end.” Call says wistfully. They’ve been living near civilization in the downtime of their mission and have gone out to fast food joints and bowling alleys a few times. “I don’t miss lichen at all.”
Aaron snorts out a laugh but his amusement isn’t cruel or mocking, it’s sympathetic and fond in quality. Aaron nudges his shoulder into Call’s and gives him a secretive smile. “We’ll go to that place you liked on 7th street. Tomorrow.” Aaron decides, his arm pressed against Call’s shoulder because he’s ridiculously taller than Call. He’s got at least two or three inches on Call in height. “One last hurrah before we leave.”
“I thought you didn’t like that place,” Call frowns. He notes that they’re sitting far closer than he originally thought and Aaron turns to face him as if sensing the thought.
“Doesn’t matter,” Aaron shrugs, his smile warding out the nighttime chill. “You like it.”
And just like that, something finally slots in place. Call leans in, slow enough to give Aaron time to stop him, but he doesn’t. The only change in Aaron is the widening of his eyes and the momentary dip of his gaze to Call’s lips, and then Aaron is leaning forward too and their lips touch. Chaste and sweet and soft where they touch, and Call is aware of nothing but the spot where their lips are pressed together. The warmth that spreads through his body and the sense of rightness and home.
You are in love. Call thinks, and the intensity of the thoughts makes him pull away to look at Aaron.
Washed out in the moonlight, with flushed cheeks and bitten lips, his hair crowned by the silverlight, Aaron looks like a prince from a fairy tale. He smiles at Call, his widest smile yet, with his eyes sparkling, and Call feels himself smiling back just as wide.
“Took you losers long enough!” Jasper shouts from somewhere behind them and Tamara agrees with a laugh. Even Havoc sounds thrilled when he barks.
Call flips them all off and kisses Aaron again, cherishing the feel of Aaron’s smiling lips against his.
V. Surprisingly, not much changes after that. They’re still bestfriends, they still spend all of their time together, they still bicker when they’re bored and exchange amused glances when exasperated.
The only difference is that now when Aaron smiles, a dimple digging into his left cheek, Call leans forward and kisses the tiny indention, causing Aaron to turn a lovely crimson color and their friends to laugh. Now when Call is mad, Aaron rubs the frown away with his thumb and holds his boyfriend’s hand until he calms down. Now they share clothes all the time, Aaron looking great in Call’s shirts -mostly because they’re tight and leave nothing to the imagination on him-, and Call drowning in Aaron’s huge sweaters and warm jackets. Now Aaron doesn’t have to find excuses to sit next to Call or touch him, and Call gets to play with Aaron’s hair as he pleases.
Call likes this new arrangement of theirs so very much. He also loves calling Aaron Stewart his boyfriend
When Aaron says “I love you” a month after they start dating, Call smiles and kisses his boyfriend a hundred tiny little kisses all over his face. He says it back and they’re both breathless and laughing. Flushed with happiness.
When Aaron looks at Call with lights in his eyes, Call smiles and thinks; He is in love.