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After the Illusion

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"Glad that's all settled now. Time to get back to our lives here, such as we can," Alex mused aloud as they walked through the front door. Hal thought the front room seemed somehow darker and dingier after their time away, like he'd somehow become numb to the terrible decor through sheer exposure and now he'd been desensitised. But neither Alex nor Tom seemed bothered; they both flung themselves down on the couch with smiles and happy sighs, tangling their legs together and laughing.

Hal didn't know if he was just suddenly feeling his age despite his new human body, but Alex and Tom had seemed unusually close while they'd been visiting her family. Something he couldn't quite put his finger on kept make him feel like he was missing a joke, and that had made him eager to return. Her brothers had also cornered Tom for unknown reasons at one alarming point while Hal and Alex were busy trying—with very little success—to explain exactly where Alex had been all this time and how her family had ended up with a body to bury if she was alive.

It was deeply unusual for Hal to be treated with suspicion and not have the concerns be founded on truth. Some mornings he'd just stood in the bathroom, staring at his own reflection which still felt like a stranger, until half the house was banging down the door to get in. And yet the moment he'd stepped out the door and back under her family's gaze, he'd felt like he was still a vampire and a risk all over again.

"Right, so, now that we're back we're gonna do this right," Tom declared, pulling Hal out of his contemplation.

"Do what right?" Hal asked. He tried to exchange a confused glance with Alex, but she was busy smirking at Tom.

"Thought they might have got to you. Those meddling little idiots," Alex replied, but she sounded well chuffed about it. "Come on then, what's the plan?"

Bewildered, Hal turned back to Tom—Tom who was blushing and tugging his shirt straighter. He cleared his throat twice and then stood up, running his hand nervously over his head.

"Alex's brothers said I'm to take you both out for dinner. Somewhere nice, with a suit and all that. So, I reckon now we're back we should do that tonight. It's to be my treat and all."

Alex smirk widened into a genuine smile, and she stood up as well and kissed Tom on the cheek. "Sounds fab. I'll just wash the car ride off me and get ready then. You'll help Tom with his suit and tie, won't you Hal?"

"I—," Hal started to say, then stopped as Alex gave him a stern look. "Yes, yes I might... I mean, I can certainly assist Tom with his tie if he'd like."

"Great, yeah," Tom said as he copied Alex's beaming smile with an awkward little wobble, like he couldn't decide whether to follow Alex over to Hal—where she was kissing him on the cheek as well, Hal realised belatedly as he blinked at her—or stay where he was. "It's a date!"

"It's a date," Alex echoed. Then the two of them chased each other up the stairs, laughing the whole way while Hal watched them go with a blank stare.

Two doors slammed above him and the shower switched on before he'd gathered himself together enough to move. As he slowly headed for the stairs to follow them up, he caught his reflection in the mirror and flinched in surprise, just like always. But when he looked back over at himself, he realised he was smiling. 

After a long moment tracing the shape of his own mouth as he watched his reflection, he took the stairs two at a time and slammed his own door in his haste to get to his closet. If he needed to help Tom as well, there wasn't much time to work out which clothes he still had clean and pressed that might be suitable for a first date, and he'd be damned if he didn't use his five hundred years of experience to make a good first impression.