“I’m sure studies have shown that listening to music while doing work does impede your concentration.” Law raised his mug to his lips, the chipped china feeling incredibly detailed under the many nerves of his tongue. Lukewarm tea flooded into his mouth and he made a face; he’d left it too long. The perfect temperature of a tea was an elusive thing.
“Mmm,” Chase said thoughtfully, his deep voice conjuring several thoughts that were not at all suitable for school. “It depends on the type of work you’re doing. See, there have been several models created to explain our memory and functioning, and one proposed in the 70’s suggested that visual and phonological tasks are done separately. So I could listen to music and still do the worksheet.”
“And did your teacher agree when she found the ear buds?” Law asked, innocently raising an eyebrow, and reached over to smooth his hand over Chase’s leg that was hooked over his.
“No,” Chase sighed. “No she did not. But I argued my case well. Are you proud?”
“I don’t think I should be encouraging your bad behaviour,” Law said, glancing sideways at Chase. Chase, who could look so wonderfully devilish and innocent all rolled together. He leaned close, wrapping his arm around Law’s shoulder at a snail’s pace, his fingers brushing the sensitive skin at the nape of Law’s neck. A shiver ran down Law’s body from the touch.
Chase tucked Law into his body and looked up from underneath his lashes. “But don’t you love my bad behaviour?” he purred, and Law swallowed. The bobbing of his Adam’s apple attracted Chase’s gaze and he leaned forward, brushing his lips against it, and Law couldn’t help but swallow again. Chase’s breath brushed over his skin as he huffed a laugh, raising goosebumps over his flesh.
The bell chose that inopportune moment to ring and Law literally shook his head to gain some of his sense back, tutting at Chase who tried to lean in again.
“I have class,” Law murmured, a half-hearted plea for Chase to stop before he was tempted to skip. Chase chuckled, the deep sound reverberating through his chest and into Law.
“Alright,” Chase said, flopping back to the sofa. “I’ll let you leave.”
“So kind,” Law said, leaving him with a sweet smile before ducking out the study room.
Of course, every free period they had was spent in their own secret study room. Sometimes other students wandered in, and they had to be on their best behaviour. This was hard when Chase kept trying to play footsie with Law, or tried to curl his fingers up the bottom of his sweater, and Law blushed furiously even though he hoped it never stopped.
On the last free period of the day, Law had settled down on the scruffy blue sofa wholly expecting to be there alone. But Chase had waltzed in and flung himself next to Law, pulling out his Spanish book from his bag.
“I know I usually just play hooky, but I figured you’d have to wait for the bus. So you have the honour of my company, and helping me learn Spanish.”
“I’m so lucky,” Law deadpanned, making a small noise of protest as Chase tickled his neck with cold fingers. He made up for it by bringing Law close to him, hanging his arm lazily around the younger boy’s shoulders, and deftly flipped open his book with one hand.
“Do you know any Spanish?”
“My only language knowledge is a brief foray into French,” Law said apologetically.
“I can speak French,” Chase said with confidence, pulling his knees closer to his chest and pressing his lips to Law’s forehead. “Une baguette. Hon hon hon, L’eiffel tower, voulez vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?”
Law narrowed his eyes and pulled away to stare at Chase’s face, the soft light sinking into his tanned skin. “Did you just ask me to sleep with you tonight?”
“Creole lady Maaaaarmalaaaaaaade!” Chase sang, tossing his head back dramatically. Law laughed and hummed the tune of the song.
“I don’t know the lyrics,” he said apologetically, coasting his fingers over Chase’s knee.
“Neither do I,” he admitted.
“Really?” Law asked, closing his book with his thumb in the middle to serve as a bookmark. “I would have thought it would be the perfect karaoke song for you.”
“Oh, it has been. And yet both times I’ve done it, I’ve been drunk enough not to care…” Chase said, stroking thoughtfully at his chin. Law snorted and shook his head at his boyfriend’s antics.
“The only time anyone should be doing karaoke is when they’re drunk,” Law muttered. Chase gave a mock gasp, looking at him with wounded eyes.
“I think I could live without it.” Law grinned up at Chase, who pushed out his bottom lip and then lowered his head to meet Law’s mouth, kissing him lazily and casually, the kind of kiss Law loved the most. He could spend most of his time kissing Chase; it was never boring, and Chase always succeeded in raising Law’s heart rate and, more often than not, drawing obscene sounds from Law.
There was just something about Chase that made Law’s better senses flee. He couldn’t catch them; didn’t even want to try. He let them go like they were butterflies disturbed from flowers, something beautiful about their escape flight, admired but not possible to catch. When Chase kissed him that was what it was like.
The book dropped from Law’s hand and fell to the floor, abandoned, pages sullenly drifting closed.
“We were here last time mum and dad were down in Glasgow,” Hailey said, chipper as always. Skye glanced up from her phone briefly, a nod drawn from her to confirm her daughter was indeed correct, and then continued scrolling through her Twitter feed. Running a bushcraft business was fun, but it did require being caught up with the latest trends. In fact, the last time their family had made a foray into Glasgow was to gather supplies and attend a training course, while Hailey had enjoyed some time to herself drifting around the shops. At the end of the day her arms had been filled with bags, their plastic straps digging into her skin, and Felix had suggested a stop in a cafe before they made their way back up north.
“It’s cute,” Echo said, going on her tiptoes to peer around Hailey and into the shop window. Eclectic was, as the name suggested, quirky and beautifully eccentric. She wondered what Law would make of it; would he enjoy that kind of clash of colour and ornaments, or would he find it gaudy and tasteless? Despite the months that had passed, and their endless conversations on the phone to each other, she was still trying to get a feel for his character. It was odd to have so many gaps of knowledge about one of the people she should have known best in the world. Still, she didn’t harbour any resentment over it. There was no point in regrets or grudges, after all, and Echo was under no illusions as to the kind of person her mother was.
It was Skye who glanced up after a bus had pulled up and away, dropping a couple of passengers into the quieter part of the city centre. That was relative; still endless streams of cars choked the air with their passing and the buzz of noise from pedestrians was a constant.
“Is that him?” Skye asked Echo, eyeing the boy that was making his way towards them at a slow pace, dragging his feet. He was average height and didn’t particularly have a face that stood out, but Skye thought she could see some of her sister in him. Thankfully, that was where the similarities ended. Skye’s relationship with Faye had never truly recovered, though that implied there was much of a relationship in the first place. She was forced to admit now that once they had transitioned into high school, her sister had become an unknown entity that she’d just had to live with. They chatted occasionally, but she felt none of the deep love for Faye that she felt for Summer or Loxley. Even quiet, faded Liam was on better terms with her.
“Oh!” Echo said, her head darting up.
This was still only the second time he’d met with Echo in person (not, of course, counting their disastrous initial meeting) but sandwiched between their two meetings was almost twenty hours of phone conversations and many more messages. Law had found Echo easy to trust and confide in, and it was like something had finally settled into place. Never had he felt the urge to tell Rhoan the thoughts he held close to his chest, or try to explain to Eilidh exactly what he felt each time he caught Chase looking at him when the other boy was trying to be surreptitious. But telling Echo was easy. The words fell from his mouth.
Law had never considered himself a great communicator before – not in terms of personal matters – but when he spoke to Echo it was like he could paint a picture with words and she exactly understood what he was saying.
She was, in short, the sweetest and most accepting person he’d ever had the fortune of meeting.
“Come here, you,” Echo grinned after a pregnant pause, flinging her arms up. Hailey laughed and skirted forward too, excited to meet the person she’d heard so much about. In the six weeks since he’d met James, Law had spoken to Echo at least once a week.
They’d covered everything; it was like they’d laid out an encyclopaedia of their lives and taken each other on their journeys. He’d learned about Echo’s love of gardening, which she had quickly taken to as her father played one of his many horded instruments outside in the sun, and her easy acceptance (and faint amusement) of their mother, who often sat with her to paint each other’s nails and put on face masks but never confess any deep secrets, and even her simultaneous dream and ultimate fear: to become an artist for film or theatre, teasing out the life and environment of a character and then breathing it into a costume, or make up, or props. She could speak on length about the latest independent film or theatre production she’d seen, about how the latest Shakespearian adaptation had done a wonderful (or not-so) job of dressing their actors until they became the product of the play’s world.
Law had never considered this, or admittedly any art, to be something that could be touched by piercing insight and flashes of genius, but Echo had rapidly corrected this notion. He could never look at another film in the same way again.
She pulled him tight, the smell of patchouli once again wrapping around him. The faint strawberry smell of her hair was oddly comforting and somehow nostalgic, like wrapping up in an old blanket to watch childhood films. He wondered if Jasmine had ever used something strawberry scented when he was young; it was the only way to explain the soothing effect.
Hailey joined them and wrapped her arms around them both, her chin fitting snugly into the curve of Echo’s neck and shoulder, and Law let his eyes close for just a moment. He willed himself to remember this forever, no matter what. If there was anyone who could show the depth of their love through a hug, it was his sister.
He finally pulled back and flicked his gaze over to Skye, who had slid her phone back into the too-tight pockets of her jeans. She ambled over to them, giving them time to finish, and then she nodded at Law in greeting.
“It’s good to meet you,” Skye said, running a hand through her already slicked back hair. She’d cut it short on the day of her thirtieth birthday and it had been this length since; when she was crouched over a fire it was easy to pull back into a stub of a ponytail, and with the smallest application of her husband’s gel it stayed out of her way even when down. Her natural colour had become a sludge brown, so she still dyed it, but the black phase had passed. Now she experimented with her ends, and when they became too brittle to dye yet again, she would cut them off. There wasn’t even a need for a hairdresser to get involved in the process.
She glanced over her glasses to get a look into the cafe. Her prescription needed to be change, an unnecessary reminder that she was growing up (though she could hardly say she was growing old yet, as thirty-three was only old by those still in their early twenties), as it was an unnecessary reminder that she should stop putting it off. She was so much more at home in her forest, returning each day to the cabin like she was some medieval ranger out scouting for food. It was a good, homely life, and she left it as unwillingly as a teenager who was dragged from their bed.
The cafe still had a table left for them, so she took the time to reach out with her hand, shaking Law’s, and wondering if there were any physical similarities between the three of them.
“We need some specialist equipment for our business. Camping and bushcraft sessions,” Skye added, before Law could open his mouth to ask. She couldn’t help the brusqueness; it had been a necessary tone to adopt when dealing with fires and sharp tools. Though, typically, it wasn’t that which posed the problem; it was the teenagers and adults who often failed to recognise the risk before Skye barked at them like a drill sergeant. After so many years doing it, it had been assimilated into her personality. And really it was a good way to deal with her easy-going and lazy husband.
“What sort of equipment?” Law asked, and Skye wondered if he was aware that he tilted his head to the side just a degree each time he asked a question.
“Various things,” she shrugged. “Chainsaws and gear, mostly. Sometimes there’s things for the campsite we pick up to do repairs with.” They’d built several of their own structures with the help of Felix’s parents, who had partially retired, and now their campsite had doubled in size. Yurts, log cabins, and even a couple of wigwams had proved a popular investment. “Shall we go inside?” Skye asked, after the pause went on for a beat too long. The kids (she really shouldn’t call them that, but there you go) nodded eagerly and scurried in before she could offer to open the door for them.
Some Fridays Law would stay over at Rhoan’s, so that he could spend the Saturday with Chase, and in return many of those Saturdays Rhoan would crash at Law’s so that he could do the same with Eilidh on the Sunday. It was a good compromise, and often with plenty of time for the two to get their homework done together, in companionable silence, or with Rhoan talking incessantly about something while Law largely ignored him and got on with work.
The sun skipped over the rooftops of nearby houses and straight into Chase’s window in the morning, so their favourite place to settle was right in front of it. The sun heated the backs of their necks, and the quilt was pulled up for extra comfort.
The burst of excitement and passion that had engulfed them at the beginning of their official relationship had quietened, and so they returned to their usual easy friendship with the added bonus of being able to kiss whenever they wanted. Sometimes, this meant they did homework together, or humoured each other’s personal projects, and sometimes it meant they made out while pretended to watch a film on Chase’s laptop. Other times they were content to do their own thing, leaning into each other’s warmth, occasionally trading comments back and forth.
Chase had slipped on his truly impressive headphones, their little blue light flicking on and off in the corner of Law’s eye. He would thumb through the music on his phone and pick one, then go back to nodding along to the beat, his foot twitching under the covers, and Law would occasionally glance over as a particularly loud lyric burst through.
Chase’s music taste was nonexistent, in that he liked songs from every genre and had thousands upon thousands of tunes loaded on. Law appreciated that it was his happy place, just as trying to solve a particularly challenging crossword was his. He wondered how much of his love for them was simply his own need to have the answer to everything, and how much was Jasmine’s evening tradition of doing one with him while the dinner cooked.
Law couldn’t help but blink back to reality when he’d heard the debatable lyrics of ‘kiss me where it smells funny.’ He leaned over to Chase and reached up to get his attention, smoothing his index finger over the faint stubble on his chin. His eyes fluttered open and he glanced sideways at Law, one eyebrow arched up, and it was truly unfair because he knew the kind of effect that expression had on him.
“What on earth are you listening to?” Law asked, trying to walk the fine line between raising his voice loud enough for Chase to hear over his music, and not being so loud that he woke up Chase’s aunt in the next room. She was defensive over her long lie-ins.
“The Bloodhound Gang,” Chase said, grinning. “They’re one of my favourites.” He slipped one of the disks off his ears and gave a sheepish smile. “I was talking really loudly, wasn’t I?”
“A bit,” Law said, laughing.
“Come listen,” Chase said, hooking his arm around Law and tugging him close. His thumb managed to find it’s way up Law’s shirt and curl around his hip, as it always did, and Law’s heart lurched, as it always did. Chase’s smirk said he knew exactly what he’d done. “You probably won’t like it, but I think they’re hilariously clever.”
Law settled next to his boyfriend, ear pressed uncomfortably against the ridges of the headphone.
Law heard the music before he focused on the lyrics, and that alone had him nodding his head. And then he paid attention to the lyrics, his eyes growing round and his cheeks flooding red, and Chase chuckled at his reaction.
“Oh my God,” Law said softly, as the singer finished the chorus of kiss me where it smells funny to go into the next verse.
Chase sang along under his breath, laughing faintly at the end of each line. “I can tell I’m doing something right by the way that she blushes. She’s one that’s speechless but I’m the one that’s tongue tied, she’s thinking holy mackerel I’m thinking tuna on the side…”
Law backed away from the headphones and Chase’s laughter became fully fledged. “I can’t believe you listen to that filth,” Law said, though he could absolutely believe it.
Chase giggled. “They’re classics. Wait until you hear ‘yummy down on this’.”
“No thank you,” Law said, though he couldn’t help but laugh at the devilish grin so at home on Chase’s face. “I’ll leave you to your obscene music.” He reopened his crossword book and fiddled with his pen, smiling when Chase pressed his lips to Law’s cheek briefly before returning to his song.
“Hey kid,” Kane said, drifting into the living room after a long lie in with Jasmine in his arms. The smell of coconut shampoo still clung to him, transferred from her body to his. He loved those mornings.
Law blinked out of his thoughts and glanced up at his father. He was internally debating what to send up north for Echo’s birthday, trying to decide if his grandparents would know if she was requiring any art supplies. Plants, as easy as that would be, were a little harder to post.
“Hey dad,” he said, scooting back to make space for him; given the tone of his voice, Kane wanted to bring up something a bit more important than what to make for dinner later on.
“Oh, yeah. Everything still going through alright with that?”
“Yeah, yeah. Home report got back yesterday; it looks good.” Kane wetted his lips. “I wanted to ask you if you were sure.”
Law very obviously rolled his eyes. “Again?” They’d had this conversation multiple times, and each time Law promised his father he had no opinion on the matter. And maybe that hadn’t been true when they’d still been searching, but it was now. It helped that the house they had chosen was one that Law could see himself in, even if his room was just as small as it was now. At least there was a room for him, which was better than what Kane and Jas could sometimes afford on their budget.
“Silly me,” Kane said, smirking. “I was hoping you’d have formed an opinion by now.”
Law sighed and rubbed at his jaw. “Dad, I promise, the house is fine. I’m going to be moving out before you know it, so don’t worry about me.”
Kane chewed on his bottom lip. Clearly, Law was going to have to try harder to convince Kane. Before he could, his father spoke again. “I’m glad that you are. But I always want you to know that we want you more involved in the process. I guess… at first I didn’t really think how it might feel, for you. You know, getting a house and maybe a younger sibling.”
Law pursed his lips. If honesty is what it would take… “I have to say I wasn’t warm on the idea back when it was first mentioned.” He shrugged. A lot had changed since then that Kane didn’t know about, and for the first time Law wondered if he should mention it. But what would Kane say to that? No, there were too many variables involved.
“But now?” his father asked anxiously, and Law ruffled his fingers through his hair, fluffing up some parts still drying from his morning shower. He glanced towards their kitchenette; tiny, vastly outdated, but home. For now.
“I think we’re due an upgrade,” he said, his smile curling around the words. Kane barked a laugh. There was no disagreeing with that.
“And about Jas and I getting married, and… that part?”
“You deserve it, dad.”
There was a long, stretched out moment of silence. Law had never really understood the phrase ‘pregnant pause’ until now.
“You know that you’re the best thing I’ll do in my entire life, right? I love you more than anything.”
The heavy emotional undertone caught Law by surprise; after all, it wasn’t often that his father admitted something so personal. But then Law found himself frustrated, because if that was true then why had he not given Law all the information, trusted him to make his own decisions?
“What’s with the tone?” Kane asked, bewildered. Law knew he wasn’t doing this on purpose; he knew there was no way Kane had jumped to the same conclusions as Law. But then Kane had thought the issue was done and dusted, and Law had only let him believe that because he’d resolved it in his own way. But that hadn’t changed the decisions Kane had made for both of them, and it certainly hadn’t changed the growing gap between them. Had his father even realised this? Had he stopped to wonder why his son had never so much as mentioned the possibility of going out with someone?
If he was the person Kane loved most in the world, why didn’t his father notice these things?
And yet, Law could tell him. The two big secrets he’d carried with him, that had weighted down his shoulders, for so long. He could open his mouth and confess at this very moment.
But he’d seen the way his father had shaken his head at any programme which had two men in a defined relationship featured. He’d heard him scoff when people on the street had spoken about gay rights. He’d silently listened to Kane ask, rhetorically, didn’t they already have them?
“Law?” Kane’s tone was more demanding now, but still confused. “What… what just happened?”
The sun filtered through their window and hit Law on the back of his neck, exactly where it hit whenever he and Chase sat next to one another in his room. Law’s heart ached.
But when he opened his mouth to explain, he surprised even himself. “You know I have a half-sister?”
Fuck. Law’s eyes flung open at the declaration and he stilled, holding his breath. His father’s silence was deafening. He’d never understood that phrase until now, either.
“Excuse me?” Kane asked, his voice perfectly calm.
“The thing is,” Law continued through gritted teeth, decided that since this ship had already sailed he might as well jump aboard, “when you tell your genius son no, he’ll just find out another way to get answers. Is it because you love me more than anything that you didn’t want me to meet the rest of my family?” He shook his head. “Never mind. I’m going to a Rhoan’s, and I’ll see you later.”
Kane stared at his son’s retreating back, aghast, and not entirely sure how to process what had just happened.
Law wrapped his arms around Chase from behind, nuzzling his neck and breathing in the fresh, minty smell of him. He’d come straight from Rhoan’s again, and had let himself in rather than ring the doorbell and wake up his Aunt. He heard the soulful tune being weaved before he even took the stairs, two at a time, and had found his boyfriend with his head bowed over his guitar, humming softly.
When Law pressed a kiss into the warm skin underneath Chase’s ear, he felt the smile bloom, like a time lapsed flower opening its petals. “Morning,” he said.
“Morning.” Chase craned his neck back to peck Law’s lips. He plucked the strings with deft fingers, those calloused tips Law knew so well pressing and pulling absently. “I know what we should do today,” he grinned.
“You said you wanted to try learning music, right?”
“Sure,” Law said, eyeing the instrument and secretly hoping it was hard to damage.
Chase cleared his textbooks off the low seat pressed tight to his bed, settling down and patting the space between his legs. Law nestled there and tentatively held onto the guitar, feeling the smooth wood beneath his fingers. The strings were harder and sharper than he expected, and he understood why Chase’s fingertips were so rough.
“Put your fingers under mine.” Chase’s breath ticked the fine, short hair behind Law’s ear, and his lips brushed Law’s jaw. “I’ll take you through the chords one at a time. Maybe you’ll even be able to play twinkle twinkle before long.” His words were light and teasing, ending with a chuckle, and it was a battle to focus on the instrument.
“What’s your favourite song to play?” Law asked, his voice hushed so that he could hear the difference with each strum.
“It changes on my mood. When you came in I was playing a song called Happy Little Pill. I’ll do it for you after this.”
“Just thinking about my dad,” Law murmured, eyes faraway. “We argued yesterday.”
Chase winced. “Yikes. What about?”
“I was stupid. He said he loved me more than anything and I threw it back in his face. I almost told him, you know, about us, before I realised what a bad idea that was. So my brain decided to tell him about Echo instead. Smart move, right?” Law’s lips twisted as he remembered the dreadful conversation, wondering what on earth he was thinking.
“Maybe you should tell him about us too?” Chase suggested hesitantly, tugging the guitar from Law’s hand to set it leaning against the bed. He wrapped his hands around Law’s waist. “It might be nice,” he went on, when Law said nothing. “You know I don’t like to…hide.”
“I have absolutely no desire to tell my dad,” Law said flatly. Chase’s lips thinned in displeasure. It had never quite been an argument between them, but it had almost broken into one several times before. It felt like the heavy static of a thunderstorm overhead, where the first rumble had yet to be heard.
“Law,” Chase said, just as firmly. “What are you going to do? Keep up some charade while we date behind your dad’s back? I mean, what if… what if we’re still together in five years time? In ten? Do we get married in secret? Do we buy a house and pretend to be flatmates?”
Law dropped his eyes, avoiding Chase’s piercing gaze. He knew there might come a time when Law could no longer hide it from his father, but for now he didn’t have to cross that bridge. Besides, he thought to himself, anything could happen in a year, let alone ten.
“What if… the same thing happens to me? He kicks me out?” Frankly, Law could never see a scenario in which that happened, but it was said to illustrate his point. The reason that Chase should and should not be pushy were one in the same: his principles had left him parentless.
Chase made a weak sound of protest, but he nodded. Point accepted.
Law’s chest felt like it was being suffocated by his too-large heart, thudding against his ribs with enough power to shake every inch of his body. It was difficult to breathe around it, and despite the urge to take short, sharp pants, Law forced himself to pull in a breath calmly, filling his lungs despite the incessant pressure of his heart, and tried to control the trembling of his fingers.
The weight of the keys in his hand was monumental. The door in front of him represented far more than just that; it was his new home, the start of his (almost) adult life, away from parents, independent. Law wasn’t often scared of change, but this was a colossal one, and as silly as it sounded he felt like as soon as he slotted those keys into the door his life would change, starting him down his path.
It was funny, he reflected, as he glanced sideways at the dark windows of the café Eclectic. Two years ago he would never have believed he’d come back to that spot for the flat next door. Soon Echo would be joining him here, too.
He was moving from one family to another, and happiness blossomed in his chest.
Law let out a breath and took a few steps closer to the door. His heart was still drumming, but instead of trying to fight against the trepidation, Law embraced it. After all, the next few years were going to be the best of his life. That’s what everyone said, anyway, and even with Chase still on another continent, Law’s best friends would be right beside him: Rhoan, Eilidh, and Echo.
He had a lot to look forward to. A project with Lukas involving the elusive virus that had always confused him – a puzzle Law was determined to crack – and his own project on reproductive biology. University life, city life, and best of all, he was going to be doing it with the friends he loved most in the world.
Law grinned to himself and slotted the key into the door, ready to open the next chapter of his life.
This was written as I learned I received a job interview for my first “real” adult job (a career job, that is) so, yeah. That’s pretty close to how I’m feeling right now.
Also, I realise that I sort of left Law and Kane’s argument on a cliffhanger. I had plans for the argument to centre around Law being in a relationship, but the scene didn’t quite go that way. We will pick that up in one way or another.