On a uneventful Monday afternoon, the first oddity had occurred.
Reilly’s acquaintance – alright, perhaps it was rude of them not to consider them a friend – had not shown up yet for the Strategic Games Club. This was not odd to any of the other club members. As far as Reilly could gather, their…friend, Hayden, was absolutely notorious for showing up for a week and then ditching a month due to ‘boredom’ and a ‘lack of challenge.’
Had Reilly bored Hayden as well? Were they just another form of entertainment, another pawn to pass the time with? The thought eats at their head for a few minutes, burrowing deep into their self esteem.
Then, the door slams open, and oddity number two happens:
Hayden is here, and they’re wearing the most puzzled look Reilly has seen in their life. Reilly attempts to at least wave. Everyone else in the room groans in disappointment. Neither of these are picked up by their friend, who continues forward, marching to the table where Reilly sat.
The last, and final oddity would be the words that come out of their friend’s mouth:
"Reilly. After reevaluating the definition, it has become clear that we’re dating each other."
The groans in the club had turned into curious murmurs. Reilly, on the other hand, had nothing to say. Their mouth opens, closes, then pulls themselves out of their chair, a firm hand placed in their friend’s.
"I need a word with you. Outside."
There’s a tentative nod from Hayden, and that’s enough to allow Reilly to pull them out of the classroom, faint mumbles blocked by the closing door. A heavy sigh follows. "Hayden, I…" there’s a distinct pause. If they were going to get answers, they had to arrange their words correctly: social interaction was not one of their friend’s strong suits.
So they change direction, instead prompting a question. "What is the definition of dating?"
Hayden, who had been vacant, eyes fixated on the door, makes a small peep when Reilly finally speaks. "The definition…" They voice, words trailing off. Reilly would go to prompt the question again, but..
"I learned the definition from Rita. She said that, in dating, people do not act like the movies, but they do take each other out to nice places. They talk about secrets too. Sometimes hold hands. Sometimes more? Rita wasn’t too clear on that."
Reilly is not sure how to reply at first, as they dissect the long winded definition Hayden had kindly put upon them. There is one thing that Reilly knows they have to address, though. "Firstly," they state, "you don’t just date someone. You have to ask permission."
Hayden deflates a little at that. Reilly is honestly glad they do, as harsh as it seemed – before, Hayden was needy and impatient, pulling poor Reilly along impulsively. They still were, but it was refreshing knowing that they understood one thing: bringing people, especially friends, into things without asking their permission was bad.
"And secondly," Reilly adds,"'A lot of those things can be done as friends. Dating is when you want it to be more than friends? That you want to spend your life with them, I suppose. Some even feel sensations only with the person, but it’s different with everyone."
It takes a long time for Hayden to process the information, but when they do, they gasp. "ah, i see…"
Another bout of silence follows. Reilly isn’t sure whether or not they broke the poor soul, who was standing there, staring blankly at them, thinking, thinking, thinking..
And then, Reilly notices how bright their face had gotten. Color dusts on Reilly’s cheeks as well.
"Can…no, should, uhm…" Hayden tries to pull up some sort of coherent sentence, but fails. They try again, but at a different angle.
"…Reilly. Your…..presence makes me feel strange…?" A small hmmmm escapes their lips. "I’ve never felt it like this before. It…do you think…could this feeling be what you are referencing as the sign?" Hayden proposes, quickly lowering their head afterwards. "I..if this is the case, i shall ask for permission, but i am not forcing you."
For permission. Reilly takes those words in, a thousand words readied to reply. But they can’t seem to squeeze out even one word, instead staring at their friend.
Their friend, who of all people, was suggesting that they form a relationship.
"…Hayden." Reilly prompts. Their friend perks up. "I’m willing to test this out. But-" and they point a finger towards them, empathizing the point; "you have to promise that, if this doesn’t work out, you give me the permission to go back to being friends." The request seemed simple enough.
A slow nod follows, confirming.
Several weeks go by.
Unsurprisingly, Hayden finds their way into Reilly’s schedule one way or another. It’s not like anything’s changed, however. They’re still prompted with any 'cool facts’ Hayden finds about fish, or taken out to eat tasty food, or spend time together analyzing the curious mystery that Reilly’s sister’s disappearance had somehow become intertwined with.
They way they do battle in AI is different, though. Hayden’s still reckless, but always seems to make subtle nods, small glances, something to give insight for what they’re going to do. They know that Reilly can back them up, and know they have Reilly’s back as well. Their fights with the youma become smoother and coordinated, making them a reliable duo.
It’s after the battles when Reilly really notices Hayden’s affections. It’s not impossible to say that magic has some effect on their minds – after all, Reilly still didn’t quite understand why they threw themselves so desperately, so tearfully, to convince Hayden that they were useful. They had issues with self esteem, but they never openly showed them like that.
And it’s not to say that Hayden didn’t feel the urges to take hold of Reilly’s hand, or compare them to their favorite sea animals – no, it was clear that their intentions were amplified and made less daunting to take on, rather than fabricated without any rhyme or reason.
Tonight would be another night like this. Hayden absolutely insisted they stayed over tonight, prefaced with a 'but you don’t have to’ despite how forcefully they requested it. Reilly is more than eager to stay, though. And gods, it was times like these where Reilly truly felt the heat rise to their cheeks.
Hayden was explaining yet another fact on sea life – something about sea slugs and how they smell – when they would suddenly position themselves behind Reilly, putting their hands out in front of them. "See, look, you should look…"
Hayden would then promptly bury their head into Reilly’s shoulder.
Subtle. They was always so subtle.
Reilly focuses back on the book Hayden’s presented them. They were shyly pointing out to Reilly their favorite color schemes, propping their head over their shoulder to properly see as well. "It’s a shame that their eyes cannot see pigments," Hayden muses, "because they have a fascinating spectrum of color variations."
Reilly glances to their side, spotting Hayden’s semi-hidden face. Their super subtle, rosy hued face. Reilly can’t help but chuckle. "Are you sure you aren’t showing some color variation? Your face is red."
"But…I’m not a nudibranch?" Hayden retorts, "this is…" They halt their words.
And then a smaller, "oh.." echoes out, and, instinctively or otherwise, brings themselves closer. As if they thought, maybe, just maybe, they could hide themselves and their steamy face from Reilly. It was such a poor plan, but it was such a Hayden thing to do.
It is a success on that end, actually – Reilly could only see the person’s teal mop of hair behind them, burrowing themselves deep into Reilly’s back. but it’s not perfect for both ends.
The position leaves Reilly a bit stuck, and it’s not just because of how Hayden’s interlocked their arms about their chest. There’s another thing keeping them at bay. Something cold, smooth, and surprisingly, not sticky or damp to the touch like they had first assumed.
And to think, for a moment, Reilly had forgotten how inhuman the person they were dating was.
They take a deep breath, exhaling a bit more soundly as they had planned as Hayden would pull them into a gentle embrace. Their movements are slow and careful – almost as if they feared that sudden movement could harm Reilly. Or, maybe they simply didn’t want to tangle themselves up? Hayden did have a fair number of….well, appendages to keep track of.
"You know," Reilly would hum, "If you wanted to cuddle….you could have asked."
Finally, Hayden would surface from behind their back. "I didn’t think i wanted to. But then i got close, and…" Reilly would feel them nuzzle their face against their body once more. "You’re really warm, its been chilly lately."
Their long, ribbon like feelers would also tighten around poor Reilly – there was no way they were escaping their grasp anytime soon, not unless they wanted to wrangle with all six of these peculiar appendages.
Reilly’s smart enough not to try that anyway. Or, at least not again: they did not want to relive the adventure of untangling Hayden’s tied up feelers, especially considering they had also intertwined in some rather uncomfortable places. Now it was something the two of them could laugh about, but at the time, golly, it had certainly made the situation awkward.
At the very least, Reilly did learn two things – the tip of Hayden’s feelers were extremely sensitive to the touch of others. It was no wonder they took such care in wrapping them around Reilly. And the second thing: Hayden had absolutely no interest in the more intimate side of a relationship. Even snuggling together like this, with a very comfy Hayden pressed into Reilly’s back, was 'very close’ and 'a special exception’ to them.
Anything further than that was 'weird’ and 'uncalled for.’ Even the 'please untangle me’ incident was more embarrassing than….well, appealing on any sort of level. Hayden wanted nothing more than to free their poor partner.
Reilly, on the other hand…..well, it’s not impossible to say that they didn’t mind it, in a roundabout way.
And of course, that particular train of thought saturates their face. They idly put a hand to one of Hayden’s many feelers, careful not to stir their companion. In fact, they start to wonder if Hayden’s dosed off – there was an alarming lack of fish facts spouting out of their mouth, and their breathing was slow, relaxed…
They didn’t show it on the surface, but today’s battle had really exhausted them. Hayden was the one doing the attacking, after all – and the youma did put up an impressive fight.
"You did good today," Reilly whispers, bringing one of Hayden’s appendages to their face, softly giving a kiss at the base.
Then Reilly realizes they were kindaaaa still stuck, unfortunately having to wake Hayden from their slumber to properly get out of the tangle of feelers. Though, honestly, the freedom from their grasp doesn’t last long – a half hour later, and the two of them are slumbering together in bed, a clingy Hayden embracing them comfortably with all of their limbs.
At the very least, this time, Reilly’s also comfortably laying in bed, snuggling them just as closely.