He was pushing his luck as it was, but Aaron hesitated just a moment more before leaving his room, staring at where he'd hung Dawn on his bedpost before his shower. Would it be poor taste to put it back on? Varis wanted him to take the night to consider losing it for an entire year—possibly longer, he knew Varis wasn't fond of the thing from the first—so maybe omitting it tonight would make for a show of good faith. But on the other hand, Aaron was still a little jumpy. Planned or not, Varis’ disappearance crystallized just how thin a line the Count walked, demonstrating how vulnerable he really was. That wasn't even to mention that after the Revel debacle, Aaron didn't trust the campus guard as far as he could throw them, and even if he couldn't accompany Varis all night like he'd have liked to, he didn't feel comfortable wandering around unarmed like nothing happened.
His second of indecision felt like an hour, but finally he grabbed his scabbard from the bedpost, securing it to his hip as he emerged from his room.
To Aaron’s surprise (and embarrassment), Varis didn't seem to take a moment to himself this evening, even after all that happened. Instead, he was waiting impatiently in the foyer—exactly the reverse of how things should be, Aaron noted sourly. But it was just one final gaffe on top of this whole disaster of an evening, and he pushed past it, tight on Varis’ heels as the pair of them swept out the door.
His phone buzzed as he and Varis parted ways, and he exhaled a sigh of relief to find it was Lilie, still somehow receptive to him. A pang of guilt hit him at her apology, though. If either of them should be apologizing, it was him—that was precisely why he wanted to talk to her. A glance at the clock told him he still had a bit of time before class; he was headed to Rose Hall, hopefully not too far from where Lilie was going. He tapped out a quick text to that effect, arranging to meet Lilie at a spot pretty near halfway between their respective destinations.
The buzz of her phone stopped Lilie in her tracks and she took a second to fish it out of her pocket. Peering at Aaron’s message, after glancing at the time, she realized she still had a little ways of meeting where he had suggested. Trying to hurry along as quickly as she could without slipping, the girl ended up running there, apologizing to the few she nearly ran into. By the time she reached Aaron, she was a little out of breath. Still, the struggle had been worth it to see that familiar face at last, her heart skipping a beat and her cheeks warm as she gained a huge smile. It was such a relief to see him that she forgot herself completely, rushing over to him without worrying how silly she probably looked.“H-Hi—oof,”
She didn’t realize she had to stop to catch her breath, taking a second to remember to breathe as her legs complained. Even that couldn’t stop her smile, though she did need a little time to say something. “Hi! Hello—I—I’m here!”
She announced, straightening up and clearing her throat. There was so much she wanted to say now that they were together again, so many things she couldn't wait to tell him and just the idea of talking before class was enough to make her giddy. As she got a proper look at his face, however, her expression fell a little. He looked completely exhausted, like he hadn’t slept in days and would probably keel over if he got pushed over. If she had a comfortable pillow and blanket he would probably curl up and just sleep for the entire week.
Her previous questions gave way to only one: “Are you okay?”
She asked worriedly.
Lilie didn’t keep Aaron waiting long, and he felt a little giddy at her approach, the smile on her face warming him from the inside out. After the week he’d had, he’d almost forgotten how lucky he was: Lilie was here, she was happy to see him, she reciprocated his feelings—it was almost too good to believe. Even as tired as he was, he couldn’t resist a wide smile of his own, feeling like a second weight had been lifted off his shoulders just at the sight of her.
He noticed her change in expression, but wasn’t fazed—he’d done his best to make himself presentable, but in the state he was in, he still expected several more looks like that tonight. Her question went largely ignored—once more a lump in his throat stifled his voice—and instead he simply gave a cautious look around, making sure no one was paying attention to them too closely before gathering Lilie into a hug, resting his chin on the top of her head. “I am now,”
he breathed, a little emotional despite himself. The relief of having Varis back unharmed coupled with the joy of seeing Lilie again was all too much too soon, and he pressed Lilie’s face tighter to his chest, blinking away the hints of tears that threatened at the corners of his eyes.
After a moment, once he’d gotten ahold of himself, he released Lilie from the hug, holding her out a little so he could look at her. “I’m so sorry I ignored your messages,”
he apologized, his sincerity clear on his face. He heaved a tired sigh, shaking his head. “I didn’t mean to, I’ve just—I mean, I was going crazy, but everything is fine now, Master is safe and… everything is fine.”
He took another long breath, caught off guard by how flustered he was. It might not have been the whole truth—he did have a pretty big decision weighing on him—but they could talk about that later.
Lilie was surprised by...well, everything. For one, as silly as it sounded, she really wasn't expecting such a tight hug. She always knew Aaron was bigger than her, but it was surprising to see how easily she fit with him, his chin on her head making her feel safe and protected. Was that too corny? Yeah, it was, but she'd be lying if she said she didn't enjoy it. He was warm, and while there wasn't any hint of lavender like the last time they were close, she had to admit she didn't mind.
Still, her flustered expression didn't last—after all, him hugging her wasn't the only surprise. Like her Papa always said, if it was too good to be true, then it was. And apparently
, Varis Sinnenodel was alive. No wonder Aaron looked so ragged, he was probably already getting berated or punished or sleep deprived. But what surprised her the most was how happy
he seemed about it, like he was genuinely happy that the count was alive.
Even with that in mind, however, Lilie just shook her head. It wasn’t any of her business, and he seemed so relieved that she felt like she didn't really have a say in that. "It's okay. I understand,"
It wasn't a complete lie, but it didn't matter. As she held his hand, once again letting the giddiness take over as she smiled up at him, all that mattered was that Aaron
was with her now. "You can make it up to me,"
She couldn’t help but tease him. "Like...maybe with dinner tonight?"
Aaron’s smile persisted, letting out a chuckle at Lilie’s comment. Dinner, like a date? Of course like a date, what else would she mean? They’d already kissed—according to movies, they were like, two steps past ‘date’ already. It was all pretty foreign to him, to be sure, but he was happy to follow Lilie’s lead.
Except one minor problem. “I’m afraid I don’t have any money to take you out,”
he chuckled, patting his jacket. He didn’t have the requisite permissions either, but that was beside the point. He squeezed her hand, offering an alternative. “But I’d be happy to meet you at the dining hall tonight, if that would suffice.”
Aaron was so cute
that Lilie was honestly flattered at his invitation. He didn't have to take her anywhere, she was just ecstatic that they were together again. Though honestly he could have suggested anything and she would have agreed. Just as she was about to agree, however, she stopped herself, eyes widening as she got a better idea."Or I can cook for you!"
Lilie told him excitedly. "I mean, Ben’s never—Count Benjamin is never around at dinnertime anyway, and it kinda gets lonely eating by myself."
Her head was suddenly filled with ideas—she could go all out and do a three course meal, she probably had everything she needed since the fridge and pantry were full now.
Remembering something, she took his other hand in hers. "And yes, I will ask permission first to have someone over,"
She told him, stepping in so they were closer. "What do you think? Homemade dinner for two away from all the bustle and noise...and in the privacy of a dorm, too."
She couldn’t stop her blush as she tried to tempt him into agreement.
An excited Lilie was a delight to see, and Aaron was glad for the cold that disguised his own blush as she made her invitation. He just barely stopped himself from asking if she was sure about it; sharing a meal was one thing, but Lilie cooking for
him seemed so much more… intimate. Was it presumptuous to accept? No, no, it was her
idea, and he knew cooking was a favourite hobby of hers. And she seemed so excited to do it, too! It would be a lie to say he didn’t like the idea, though he was hardly worth the effort, but — no, he was thinking too much.
The thought did cross his mind that it might be counterintuitive to have dinner at another noble’s dorm moments before potentially pledging to change his life for a year to prove his loyalty to Varis, but that voice in his head was shockingly quiet for the moment. He’d have to think on it more, sure—he’d have to think on everything
more tonight—but he couldn’t convince himself to decline.“You know, that sounds really nice,”
he agreed, giving Lilie’s hands a squeeze. A quick glance at his now-exposed watch, though, reminded him that they were starting to cut things close. Taking another quick glance around, he pulled Lilie to him and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, gut aflutter at his own boldness. “Let’s talk about it more at lunch, okay?”
If the red on her face wasn’t noticeable before, then it definitely
was now—and while Lilie could have credited it from the delight in hearing Aaron hadn’t outright declined, it was obvious that his little kiss had done the trick. For just a moment, she wished she wasn’t such a diligent student. All she wanted to do was spend more time with him, but even she realized that maybe she really was being too clingy right now. Besides, he wanted to meet for lunch, so it wasn’t like they were going to be apart for long.
Slowly nodding, Lilie let out a tiny exhale, trying to calm her heart down. Even as he looked fondly down at her, she couldn’t really dismiss just how tired he looked. “Um...I’m also really glad things worked out for you,”
She said as she reached up and fixed a stray lock of his blond hair. “But you know, maybe next time, you can lean on me. I know I can’t really do much, but it’s better to worry with company than to worry alone, you know?”
Aaron’s smile softened, feeling moved once again by Lilie’s concern. As disparate as her and Varis’ comments were, it was almost a little funny that she was the second
person to criticize his stress response tonight. Not that she didn’t have a point—quite the opposite. Whether it be trusting in his senior mages or looking to someone else for help, he really needed to stop trying to shoulder everything alone—apparently, it made him crazy. Maybe that was part of the reasoning behind Varis’ proposal: without the comfort of his Noila contacts, he’d be forced to build a network of his own.
He tried to swallow the returning lump in his throat, pushing those thoughts aside with a deep breath. It was all important to think about, but he didn’t want to colour his time with Lilie with difficult questions like those. “You’re probably right,”
he conceded. “If I’m honest, this whole ordeal has…”
he considered for a second how to finish that sentence, before shaking his head. He wouldn’t bother Lilie with any of that right before she had to run to class. “I have a lot to think about. But I’ll keep that in mind, I promise.”
Lilie squeezed his hand in comfort, nodding in understanding. She shouldn’t pry too much, but she was glad that he’d at least consider it. She was a lot more relieved as she looked him over, giving him a breathy smile in an effort to cheer him up.“Good!”
Lilie said happily, though she figured it was probably time to go so they wouldn’t be late. Lifting his hand to her cheek, she let out a tiny sigh. “I’ll spend less time worrying and more time thinking of ways to take care of you. And I...um, just...I’m just looking forward to spending more time with you.”
Smile widening once more, Aaron pressed Lilie’s hand tighter to his cheek. “I am too,”
he said warmly, trying not to dwell on her “take care of you” comment too much lest it distract him more than it should. Giving her hand a squeeze, he regretfully dropped it, taking a step back to go on his way. “I’ll see you at lunch. Enjoy your classes!”
Now he just had to find a way to pay attention to his.