An impressed whistle echoed from the captain's mouth as they stumbled into the world behind the locked doors. Now crowbarred open.
Their footsteps echoed through the grandest hall they'd seen yet in their pillage of the silent world. Tuuri had told them it was a museum and probably brimming with important, ancient artifacts and that any risk was outweighed by the value of the loot. Had the entire hall been swept clean of dust, dirt and... goo, then it would be breathtaking.
"Alright, my scurvy crew, I'm going this way." Sigrun jabbed her thumb towards a gallery lined with suits of armour. A fitting choice for their captain, who's tastes were a little on the brutal side. "Blondie, take the cookie monster and go down that corridor." Sigrun wafted her hand towards a dingy looking gallery. "No guns, if you please."
Emil nodded. He reached to tug Lalli's arm so he'd know to follow, but then thought better of it and just said "hej." Lalli glanced over at him. His eyes flicked down, momentarily, to the hand that had just reached out to him, but now gripped its trusty flamethrower. Despite the cold, Emil was starting to feel hot under his gaze. He was certain lalli had seen the altered gesture. Lalli nodded anyway, so it was impossible to know, and off they trotted through the darkness.
Paintings lined the walls, glinting in and out of focus as Emil waved the torch over each one. Cabinets also glistened, holding statues and trinkets and treasure. Extravagant triumphs of the old world. As beautiful as these things were, Mikkel had stalled any thoughts of salvaging anything other than books. Tuuri had wanted to see the paintings, but Mikkel insisted they weren't the mission, and they'd be too heavy for the information they carried. None. Tuuri had asked if she could go, but that thought had also been doused with cold water. Emil thought maybe if there was no trouble, he might be able to sneak her in to see something. That would all depend on how the mission went though. Obviously, a hotspot of ancient art and culture was delicious to someone as enthusiastic as Tuuri. It did seem cruel to deprive her, but in their circumstances... well.
In the meantime, he was looking for a certain type of room. One that wasn't for the public where the owners of the museum sat around all day. He found a door to what looked like an office - what Tuuri had been suggesting was the best point to find. There was likely to be a private library, even an archive.
Emil used his shoulder to force the door down. Splitting wood cracked through the stone building. He looked around to see if anything had stirred. Nothing had. Not even his fellow scout.
Where had he gone to now?
Emil rolled his head back in frustration. How had he lost Lalli in what seemed to be record time? He shook himself. It was probably for the best that they'd been separated. He had been feeling more and more uncomfortable around the scout over the past few days. It wasn't Lalli's fault at all, in fact, he didn't even realise how much he'd been affecting Emil. It was probably preferable if they weren't alone together. In a dark, isolated room. In close proximity to each other. Adrenaline racing through their veins as the prospect of trolls popping up around any corner kept them on edge. Emil gritted his teeth to stop that train of thought and walked over to the bookshelf.
He ran a finger along the spines. They looked perfect. A great distraction. He pulled one out and took it to the desk. He began to flick through the pages, some of them showcasing photographs and diagrams. People of the old world were doing incredible things - flying planes, driving cars, piloting strange, underwater vehicles. Emil sat down at the desk to peruse the pages a little more.
His mind wandered back to yesterday after he and Sigrun had waded through hell to find a great dose of books. They had virtually collapsed in the cat tank, exhausted, but with enormous grins on their faces. Sigrun had accepted a dusting off from Mikkel since she'd avoided really being in the thick of it. Emil, on the other hand, was covered in troll goop. He'd managed to actually punch one. Right through its hearts. Or at least, that's what he was saying since no one had seen him trip. His fist may have happened to fall into the troll. Who cared what the motive was, anyway, if the result was the same? Regardless. Dead messy troll. Alive messy Emil. He thought that Mikkel was going to decontaminate him. Emil turned away to take off his clothes. They were going to need more than a blip in the UV unit to shift all that slime. Mikkel took the offending garments and went outside to perform laundry magic on them, leaving Emil to get in the makeshift bath and start to scrub off some of the troll innards. It had hardened. He suppressed the urge to gag. He only noticed he wasn't alone in the room when a bucket of water was poured over his hair. He turned back to find Lalli discarding the bucket and reaching for soap. Happy to help. Emil turned back quickly and focused on scrubbing out the gunk from under his fingernails and not on the blush creeping onto his face. And definitely not how pleasant Lalli's hands felt massaging his scalp with soap.
"Sorry I got separated,"
Emil glanced up. Suddenly slammed back to the real world. His eyes whizzed to the door behind him. Upon seeing the Finn, who'd just appeared in the doorframe, he replaced his cheek against his palm and continued tracing his eyes over the lines of text of the open book in front of him. He could feel his warming cheeks as he began to feel embarrassed. As though Lalli could hear where his private thoughts had just wandered. Emil inwardly cursed himself for letting his thoughts run away with him so easily. He was supposed to be distracting himself from the Finn, not imagining all the times they'd seen each other bathing! And maybe reimagining a few details...
"I found something in one of the cabinets."
Emil jumped. Again. Lalli had moved silently from the door to right behind his chair. A hand was placed carefully on Emil's shoulder. He closed his eyes and breathed into his touch. Giving his heart a moment to stop racing. He didn't know how many more surprises he could take. Hadn't he just told himself to stop thinking about alternate realities with Lalli?
"I want to give it to you."
He started poking Emil. Gentle, but firm and insistent. Emil rubbed the golden hair out of his eyes and turned round to face off the finn. He'd been testing his patience the entire day now, and Emil just couldn't take the stifling closeness of his body anymore. It was hard enough even with the benefit of a language barrier hiding Emil's thoughts. He just couldn't handle his heart racing with each touch. And he knew his thoughts had wound too far down a path that was just impossible to follow with actions.
"Would you stop it?" he snapped. He felt stupid as soon as the words had escaped his mouth. Just Lalli had been winding him up the last few days. Not on purpose, but...
Enormous eyes, wide as the ocean, locked with Emil's. The Swede tried not to fall in and drown.
There. That was the problem. He'd just been unable to stop looking at Lalli recently. Sure, when they'd first met he'd been overwhelmed with embarrassment. Who could forget that enormous food stain? Ugh. But once that had subsided, and Emil had managed to look outside of himself for a change (and after he'd washed off the spagghetti stain), he'd started to notice. Notice little thing like how Lalli played with the tips of his gloves. He noticed whenever he snuck a cookie from behind MIkkel's back. And he noticed his beautiful eyes, the ones staring at him now. It was strange how even though they didn't share a word, Emil felt himself liking the Finn more and more. It was the most natural friendship, and they didn't even need to try.
In fact, it had just sort of become habit that he'd be the one to stay awake, waiting for Lalli to come back from a scouting mission. And with every mission they did, every troll they dodged and each book they discovered together, Emil found that he became more anxious waiting for him. It had never really occurred to Emil that there was anything other than friendship.
But recently, he'd started to go mad. Specifically, he'd begun to think that Lalli was looking back. Whenever Emil fixed his hair in the morning, he'd turn around to find blue eyes quickly looking somewhere else. When they were sent off together to scout a house, ordered by Sigrun of course, Emil felt acutely aware that Lalli's attention was on him more than scouting. He wasn't totally sure, and his instincts were driving him crazy. He'd begun to feel flustered when he felt the scout's gaze. It was affecting him in a way it hadn't before.
Emil daren't say what he was thinking. Or just hoping. That was a train of thought that was dangerous to go charging down. That's why yesterday's mission that was just him and Sigrun had been so refreshing. Just, when they got back, Lalli had been waiting for him. Then there was that cleansing.
And alongside all this, Emil thought blissfully, was the talking. And it was wonderful. He would never tire of that melodic voice, full of too many vowels. More and more, Lalli had started to say a sentence here or there. And Emil, he loved talking back, wondering what bizarre conversations only Tuuri was overhearing.
"Mikkel hasn't made any cookies for a while."
"You know, Tuuri told me about your hometown. It sounds cool, but kinda lonely."
"I've always thought that was his redeeming feature."
"She mentioned you and your brother do magicy stuff."
"What use is he now that he isn't making cookies?"
"Are you going to show us any of that any time soon?" They looked at each other. Emil with an eyebrow raised, Lalli puffed a strand of hair from his face, looking a little grumpy. "I thought i'd see something in the field."
"I mean he botched Sigrun's stitches."
Emil sighed back in the mirror. "But I still have to see any proof you're magic."
Emil yearned for the sound of that voice more and more. He could hear its lilt as he lay in bed. The exotic sounds were just captivating. And he only spoke for Emil. He'd listened out especially after he considered one night that perhaps it wasn't all just for him. His own private show. But Lalli didn't natter to anyone else. He'd hidden behind slightly ajar doors to know if his ears could capture a sound emitting from his lips. But it was only the more-familiar languages that reached his ears. And with every overheard conversation, Emil's heart weakened more and more.
"It made me think of you." Lalli held out his hand, which Emil only now noticed was holding something small. After a little nudge, he held out his own hand to receive it. As careful as he was not to touch the object of his affections, only the object in his palm, Lalli still seemed determined to brush skin. He clasped their hands together. Lalli's hand was cool, soft. The grip was just firm enough to express purpose. The cool object separating their palms was trapped, unnoticed as neither party dared be the first to let go. Emil hoped. Felt his jaw tremble even a little. Maybe that was the cold? Lalli squeezed a little tighter.
"Or maybe it's just an excuse to hold your hand."
The thin fingers, now wrapped around Emil's hand, tugged. The Swede allowed himself to be pulled out of the chair to standing.
"But actually, no, that's just a bonus. I really did think of you."
The sound of his voice was like gravity. Emil didn't dare open his mouth in case it was a kiss that fell out.
Lalli raised both his hands up towards Emil's face. He flinched as they brushed the hair out of his eyes. So tenderly, the act was almost meaningless as strands fell back to their original place. He then put both hands on Emil's arms and gently rotated him so he was facing away from Lalli. Emil felt a little perplexed as he was turned away from him. The cool object still unnoticed in his palm. Now, those fairy-like fingers began tracing his hair.
"You know, you're awfully quiet for a change," came a feathery murmur. Emil closed his eyes, letting the sweet melody wash over him and enjoying it to its fullest while Lalli couldn't see his face betraying him. Lalli was slowly drawing the strands together in his hand. "I found one of Reynir's hair ties in my pocket just now." Emil promised to himself that this would be the last time he let himself imagine that there was more between them. His heart threatened to contract inside himself at the agony of that thought. He released a sigh. Better to get the pain over with. "Perfect timing, really."
He closed his palm over Emil's. The one with the object in it. Emil looked over his shoulder, and Lalli's smiling eyes made him regret his snap promise to never think of them as more. His freewill may well have just melted. Lalli's fingers guided his hand up, so Emil could look at the gift.
His eyes popped wide. A little comb, glinting in the dark. There were details, but Emil couldn't see.
"Did you take this from the museum?"
"I confess... I saw it in a display cabinet."
Lalli plucked it from his palm and slid it into his hair. Just above the ponytail he'd just constructed. The Swede felt a little stunned. It was a disarming gesture. He daren't hope. But... Was Lalli decorating the object of his affections?
"You look beautiful."
Emil froze as arms slid round his middle. That body he'd been dreaming of pressed close behind his, and the cheek he'd wished he could kiss snuck next to his. Emil swore that he had in fact been flying when he thought back to that moment.
"It sparkles just like your hair." Emil could feel the vibrations of his voice through his back. Was heaven a powerful enough word to use to describe this? "I wish you could see it."
Emil placed his hands over Lalli's. They stood there. Still. While dust swirled around the room. While the sun ticked slowly over the sky. While Sigrun did whatever she was doing wherever she was right now. It didn't really matter. Emil gently pushed his cheek into Lalli's, who "mmhmmd" and it was divine.
"We should uh... get these books out I guess." Emil softly suggested it, but made no action to actually go and collect any of their bounty.
"People might start to wonder where we are if we don't start lugging books outside soon." Lalli responded equally quietly. But he too made no indication to move anywhere, so Emil assumed it wasn't important. "I can sense Sigrun coming; we need to get a move on." He squeezed Emil and began to unwrap his arms. Emil deflated a little. However, before the Finn stepped back, he traced his lips over Emil's cheek.
"Oh," it escaped Emil's lips before he was even aware he still had control over his body. He could feel that his nose, smushed against his cheekbone, and those lips pressing the ghost of a kiss into his cheek.
Then his crush stepped back and trotted over to the bookshelf to toss a bundle into his arms. Emil leant forward to steady himself against the table, swallowing hard. Looking at that innocent character in front of him, it was hard to believe that he hadn't just been daydreaming.
"Hey, my magpies, have you found me some loot?" Emil whisked around to see another person interrupting his thoughts that day. Her face was curiously triumphant. Lalli turned around, his face a mask. It could have been any other mission. No indication of a secret, silent kiss made it to the expression on his innocent face.
"Well, look at you two." she stepped forward to slap Emil on the back, who still wasn't really sure if any of that had just happened. "We'll make first-rate pillagers of you yet." She ran to grasp up an armful of books. "Well, look sharp, or we're going to leave without you!" With that, she marched out of the room. All words. All action.
None of Lalli's subtlety.
Emil looked back at Lalli, while tracing a hand over the part of his cheek that was still tingling. Lalli nodded imperceptibly, and Emil couldn't dare contain the smile that pushed itself onto his mouth. His heart fluttered as Lalli smiled back.
"And while we're on the subject, why have you got that stupid hairdo?" Sigrun poked her head back round the door. Emil felt the offending haircut, feeling the ponytail, the hair tie and the cool comb. He also felt a little silly. And indignant.
"Lalli did it."
"What on earth was he doing playing hairdresser in the middle of a troll nest?!?!"
Emil grimaced, and ran to get an armful of books. Well, when she put it like that it sounded stupid. The trio jogged out of the museum together, arms full. Emil's brow was set with determination. He didn't care if everyone laughed. He'd wear his hair like this everyday if it meant Lalli was going to touch him.
From behind the crazy redhead and the also-quite-crazy blonde, Lalli smiled at the little, extra sparkle glimmering in Emil's hair with every step.