There are eyes on my ceiling, Azira thought numbly. He blinked twice and the rest of the image came into focus.
"Good morning sleepyhead!" yelled Ralph, right in his face, before sitting on his bed with a dopey grin.
Azira groaned and rolled over, burying his face into the pillow. Normally he could patiently cope with his older brother's annoying wake up calls, but today his thoughts were slow and muzzy, and despite the warmth of his duvet he was shaking. Actually, it was rather too warm, he realized. And that meant…
Azira groaned and rolled back to face his brother again. "Ralph," he moaned, "Get my phone; I need to call in sick from work."
"Nonsense!" Ralph said, bouncing up and down slightly. He reached out a hand and swept back sweaty strands of Azira's pale blonde hair so he could feel his forehead. "You're as fit as – Jesus!" Ralph yanked his hand back and shook it.
"As fit as Jesus?" Azira repeated wryly. "Far from –" As if to prove his point, he gave a hacking cough.
Ralph just shook his head. "You're burning up," he said. "Don't worry – I'll call in for you," he called as he left the room.
Azira buried himself down under the blankets again and tried not to throw up. As kind as his brother was, Ralph would not be able to resist teasing him for such weakness. Azira was the youngest of six brothers – Michael, Gabriel, Yuri, Casper, Ralph and himself – making himself the baby of the family, and by far the most feminine. His chosen profession of librarian didn't help build his masculinity in their eyes either. He tried to be tough and therefore avoided all things weak; being sick in any way was certainly on that list. The only thing he was grateful for was that none of his brothers were visiting. Ralph, whom he lived with, was only a year or so his senior, and was the most sympathetic.
Said brother had entered the room again without Azira's notice. "I explained how bad you were, and they said to take the next few days off," he said. "Apparently you've been working overtime as well," he added with a tut. "Zira, Zira, Zira, when will you learn?"
"Go away." Azira's voice was muffled by the blankets over his head, only his pale blue eyes showing. "Let me die in peace."
"Drama queen," Ralph laughed. "Okay, can you survive on your own for a day? I don't want to fob off work – the grade eights are burning things today," he added, trying his best at an evil cackle. It didn't really work, seeing as the person in question had bed hair and was wearing a Pokémon t-shirt.
"But who will fluff me pillows and feed me grapes?" Azira replied sarcastically. Ralph, as usual, seemed impervious to his sarcasm.
"I could call Mike if you want…" He grinned at the look of horror on Azira's face at the mention of their eldest brother.
"On second thoughts, I think I'll be fine," he said with a shudder. "Don't you have somewhere to be?" he asked. "Do the words 'science teacher' mean anything to you?"
Ralph checked his watch. "Speaking of which, school's starting soon. I'll see you later, if you're not dead." He left the room quickly, eager to get away from his sickly brother.
"Ralph!" Azira called. "One more thing!"
Ralph poked his head around the door. "Your wish is my command, little bro," he said, grinning.
"Could you get me a bucket?"
Ralph headed home at recess, as he had a period without teaching afterwards. Also, knowing Azira, he would be up and trying to trick himself into thinking he was fine again. Sure enough, when he unlocked the door and entered the lounge room, Azira was sitting on the sofa with a mug of tea. At least the idiot had enough sense to keep the blanket around him, Ralph thought while rolling his eyes.
"Azira," he said evenly, "what are you doing out of bed?"
His brother gave a weak smile. "I'm fine, really! It must have been a two hour thing, or something," he said.
"You're shaking so much that your tea is spilling," Ralph said with an exasperated sigh. "Go on, mush! Back to bed!" he said, pulling Azira up and pushing him back to the bedroom.
"But I want to do something," he whined.
"No you don't," Ralph said firmly as he sat Azira on the bed and tucked the blankets around him. "You want to stay in bed and drink from a thermos of tea, and read your favourite books over and over again."
"That does sound nice," he said dreamily. Ralph had barely taken the mug off him when his eyes rolled back and he fell onto the pillow, breathing quietly.
Ralph smiled and went to the kitchen, making his promised thermos of tea and then collecting Azira's most read book off their shelves. He put all the items down on the bedside table and then left, leaving Azira snoring in the house behind him.
The next day saw Azira up and out of bed, properly fine this time, and trying to convince his brother of that fact.
"Really! Check my forehead, I'm fine!" Azira said, grabbing Ralph's hand and holding it against his own forehead. Ralph rolled his eyes.
"Okay, I believe you," he said grudgingly. "But your library still said to take at least three days off, and something tells me they won't be as understanding as I am."
Azira sulked around the kitchen while his brother finished his breakfast, slowly drinking tea out of his favourite chipped pale blue mug. Ralph, long since accustomed to Azira's moods, said nothing. As he was about to walk out the door after a quick goodbye, he paused and looked back.
"This could be a good opportunity for you, Azira," he said thoughtfully. "How many friends do you have outside of work?"
Azira flushed. "I have lots of friends outside the library!" he said defensively.
"Name one!" Ralph challenged.
Azira opened his mouth, then paused. "Lucy," he said firmly.
Ralph rolled his eyes. "When was the last time you talked to Lucy?" he said incredulously. Azira and Lucy had indeed once been good friends, but even Azira couldn't dismiss her carelessly breaking his brother Gabriel's heart.
"Fine," Azira said grumpily. "Uh…" He thought for a moment, and then smiled. "I can name two!" he said triumphantly. "Samuel and Zach!"
Ralph burst out laughed. "You wish they were your friends!" he said, still chuckling. Samuel and Zach were their brother Gabriel's two best friends, both of whom Azira idolized. Ralph doubted that Azira had said more than five words to either of them.
Azira sighed in defeat. "Okay, so I don't know anyone outside of work," he snapped. "What are you suggesting?"
"I'm suggesting, dear brother, that you get out there and start making some completely social friends!" Ralph said. "If you 'want to do something', as you put it yesterday…" Ralph grinned. "You might even do someone," he added slyly.
Azira looked at him with wide eyes. "I – you – Ralph – I don't have time for something like that!" he spluttered. Ralph rolled his eyes.
"I'm only saying," he muttered.
"Then don't!" Azira looked at his own watch and then pushed Ralph out of the doorway. "We've been standing here gossiping too long – school's almost starting! Go, now!"
"Remember what I said!" Ralph called back over his shoulder before swinging into his car and driving off.
Azira stood still for a moment and breathed slowly. Then, opening his eyes with a new determination, he headed inside to get dressed for a brave new day.
27 minutes later, Azira stepped out into the frost-bitten world wearing his favourite camel hair coat and pale blue scarf and started walking.
It only took fifteen or so minutes for him to reach the busy main street of their London suburb, and fifteen or so minutes for him to realize he had no idea how to make new friends. He almost gave up then and there; and he would have too, would have let his shoulders slump in defeat and turn around to head back home and curl up on the sofa with a good book… if he hadn't smelt the delicious scent of tea drifting towards him from a briefly open door.
Drawn to the little store like a moth to a flame, he reached the door in seconds and pulled it open. A rush of warm air and the tinkle of a bell greeted him, along with a much stronger version of the tempting smell.
Well, he thought, I might as well.
He headed to the counter and ordered a small black tea, then headed to a corner booth to enjoy it. He took a tentative sip, and then sighed in appreciation, opening the newspaper that had been left on the table. If the day was a loss on making friends, then at least he would have got something good out of it – a place to relax and simply enjoy good tea. But it was still a shame that he wouldn't meet anyone new today.
And that was when a man burst into the coffee shop, looked around frantically, and dived into the booth Azira was sitting in.
"What?" Azira said, confused.
"Hide me," the man hissed, and ducked beneath the table.
A second later the bell jangled as the door was slammed open by a thin dark haired woman with a pinched expression. Azira shrunk back in his booth, grateful that he had chosen a booth shrouded in shadows. He had recognized the woman as Lucy, his brother's ex-girlfriend, and wondered if she was chasing the man currently hiding under his table. A second later he mentally slapped his forehead. Of course she was after the man. Azira didn't blame him – Lucy could be quite the demon when she wasn't putting on her sweet and innocent act to lure in older men.
"Excuse me," Lucy called to the startled barista, her expression and voice trying but not quite succeeding to hide her fury, "have you seen a dark haired man come in here?"
"N-No, miss," the barista said hesitantly, then with growing confidence, "but if he shows up anytime soon, I'll be sure to call you back in."
Lucy stood for a moment, deciding whether he was lying or not, before coming to a decision. Breathing out suddenly, she turned on her heel, and with a call of "See that you do," she was gone.
Azira watched all this, and then decided that when he left, he would give the barista a good tip for bravery.
The hiding man slowly raised his sunglass-encased eyes above the table, and when he was sure Lucy had gone, he fully stood and then slumped onto the seat next to Azira. "Thank you," he rasped.
Azira smiled. "No problem," he replied. And it really was no problem. He stuck out a hand. "I'm Azira, Azira Fell," he said.
The man gave a genuine smile and shook his hand. "Anthony, but I go by my last name, Crowley," he said.
Crowley, as it were, had very dark brown hair, almost black, and Azira could see over his sunglasses that he had odd pale brown eyes, almost yellow in colour. His hand felt rough and calloused in his. Azira placed his accent as something of a mix between American and British.
"So, Azira," Crowley said, relaxing back into his seat. "What's with the girl's name?"
Azira flushed. "My parents were hoping for a girl," he murmured. "After five boys, you tend to want something different."
"Five brothers? Damn," Crowley laughed. "I wouldn't know 'bout that – I'm an only child," he explained, flashing a surprisingly charming grin.
Azira felt himself blush even further, and changed the subject. "What did you do to get Lucy so angry?" he asked.
Crowley looked up in surprise. "You know Lucy?" he asked. "You don't seem the type to get involve with a she-devil like her," he added.
"My second oldest brother got involved with her for a while," Azira said. "I used to be her friend. Obviously I haven't been since she showed her true colours. And you didn't answer the question," he accused.
Crowley grinned disarmingly. "I play in this band, and Lucy wanted to travel, so she decided that she would sleep with the hottest member to go on tour with us. That member being me," he said, laughing at his own ego. "I refused, and kind of… called her a weasel faced skank."
Azira sat in shock for a moment, eyes wide at his nerve, before bursting into peals of helpless laughter. And a second later, Crowley had joined in.
Minutes later, Azira had finally calmed down enough to wipe his streaming eyes and take a sip of his tea. He grimaced – it had gone cold during the drama Crowley had caused. Crowley saw the grimace and guessed the reason for it. "I need some coffee," he said, edging out of the booth. "You want anything?"
"Oh, don't worry, I'll get it myself," he said hurriedly, also scooting over, but Crowley pushed him back with a hand.
"Leave it – I'll pay," he said firmly. "It's my way of celebrating the band finally getting a tour contract."
Azira obediently sat as Crowley went and got some more drinks. When he returned, Azira gratefully took the tea and inhaled the scent before taking a small sip. For the second time he gave a contented sigh.
"Well, you seem to enjoy your tea," Crowley said with a serious face, voice betraying his amusement.
"I'm British, of course I do," Azira answered, also with a straight face. They sat like that for another second before both cracking smiles. "Speaking of which, I can't seem to place your accent," he said, cradling the paper cup in his hands. "American or English? It's a bit of both."
"Well, I grew up in America, Illinois actually, and I've lived here in London for a few years. Started to pick up your people's lovely accent," he said with one of his charming grins that made him blush for no apparent reason.
"Which band is it that you play for?" Azira asked, leaning back in his seat.
"It's only a little up and coming one, probably never heard of it… 's called Demon Society," Crowley murmured.
Azira sat up. "I've heard a few of your songs," he said casually, then admitted, "The brother I live with, Ralph, he loves that band."
Crowley flushed from the praise. The thought that he looked quite lovely when he did that dropped with no warning into his head, and then slunk out again.
"Yeah, well," Crowley said quietly. They sat in silence for a moment before the familiar beat of 'Another One Bites the Dust' filled the booth. Crowley gave him a quick smile before pulling out his phone pressing the talk button.
"Crowley here," he said shortly.
He listened for a moment, then muttered something like "bless it" under his breath. "Can it wait?" he asked, then winced at whatever the other person said. "Okay, okay. You could have said that in the first place. I'll see you there." He hung up and looked at Azira.
"Sorry," he said, sounding sincere. "Band emergency. Something about moving van people dropping Harry's guitar… anyway, I'll see you around, yeah?" he finished hopefully.
"Yeah," Azira agreed. Crowley went to leave, then turned back and pulled a pen out of his pocket.
"Just a second," he muttered, and grabbed Azira around the wrist. He barely had time to adjust to the warm skin on his – it occurred to him that he had not touched or been touched by anyone other than family in a long time – before Crowley was writing down a string of numbers on his arm. He finished and then smiled at Azira. "There," he said. "Call me sometime and we'll hang out, okay? See you 'round." And with a swirl of black leather jacket he was gone, leaving a stunned Azira in his wake, wondering what had just happened.
EDIT: Uh… sorry to anyone re-reading this (why, why would you want to), but I decided to mark this as complete and discontinue it. It still works as a oneshot. Sorry for anyone hanging out for an update.