You'll have to come and find me, find me
Cal's arms had come around him, securing behind his back and Howell felt the tension that had been building up within him for months slowly begin to release. Even though Cal felt real, felt solid beneath his fingers, Howell still wasn't quite ready to let him go. The men held each other for what was probably an awkwardly long moment for anyone else, but it didn't matter in the least to him. Howell had always been very comfortable in his skin, truthfully it was usually because he'd magicked himself comfortable, but these days his nature and appearance didn't weigh on him like they once had. There was no one to impress here, no one sliding their gaze across him and judging him. Well, that was a bit of a lie, everyone in New York City judged you, but the difference was that Howell didn't care
anymore. He had nothing left, why bother? Of course that was a thought that no longer held so much weight. Here was Calcifer in the flesh, a harrowing thought that was, Cal in the flesh rather than in the flame, but here he was regardless. Howell's arms tightened around the other man as Cal assured him he was real. Thank the stars, every single one of them in the sky.
Howell let his arms loosen somewhat as Cal pulled away, just enough so they could look at one another. Howell finally pried his eyes open, allowed himself to look upon his closest friend's face for real this time. He'd caught a glance of it, just enough to know it was him, but now he really looked at the other. Cal was a bit taller than he was, something he inwardly found quite comical. The shock of red hair suited the other man, as did the structure of his face and his stature. All in all, he looked like a finely articulated young man. Howell couldn't say he wasn't just a tad jealous; Cal looked like he had been coping much better in this new life than he had. Howell knew he looked bad, worse probably than Cal had ever seen him save perhaps when he'd been dying. In a way though, Howell had slowly been dying over the past two years, he'd just been taking his sweet time getting there. With Cal's appearance though, he felt a new wave of energy. If Cal was here then maybe...
Howell grinned as Cal spoke again, insisting that he'd missed the fire demon. He had. He'd missed Cal almost as much as he missed her. Cal had been with him since he was a child, the two had all but grown up together. Cal had been an integral part of Howell's life for many years and without him, well he wasn't quite sure who he was. Cal was quick to add that he'd missed Howell, too. Howell blinked in surprise, not at the emotion, he knew Cal better than anyone, knew that his closest friend had missed him, but he was surprised to actually hear the words. Humanity looked good on Cal, apparently internally as well. "I assure you. I've missed you a great deal more, my friend."
Howell said affectionately. Cal's smile began to dim and he spoke once more. Ah, Howell understood then why he'd been so quick to tell him that he'd missed him now. Guilt. Howell knew that emotion intimately and he hated that his best friend felt it as he did. The emotion ran deep, cutting into his very soul when he thought about those closest to he and Cal. He pushed that away for now, not letting it sour this moment. He was sure that would catch up with him, with them both, but for now he had one good thing to focus on and that was Calcifer.
Cal had dropped his head to Howell's shoulder and he leaned his cheek against into the other. Howell's fingers ran through Cal's hair, gripping the other loosely. "The night was chaos, but in the midst of it you came through, Calcifer. You're the finest being I know and you saved my life."
His voice was soft, spoken so only Cal could hear. He knew Carrie was lingering somewhere near, probably flabbergasted at the entire scene. Howell had never shown this much emotion in a single day, much less in a single moment and he was sure she was thinking he'd lost his mind. Perhaps he had, but he didn't care. He had Cal and that was one step in a direction he thought he might be able to face now.
Howell squeezed Cal one more time before turning towards the counter. He still held Cal's arm in his hand, unwilling to fully release the other. Carrie was, in fact, standing there staring at the two of them. Cal's drink was in her hands as she opened her mouth to speak. Howell cut her off. "Call Penny and remind her that she owes me a favor. I'm taking today off."
He paused a moment as Carrie blinked at him. "Tomorrow too. Something important has come up, I'm sure Frances will understand,"
Frances ran the shop and Howell would call the man later with some explanation. He pulled off the apron he wore, tossing it onto the counter and took Cal's drink from Carrie's hand. He gave a smile to her then, the sort that almost channeled the man he used to be. "Thank you, love."
Carrie returned his smile, a blush creeping across her cheeks as she nodded but Howell was already ushering Cal out the door. He put the man's drink in his hand as they exited the Kingsbury Cafe.
Howell threaded his arm through Cal's, ignoring society's thoughts on how two men ought to be walking along the sidewalk together. Howell had never been a fan of social norms, he'd always gone through life in his own way and today, more so than he had in over two years, he felt just a bit like his old self again. "Tell me then, how have you been? What have you been doing? Do you adore being human? Fascinating, isn't it?"
Howell had turned his eyes onto his best friend, a grin on his face despite himself. There were plenty of deeper, darker questions he could have been asking but he'd save those for later, behind closed doors. For now he wanted to relish in the fact that the two of them were here, alive, and together. Howell's grip on Cal's arm was tighter than it really needed to be and he'd already oriented them towards his own apartment. He'd ask Cal all about where he'd been and where he lived soon enough, there was time for that. Finally Howell saw the light again and of course, it would be his favorite fire demon to give way to that light.
★ CALEB R. BRENTON ★