New ficlet: This Is Not A Story About Lavender
Rating: Really, I think it's only PG
Summary: AU, non-magic. Ernie doesn't realize he's lost everything until Lavender startles her way back into his life, and ends up giving him more than he ever wanted. This is not HET. This is SLASH.
Author Notes and Important Preambles: So I sat down with the intention of writing a Harlequin-esqe Harry Potter AU. Cheesy romance at it's best. I looked on the Harlequin site for inspiration, but none of the amazingly bad summaries jumped out at me... I couldn't picture anyone in those roles. So I thought to myself: Dude, you can totally come up with a cheesy romance plot on your own! I immediately thought: Psychic!Lav! It totally works. And she goes home to... farmboy!Ernie! So we've got the future (Lav) and the past (Ernie) and then I thought... we need someone to shake things up. And thus a new pairing was born.
This ended up being mostly about Ernie, though. I think it's still waaaaay cheesy, and a little angsty, and a little fluffy. And I also think this might as well be original since it's long-gone beyond AU and into the land of "you made Seamus a dog?" Dudes. I totally did.
Extra notes: Working title. Unbeta'd. The pace and transitions are reminiscent of The Commune Love Story. Technically the first draft, so let me know if you see any glaring holes. Also, the ending is lame. You already know I suck at endings though *nods*
This Is Not A Story About Lavender
Ernie didn’t think of himself as a farmer. Technically, generations of Macmillans toiled over the tracts of land Ernie now, through his parents’ will and his younger sister’s disinterest, owned. But Ernie. Ernie was a gardener.
Lav’s whistle carried over the hills and Ernie glanced up, spotting her cresting the edge of the Macmillan lands with a long-armed wave. She’d been out wandering the old Brown manor, and was still wearing the ratty jumper of Ernie’s she’d donned in deference to the morning dew. It was warm, though, and Ernie already had his shirtsleeves rolled up, sweat beading on his forehead as he worked his hands into the dark, almost black soil of his vegetable patch.
Lavender Brown was the girl he’d at one time wanted to grow up and marry, before he realized it’d be like marrying his sister, Alice. She’d been his sibling at heart; still was, really, despite the years they’d been out of touch, the years Lav had lived down in London, the years that had used her up and left her wrung out and drained and haunted.
After a month in his spare bedroom, though, Lav was grinning mischievously again, climbing trees and traipsing through the field-edged woods. She was tough, always had been, in form and spirit – sturdy, country-born limbs and big forgiving heart. And back home, divining the future was simple and easy and without any expectations.
Lav didn’t talk about her time working with the police, and Ernie never pressed. He figured she’d tell him when she was ready, or never tell him at all. Either way, she’d always have a space within his home.
She was at the edge of the garden within minutes, her body snapping at a city-fast pace, her smile laughing as he slowly got to his feet and swiped his hands on his jeans.
“You’d be eaten alive in London, Ern,” she said, stepping up on her tiptoes to peck his cheek.
He grinned and didn’t deny her claim. “How was the old house, then?”
She made a face. “Should be torn down.” Nobody had lived there since Lav and her family left over fifteen years before, and while Ernie had kept the surrounding grounds neat and trimmed, he’d felt it would’ve been too much of a presumption to take on the house as well.
There had to have been a reason, Ernie thought, for the Browns to take off the way they had, so abruptly and with only a sad wave out the car window for Ernie, past sixteen and already every inch a serious, methodical man. There was always a reason, he knew. Ernie tried hard not to take it personally.
Besides, Lav had wanted bigger and better things since the day she was born, running rampant over Ernie and Alice, wriggling her way out of her chores with well-placed pleads and a single bat of her eyelashes. There was never a question of Lav leaving.
Maybe, though, Ernie hadn’t expected to lose her all at once, like someone had lopped off one of his arms. Lavender had been a phantom itch for years, always at the back of his mind but never actually there.
Maybe Ernie hadn’t ever really expected he’d see her again, either, and maybe the euphoria he felt well over him every morning when he woke to her bright eyes was like the drugged up effect after having a limb reattached. Maybe he knew that sooner or later his wound was going to start throbbing.
Ernie knew things often got worse before they got fully better.
Lav caught his chin and wagged his head back and forth. “I don’t recall you ever being this melancholy before. You have to keep me entertained, you know, or I’m liable to leave.”
She was joking - Ernie saw the mirth in her hazel-brown eyes – but the words still hurt, and he flinched back.
“Oh god, bad taste,” she grimaced. “Ernie. Ernie, god, this, you. It’s what I need. Even if I.” She rolled her wrist in the air. “Even if I go back, I’m not losing you again.” Narrowing her eyes, studying his face intently, Lav slipped her palm against his. “All right?”
Ernie honestly hadn’t thought he was lonely until she’d turned up on his doorstep the month before, five suitcases piled behind her and the red taillights of the taxi winking through the rain as it drove away. He thought maybe he’d follow her if she ever went back, and wasn’t that pathetic? He gave her a slow smile anyhow, though, and nodded. “Yeah, all right.”
The blond stranger knocked on his door around suppertime one night. He was slick and polished and made Ernie feel clumsy with his own thick muscles, and Ernie had never been clumsy. His mum had taught him to ride when he was five, and she’d told him he could be graceful at anything if he learned to sit a horse right. Rolling with the movement, she’d said. Easy elegance.
Still. Mastering the art of sauntering, as Lav had always teased him, wasn’t anything like the purposeful, confident stance of the slim man in front of him.
“Theodore Nott,” he said, holding out a narrow hand. “I’m looking for Miss Brown? I was told I could find her here.”
“Told by whom?” Ernie asked gruffly, ignoring the proffered hand and looming forward a bit. They were of like height, but Ernie was considerably broader. He rarely used his size to his advantage, but anyone sniffing around Lav, especially someone so obviously from the city, put him on edge.
“No need to get your fur ruffled, pup,” the man drawled, and he seemed highly amused by Ernie’s attempt at intimidation.
“Theodore,” Lav said from behind him, and her tight tone made Ernie even more alert. “What are you doing here?”
Ernie curled his large hands into fists, making sure the bloke noticed the motion.
Sparing a bare, calculating glance for Ernie, Nott craned his neck around him with a double-edged grin. “Lavender, darling, you disappeared on me. That wasn’t very nice now, was it?”
“Theodore, I don’t want to talk to you.” Lavender stepped closer to Ernie, but the bigger man noted that it wasn’t in fear. She was clearly agitated and… amused?
The man tsked, shaking his head. “You can’t hide out in this backwoods shack forever, love.”
Ernie stiffened at the derogatory mention of his home, but Lav placed a placating hand on his shoulder blade and he settled into his legs, contained but ready to strangle the prick if Lav ever gave him leave.
“Your guard dog’s a bit high-strung,” Nott smirked, eyeing him up and down.
Lavender scowled at him. “Nott. Now.” She jabbed a finger past Ernie and towards the black limo idling in his driveway.
He arched his brows, and his green irises were strangely serious. “I’ll be back.”
“Yeah, I know,” Lav answered with a sigh. She didn’t offer Ernie any explanations as they watched the limo roll away, gravel crunching under its tires, and Ernie didn’t ask for one.
Later, though, she glanced up from her book, curled in front of the low-banked fire - it was early spring yet, the nights still chilly – and said, “He was – is – a friend.”
“From London,” Ernie said slowly, pen poised over his figures. The flower shop in town was doing fine, finally in the black, and he kept scrupulous notes of what strains did best with the locals and tourists that passed through during the spring and summer months.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Okay.” Ernie didn’t think he had to tell her that he thought anyone from her old life, anyone who’d helped put that emptiness in her eyes, wasn’t worth spit.
Bug was a lazy gelding, and Ernie had long ago stopped trying to get him to stop chewing anything within reach of his teeth when he walked him along the back trails. Neither of them was ever in any sort of hurry anyway. The clop of Bug’s unshod hoofs along the rocky ground was soothing, and Ernie tilted his head back, breathing in the earthy smell of his freshly turned perennial plot as they made their way slowly to the clapboard barn at the back of the house.
His feet barely touched the ground before a deep voice called out with ringing amusement, “Just a true country mutt, eh?”
Ernie didn’t start, just slipped his cap off and slapped it on his thigh, a small cloud of dust floating off of it. “Lav said she didn’t want to see you. I suggest you leave, Nott.”
“Two sentences!” Nott leant negligently on the small paddock fence. “Can you read and write as well?”
Ernie swallowed a growl and strode towards the blond man, Bug’s reins loose in his fingers. “Get off my property.”
Nott cocked his head to the side, gazing at him curiously. “Are you the hero in this farce, then? Look, Macmillan, I’m hardly the villain here.” He curled a lip up in distaste. “Black completely washes me out.”
Ernie glared at him.
“Yes, well,” he cleared his throat, and Ernie had the satisfaction of having knocked him slightly off kilter, “I’ll just go up to the house and check on Lavender, shall I?”
He didn’t give Ernie time to answer, and with Bug still tacked up and mouth reaching for his small patch of mint, he couldn’t immediately follow. So he rushed through his normally relaxing routine of brushing the bay down, released him into the paddock with a small bucket of oats as a treat, and then headed up to the house.
He caught the tail end of an argument, Nott’s voice low but unthreatening. “—can’t just leave like that! Do you have any idea how many calls I’ve gotten, how much more you’re in demand after the Patil case—”
“Parvati was my friend, Theodore,” she cut in reproachfully. “I thought you were, too.”
“I am, Lavender, I am,” Nott’s voice was threaded with frustration. “I just—”
“Like making money off me more,” she finished for him, not unkindly, “I understand.”
“No. No, that’s not—”
“I think you should leave,” Ernie said, stepping up onto the porch and crossing his arms over his chest.
Nott hesitated in the doorway. He sliced his gaze from Ernie back to Lav. “I’m a bastard,” he said finally. “I’ve always been a bastard! You’ve known this from the very beginning, so you can’t hold it against me now—”
“I’m not,” Lav said softly. “Theodore, I’m not.” She curled her hand over his arm and urged him outside, past the doorframe. “I just can’t do this anymore.”
Later that night, Lav offered, “He’s in PR.”
“Ah,” Ernie nodded in understanding. That was why the man wanted Lav to go back so badly. She’d been high-profile, certainly, despite any attempts by the police to downplay her assistance.
“Do you know,” Lav started slowly, and Lav hardly ever did anything slow, so Ernie leant forward on his knees and gave her all his deliberate attention, “why we left, why my parents took me away?”
‘Of course I don’t,’ Ernie wanted to snap, wanted to make Lav flinch with shame for even asking that sort of question, but he knew she’d merely said it to set up whatever explanation she was going to finally give him, and Ernie desperately wanted that. He hadn’t realized how much he desperately wanted that until then.
“Of course you don’t,” Lav sighed, unwittingly echoing his thoughts. The firelight burnished her hair, shadowing her eyes and the curve under her jaw. “I told them about Milt.”
“You.” Ernie blinked at her incredulously. “You told them about Milt?”
“Well, the idea of Milt. And… everything else.” She shrugged, gaze fixed on the fire. “It just sort of slipped out, and they completely freaked, Ernie. You have no idea. They thought. They thought it was the house. The area. You.” Her eyes were watery when she turned to look at him, pooling gold.
Ernie had been in on Lav’s secret from the very start. As soon as they’d learned to talk she’d told him about Milt, about the man – the ghost, they finally realized - that lived in her bedroom closet, about how she could find… missing things. How she knew what would happen before it actually did.
Divining. She knew what and who would go missing, knew where they would be, all from random flashes and, god, that’d been tough on her. To know, sometimes, and not be able to do anything about it.
“It wasn’t, though,” Ernie said thickly. Of course it wasn’t. She’d been working in tandem with the police for years, he knew from newspapers and the telly, to find missing persons, to protect people before they even went missing. He couldn’t begin to imagine what she’d seen in her head, what horrors had awaited certain victims, what she’d had to describe out loud and somehow make real.
She smiled at him. “This is the only place I’ve ever really been normal. Ernie,” she reached over and threaded her fingers through his, “I’ll have to go back eventually.”
“No,” she interrupted, “not because of Theodore. But he’s right, you know. I can’t hide out here forever.” She took a deep breath. “As badly as I might want to.”
“You don’t owe anyone anything.”
“That’s not so much an issue,” she said, getting to her feet, and her eyes had that slightly out of focus glaze, an unseeing inward look, and Ernie knew she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she ignored the signs somehow being sent to her. It was more than a job. “Excuse me; I have to make a call.”
The next time Nott visited the Macmillan farmhouse, Ernie was on his knees in the rose garden, wrist deep in manure.
“You’re being selfish,” Nott said without preamble, and Ernie looked up at him, one hand cupped over his eyes to block the sun, smearing fertilizer over his brow. He was backlit, a white-gold glow haloing his perfectly-parted hair, skin tanned under light-beige linen.
“How am I being selfish?” Ernie puzzled.
He waved a hand, stepping back as Ernie gained his feet. “You obviously don’t want her to leave, and she’s not going to go unless you let her. You’re like. the grand love affair of her life.”
Ernie un-tucked a rag out of his back pocket, smoothing the worst of the manure off his palms. “She tell you that?”
“She didn’t have to. The amount of puppy eyes being thrown between you two is enough to make a sweet-maker vomit.”
Ernie chuckled. “Nott, you’re.” He shook his head. “I’m not keeping her here. I didn’t make her come home, and I can’t ask her to stay.” He wasn’t going to offer up Lav’s previous words, wasn’t going to make this easy on the man. Lav would let him know in her own due time. “Come on,” he said, “it’s almost time for supper.”
Surprise registered in Nott’s gaze for a moment before giving way to disgust. “You’re going to hose off first, aren’t you?”
“I’ll do one better and shower,” he grinned, “just for you.”
The door protested with a loud, obnoxious creak when Lav pushed it open, and Ernie felt clandestine and daring as they slipped inside the dim, dust- and cobweb-ridden foyer.
Which was kind of stupid, considering they’d had a key and Lav’s family still owned the neglected property. Still, Lav giggled and made a shushing motion and shut the door quietly behind them. He breathed in deeply, closing his eyes and listening to the settle and sigh of the manor. It’d been a Brown house nearly as long as the neighboring plot had been owned by Macmillans, and something eased perceptively around them, as if the building had been waiting for Lav to come home.
“It’s not that bad,” Ernie said, keeping his voice a whisper.
“Nothing a bulldozer couldn’t fix,” she rejoined, but she was joking, tossing him a teasing glance, and she ran her hand over the knobby end of the balustrade, the wood carved into a curling maple leaf.
Ernie cut his gaze across the foyer, looking off into the empty side-parlor, mind rolling back glimpses of bright laughter and loud games of war that more often than not had degenerated into chastisement from the elder Browns. “You could clean it up,” he said, and Lav was halfway up the stairs, grinning down at him.
He stuffed his hands into his pockets. “I could help.”
“You’re wasting your time.”
Ernie recognized the voice and didn’t bother answering, just slammed the nail home on the shutter and pulled another one out of the bag at his belt.
There was a breathy huff, and then Nott shouted up, “Where’s Lavender?”
“In town.” Finished, Ernie slowly made his way down the ladder, dropping the last few feet with a soft ‘oof.’ When he glanced up, Nott was looking at him funny, mouth slightly open and eyes alight with curious interest. Ernie thought the bloke might’ve been checking him out. For some reason, the thought made him nervous. “What can I do for you, Nott?”
“What’s the point of all this?” he demanded. “We both know she’s going to end up coming back with me.”
A thread of anger spiked through Ernie, even though he knew Nott was right. The git didn’t have to put it so baldly, didn’t have to make it seem as if Lav was choosing Nott over him. “If she goes back,” if, if, he told himself, but the lie didn’t make him feel any better, “it won’t be with you.”
Nott sneered. “Are you going to follow her? Lost, kicked puppy trailing after his mistress? You wouldn’t last one minute out there.” He lashed his hand out, curling it around the front of Ernie’s sweat-soaked tee and reeling him in. “God, Macmillan, you’d be snapped up so quick, ridden hard and thrown away before you could blink.”
Ernie gazed at him with wide-eyes, unsure of what the hell Nott was talking about, but getting the gist of the man’s intentions, their mouths so close together they were breathing in each others’ breaths.
And then Lav rounded the corner and Nott jerked away.
Nott sent Ernie a warning glare, then stalked over and grabbed Lav’s arm. “Detective Granger’s rung me,” he said. “They’ve three guards on that little girl, but they’d feel better if you came by in person.”
“I can’t.” She shook her head. “Not now. There’s nothing more I can do anyway.”
Nott threw his hands up in impatience. “This isn’t. I’m not doing this for money, you know. Surprising as this may seem, I actually want you back for them. You can’t do half as much here as you can—”
“I’m not ready yet,” she cut in quietly.
Nott snapped his mouth shut. Then said, “But you will be,” gaze darting to Ernie and back to Lav again.
“Yeah, Theodore,” she said firmly. “I will be.”
The words shouldn’t have broken Ernie’s heart. He expected a pang, a slice of pain, but the image of his empty house, of Lav’s empty house, newly fixed up and dusted off and begging for an occupant, made him want to cry. But it was purely selfish, and Ernie wasn’t going to hold Lav back.
“You can ask me to stay,” Lav said later on by the unlit hearth, where all the words she bottled up during the day inevitably came pouring out.
He thought back to that day in the rose garden, when Nott thought he and Lav were in love, when Nott accused him of keeping Lav all to himself, and said, “No. I can’t.”
She sighed and stood up, walking behind him to wrap her arms around his shoulders, dipping her head down to press a kiss to his cheek. “That’s why I love you,” she murmured.
By midsummer, the Brown manor was livable, clean and patched, if still devoid of anything but the basic furnishings. Ernie sprawled out on the dilapidated porch next to Lav, a glass of water cooling in his hand.
“I’ll be home for Christmas,” she said suddenly, and Ernie knew that was her stilted way of saying she was leaving, that it was time.
He still entertained the idea of following her, despite its impracticalness. “You better.”
She toyed with the hem of her t-shirt. “Theodore’ll stop pestering you at least.”
Ernie nodded. Odd that he thought he’d miss Nott’s sporadic visits. After that one, tense moment between them, Nott had been coolly distant and somewhat creepily polite.
“He.” She opened and closed her mouth a few times, then grinned wryly down at the wooden planks by her feet. “He thinks we’re lovers, you know.”
She shrugged. “I wasn’t sure what you wanted me to tell him.” Lifting her gaze, she pinned him with clear, warm eyes.
“You’ve Seen something, haven’t you?” he asked, and he wasn’t entirely sure he really wanted to know.
Lav patted his hand. “He’s not a very happy man, Ern,” she said cryptically.
Ernie rocked back in his chair, watching the sun slowly melt into purples and blues and oranges at the horizon. Yeah, well, he thought, neither am I.
The week after Lav left, Ernie adopted a dog. A big fluffy mixed breed with liquid brown eyes and a lolling tongue that left slobber on everything and liked sleeping at the end of his bed.
He spent his days alternating between his garden upkeep, taking care of Lav’s house – he felt he had a right to it, now – and working in town at the flower shop.
They didn’t really need him there. He’d always just dropped off flowers and vegetables in the morning, then left the actual selling to his small but loyal staff. Dennis and Colin gave him odd looks when he started hanging around, lurking restlessly in the background and shifting displays of flowers around the store. He was generally being a nuisance, he knew, but the Creevey boys were polite enough not to mention it.
At home in the afternoons, he sometimes lingered in Bug’s field, back hitched up against the fence, open book unread in his lap. Sometimes he sat on Lav’s porch, commiserating loneliness with the old manor, Seamus, the shaggy pup, at his feet.
Doc Weasley showed up sometime in September, right when the leaves were turning, for Bug’s yearly. “Gum?” he offered, holding out the pack after taking a piece for himself. He always claimed the mint scent broken from his chewing soothed the animal’s nerves.
“No thanks, Charlie.”
“How’s he doing?” he asked, but his eyes were on Ernie.
Ernie shrugged, and Charlie knelt down to smooth his palms over Bug’s forelegs, crooning softly to the horse. Palming a pick and lifting a hoof, he said finally, “Mum’s worried about you.”
“Your mum worries about the whole town,” Ernie retorted fondly.
Charlie looked up at him through red-gold lashes. “She wants you over for dinner tomorrow.”
“Tell her thanks but—”
“But you have no intention of coming.” Charlie shook his head. “You weren’t this bad when Lavender left before.”
Ernie refused to meet Charlie’s eyes, staring resolutely at Bug and reaching out a hand to pat the gelding’s neck. “I had Mum and Dad before. And Alice.”
Silence. Then Charlie straightened up and ran his hand over Bug’s hide, fingertips coming dangerously close to Ernie’s. “It wasn’t your fault,” he said softly.
In his late teens, Ernie’d had a very brief rebellious period. It hadn’t ended well. He shrugged. “Alice thinks it was.” And, really, that’s all that mattered.
Charlie shook his head again, but finished up with Bug quickly enough. Ernie whistled for Seamus after he waved the doc off, and they set out for Lav’s place to watch the setting sun. He’d always thought sundown was prettiest in the early fall, summer still clinging stubbornly to young saplings, old oaks awash in reds and golds and browns.
Nott was at his door three days into October, blond hair slightly longer than it’d been before, just brushing the tops of his ears, and his eyes reflected the dark green of his thick jumper.
“What are you doing here?” Ernie asked, not bothering to hide his surprise.
“Lavender sent me.” He had a slightly mutinous expression, arms crossed over his chest as he stood with parted legs on his front stoop.
Ernie blinked. “Why?”
Nott sighed irritably. “I have no idea, but I’ve learned to take Lavender’s requests very seriously over the years.” Something in the tightness around his mouth suggested it wasn’t that simple, but Ernie didn’t feel like pushing it, didn’t have the energy for an argument right then.
Plus, he found he was kind of glad for Nott’s presence. It was someone besides himself, at least, someone who didn’t care how hard he was taking Lav’s absence, who didn’t want to make sure he was eating right and sleeping okay and not contemplating offing himself. He wasn’t, of course, on all accounts. “You staying at Lav’s, then?”
Nott rocked back on his heels. “Yes.”
The lull in conversation was awkward, but Ernie stepped aside and gestured towards the open doorway. “Want to…?”
“Actually, I’m going to go settle in.” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “Just thought I’d let you know I was here.”
Ernie bobbed his head. “Yeah. Okay.” And then he added, “I’ll probably be over later.”
Nott’s brows rose questioningly.
“Seamus and I spend our evenings on her porch. If that’s all right?” He figured it was polite to ask, even though Ernie was probably more welcome there than Nott.
“Of course,” the blond said hastily.
Ernie rang Lav the instant Nott was out of his sight, but she didn’t pick up her phone. “Lav,” he said into her voice mail, “what are you up to?”
The dog barked when the door behind them opened.
“Seamus?” Nott queried, eyeing the canine warily.
Ernie laughed. “He’s not going to bite. Just push him away if he gets too nosy.”
“He’s new, isn’t he? Don’t recall anything besides the horse before.” He settled down in a rocker off to Ernie’s right.
“Yeah.” The sun inched lower, red spreading across the tree line. They sat there in silence for a while, almost companionable as their chairs rocked counterpoint to each other, floorboards creaking rhythmically. Finally, Ernie said, “So. Lav thinks I need a keeper.” It wasn’t a question, but he could see Nott shaking his head from the corner of his eye.
“You don’t need a keeper, Macmillan,” he drawled, and Ernie turned to watch him, watch his gaze heat up as their eyes caught and held. “You probably just need to get laid.”
Ernie started at the bare words. “What?”
Smirking, Nott got up, lean body stretching, breath a visible puff in the chilled evening air. He slid his hand down Ernie’s arm as he passed, a skimmed caress, and then he shut the door softly behind him when he went inside. He left the porch light on, and Ernie sat there staring into the twilight until the crickets drowned out Seamus’ whiffing snores.
Ernie started avoiding the Brown manor. He told himself it wasn’t because of Nott, but he really didn’t believe it. He worked diligently in his two heated greenhouses, though, and coaxed his mums to stay in full bloom. It was important work. The shop needed mums.
“You’re making this difficult, you know.”
Ernie dropped his head forward onto the lip of a large camellia pot. “Go away, Nott,” he muttered.
“See, that’s exactly what I meant. Difficult.”
“Seriously,” Ernie said. “Leave.”
Nott hopped up on his workbench with a careless disregard for his beige cords. “Do you blame me for Lavender leaving?”
“No,” Ernie automatically protested, then backtracked with a nod. “Maybe. Maybe she wouldn’t have thought to go back, if you hadn’t…” He trailed off, Nott’s single arched brow articulating how much stupidity they both knew was couched in that maybe. Lav would’ve gone back regardless, eventually.
Nott’s fingers played with a dead calla lily leaf, flicking it over the corded cotton of his trousers. “I met her at a party five years ago. She was doing parlor tricks, reading palms, making people feel comfortable with her work.” He leant back, resting his elbows on the wide table and tipping his head back to stare up at the angled glass ceiling. “She slid her hand into mine and told me my brother would be docking at Torquay two days later aboard the S.S. Darcy May.” Pinning eerie green eyes on Ernie, he went on, “My brother, Phillip. He’d been stolen from our home when I was eight and he was barely two. My father cried when we found him. My mother smiles again. I owe Lavender everything.”
“How do you know it’s really him?” Ernie asked thickly.
Nott shrugged with a laugh, drawing a leg up to dangle a hand over his knee. “Other than the fact that he looks exactly like Father? Well. There were paternity tests, of course.”
“Though I doubt it would have mattered at that point.”
Ernie nodded thoughtfully, then went back to repotting the smaller camellias.
“Your turn,” Nott prompted testily.
He didn’t glance up. “For what?”
“We’re sharing here. Heart-felt story. Go.” Nott snapped his fingers at him and Ernie swallowed a laugh, because demanding a heart-felt story was so entirely Theodore and he kind of found that endearing.
“Lav never helped me find anything as important as a brother,” Ernie said slowly, getting to his feet.
“Did I say it had to be a Lavender story? You’re a terrible conversationalist, Macmillan.”
Ernie bowed his head slightly in agreement. He clenched his jaw, staring down at his hands, studying the dirt packed under his fingernails. “My parents died about a year after Lav left.”
“Well, that’s hardly heart-felt, Macmillan,” Nott pointed out harshly. “That’s bloody depressing.”
Ernie lifted one shoulder, thankful for the blond’s brisk attitude. “It’s all I’ve got. They died and my sister never forgave me, and now she’s a dancer in London. If I’m lucky she rings on Christmas.”
“Why was it your fault?”
Ernie blinked over at him.
“Why did your sister blame you? Why was it your fault?”
“I. They.” He stuttered in the wake of Nott’s agitated questions. “They were picking me up. I’d had too much to drink, and rang—”
“So you were being responsible, and not driving your own auto and, what? It was pouring out? The road was flooded?” He gave Ernie a disgusted sneer. “You shot out their tires?”
“No. No,” he shook his head, “the night was clear. They think it was a deer. Something in the road.”
Nott stared at him for a few moments, then slipped down off the workbench, brushing off his trousers. “You are an idiot. Really. I mean,” he pressed his fingertips above his right eye, “I have to go.”
And then he was gone. And it wasn’t the first time that someone had left after he’d poured out a little bit of his heart, but he was fairly certain it was the first time someone had left because they thought he was an idiot.
The first snow came early, and Ernie shifted in Bug’s saddle, blinking the soft flakes off his eyelashes, licking the melted drops off his chapped lips.
The woods were hushed, life banked and sleepy. Ernie walked Bug the long way home, down the path towards Lav’s and then circling back around the front of his house. Nott was huddled on the front steps, winter cap pulled almost over his eyes, thick down jacket making him seem comically plump, mittened hands cupped over drawn-up knees, making him look like a petulant twelve year old.
He shouted, “Wouldn’t say no to some tea,” as Ernie passed, heading back to the stable.
It was almost routine at that point. Nott would stop by for tea, and they would both pretend he hadn’t called him an idiot, and Ernie would admit to himself that he enjoyed the blond’s presence, and they would talk about everything and nothing and Nott would leave just after the sun sank down beneath the Macmillan tree line.
Still. Over the kettle at his kitchen table, Ernie asked, half-resigned, “What are you still doing here, Nott?”
“Lavender told me you needed a happy ending,” he drawled, eyes twinkling, hardly missing a beat.
Ernie snorted. “And are you my fairy godfather? No, really,” he narrowed his gaze on Nott, face stony, “why are you still here?”
“I like you, Macmillan. Isn’t that enough?”
It was impossible to tell if Nott was being truthful, his expression guarded. But the lack of teasing was uncharacteristic, and Ernie answered cautiously with, “For you, probably not.”
With deliberate movements and a flash of teeth, Nott rose and circled to Ernie’s side, catching his arm and slowly maneuvering him from his chair, slowly insinuating himself against Ernie’s body, chests touching at equal points, noses level, lips inches apart. “Ever been with a man, Ernie?” he whispered, and before Ernie could stutter that he’d barely even been with a woman, Nott tilted his head and slid a sly tongue over the seam of Ernie’s mouth.
The words caught and crumbled in his dry throat.
“Lavender told me you needed a happy ending,” Nott said again, hot breath ghosting past his cheek to tickle his ear.
Ernie shivered and brought his hands up, fingers scrambling for something solid to hold on to, ending up with fistfuls of Nott’s heavy jumper.
“She told me I needed one, too.”
Seamus went insane when Lav showed up two days before Christmas, groveling at her feet with low-pitched whines, tail thumping against the doorframe, knocking over the front hall lamp.
“You didn’t tell me you’d gotten a monster,” Lav joked, dropping her bags to cage the pup’s large head with her hands.
“Want him? He’s free,” Theodore called out from the den.
Ernie rolled his eyes and brought Lav in for a tight hug. She looked good. She looked harried and ready for a break, but she honestly looked good. “Happy Christmas, Lav,” he murmured.
She leant back in the circle of his arms, reaching up to cup his chin and fit their gazes together, and Ernie tried to convey everything he felt into his smile. Her own answering grin was slow, delighted and so wide her eyes crinkled up at the edges, and Ernie knew Lav looked good because she had this home to come back to now, had him, had Theodore.
“Happy Christmas, Ern,” she said, still grinning. “Happy Christmas.”
The Happy End.