Once Ruben and Kaye had decided to move in together, the next question was where, as neither her dorm on campus nor his two-room lägenhet were ideal options. Ruben’s main opinion was Not Texas, as he had no interest in playing neighbours with his dad and stepmom; Kaye had countered that she actually had a healthy relationship with her dads and wanted to stay somewhat close. He had still tried to lure her to Sweden, or at least somewhere in the middle like Germany (which was not a perfect middle but the next best option) with the promise that they could visit any time, but the reality was that he liked both Kaye and her dads enough not to protest.
That was how he ended up offering to start house-hunting across America while she was busy with her courses. He had framed this offer very carefully. Healthcare in America, the country, was both the moral and literal equivalent of a pile of shit, and Ruben figured that with the right combination of luck and skill he should be able to convince her to make their new home literally anywhere else in America, the continent.
No matter where they went, he was still keeping his flat in Skellefteå. There were items in his possession that were probably illegal to have in either version of America. Or just illegal in general, considering some had been pried from the silt of ye olde Dark practitioner Trygve Snorresson’s sunken house off the Norwegian coast and showed signs of being as possessed of themselves as he now possessed them. Ruben couldn’t care less about their legality, but those particular items were already volatile without being taken through cross-continental Apparition - and while he also couldn’t care less about possible explosions, he had no interest in possible explosions near his girlfriend. In sum, no one needed to know about these things, and especially not Kaye. He didn’t normally hide things from her but it didn’t count as hiding when there was no effort involved in simply leaving it behind.
...Besides, as an on-call firefighter, he was legally required to hold an address within the area Jämtland’s very Muggle fire chiefs had set as the maximum perimeter to make it to the county firehall with fifteen minutes’ notice. It definitely didn’t count as hiding if having a local residence was part of his employment contract.
With a mental pat on the back for his sound logic, and then a physical one as he felt his newest tattoo shifting - the sensation would fade as part of the healing process, but for now, his shoulder itched every time the ravens stretched their wings - Ruben spun on his heel. There had been a time when he needed to country-hop to Apparate over the ocean, but over the past few years of dating Kaye long-distance he had built up plenty of stamina (...in more ways than one) and could now go from Sweden to North America in a single trip. Maybe two, if he’d just come off a night shift and/or had several beers. He knew his limits, and his patience for drunkenly dropping an elbow in the Atlantic was not very high.
The older man behind the patio bar looked annoyed by his demand and clumped over too slowly, but he left behind a full glass and a lukewarm plate of wings, so Ruben counted this a win. He doused the entire plate in hot sauce and tipped the stool back to a comfortable lounge, Florida sun warming his bare torso.
Two weeks had passed since he first started scoping out the rental scene in America, the continent. It was taking an annoyingly long time. He’d expected for them to be moved in already, but all that he had accomplished was a list of options he still hadn’t shown her yet, as he kept questioning if he could actually imagine living at any of them: whether styled up like an Ikea catalogue or completely empty, it was hard to walk into a room for rent and picture existing there with Kaye. Ruben was not the type of person who normally questioned things and he was not enjoying how it felt now.
(He had made the mistake of announcing this frustration to his sister; Dagny had laughed so loudly he’d hung up. When she called back, still out of breath, it was to point out that she and Jocke spent two weeks looking at flats in Luleå alone, and if he was trying to find a perfect home in an entire continent he should just start with cemeteries as it would be a lifetime mission. Holes in her logic aside - he had no intention of dying - it had not been a very helpful conversation. In fact it had complicated things more, as cemeteries hadn’t occurred to him, and if there was a nice enough mausoleum sitting empty Kaye might even agree to it.)
But he’d promised to take Kaye on a tour of his shortlist this weekend, so here he was the day before, making some last-minute changes.
His search had begun in Canada, where he spent several days Apparating across various provinces. His shortlist included nothing from the west coast: he’d quickly found the options were either stupidly overpriced apartments or suites shared with next-gen hippies who grew weed in their bathtubs - and okej, he had nothing against weed or hippies, but as roommates? Pfft. Camping with Myffi for a few weeks was a very different thing from living with a whole family of super-Myffis. However, the rest of Canada had made up for it.
The options he would share with Kaye included a main floor apartment in Thunder Bay, which came with an original stone fireplace and curtain rods sturdy enough for chin-ups; a narrow townhouse in the equally narrow capital of “New-Finland” (a deceptive name for a place where everyone sounded vaguely Irish), which was very normal-looking despite being rented out by some kind of mermaid fanatic with bits of glitter stuck in his beard; and a studio in Montréal, which was at the top of his list for Canada, and possibly top overall. It had been an accidental find. He’d decided to drop by La Revanche, the nightclub that fronted an elite underground dueling ring, and through a string of events involving two broken fingers, a leather whip, and a frothing neon drink, had left with a landlord’s number saved in his phone. It was an old angular building that looked rough from the street, but the studio had tall windows with a loft overlooking the living space, and having slipped the lock one night he could confirm it was a nice view to wake up in.
Never one to leave even a scrap of meat behind, Ruben loudly cracked a wing apart with his teeth. There was a mutter of disgust from the over-tanned women sitting farther down the bar, but he was too busy continuing to scroll the list on his phone to do more than roll his eyes and grab another wing - truly a sign of his commitment.
There were several more options he had chosen from America, the country. This was where most of his time had gone, which he actually had expected, because he needed to find some reason to overlook the previously-mentioned piles of shit. He had standards.
Going from west to east had worked out much better for him here than it had in Canada.
The state of California was apparently always on fire, according to “whereiscaliforniaonfire.com”, and he was an expert on fires. There was also the Death Valley National Park, and he was an expert on death. These were both much better than bathtub weed and so an open-plan condo in Fresno was immediately added to his list. He’d then rushed through the centre of the country, skipping all the parts where people liked Bibles and firearms (the least interesting type of fire) more than common sense, and tacked on another option in Detroit largely because it was bordering the land of healthcare. Out of a sense of obligation, he had then looked in the approximate area of Texas as well, and landed on a Santa Fe apartment complex with a pool. Kaye wasn’t a huge swimmer (unless you defined swimming as ‘wearing something very strappy and not getting wet’, which he fully supported for her) and he wasn’t really interested in swimming in pools (tame waters that didn’t even have fish weren’t worth his time). But hey, if she insisted on living near Texas, maybe he would take up swimming laps out of boredom.
While he was in New Mexico - seriously, what was up with naming Canadian provinces or American states as the new versions of actual countries? - he had checked out Actual Mexico as well, and quickly concluded that one or both of them might need to learn Spanish. That wasn’t a deterrent, though, because Hel’s birds, the rent was cheap. Two floors and a huge private balcony overlooking the city for the same price as a box anywhere else? He’d quickly tacked on a glass-fronted condo in Monterrey, then an entire small house in Mérida, both for the price and the fact that he may or may not have heard of a crumbling cursed temple in the Yucatán.
Thinking about curses reminded him of both Holland and Danny for very different reasons and so Ruben pulled over his glass, downing the last third. Florida was only good for rooftop patios, but he might be able to find some luck in Massachusetts. He stacked some coins on the bar and stood up, shirt still swinging from the back pocket of his jeans as he sauntered over to the outdoor stairs, hopped the railing midway down, landed on an empty balcony, and spun on his heel.
The look on Danny’s face was hard to read. To be fair, it was still daylight and Ruben had actually rung the doorbell instead of just appearing on their couch in the dark, so he was probably confused. (He was also still shirtless despite the early spring weather, which should have been enough familiarity for Danny to process his presence, but he’d let it slide. He knew his body could be distracting.)
Ruben repeated the question. “Have you room for another? Or two, but me and Kaye can share. This is a party house, ja? More people means more party.” He grinned, eyebrows waggling.
Danny folded his arms and leaned against the doorframe. He could let Ruben in but then Ruben would be in his house. “Stay for how long?”
“So we can?” Ruben interpreted, grin widening. He pulled out his phone and flipped it open dramatically. “I will tell her to start packing. It won’t be long, only as long as she insists on living in this country. There are not many good options, you know.”
“That wasn’t a ‘yes,’” Danny hastily added. Ruben had stayed overnight before, but it sounded like he was planning on staying a lot longer than one night. “There are five other people living here, who all pay rent,” and who would all need to agree to let someone else stay for more than a couple of nights.
Technically he supposed they could find space for more roommates - Emmett could move into Rose’s room, or Holland could move into Danny’s room, and Dakota’s room was empty most of the year - but Danny didn’t want to live in a room opposite, next to, or below Ruben.
There was a sigh as Ruben clicked his phone shut again. He had no intention of actually living here, but the fact Danny had taken him seriously was fun. “You charge your friends to live with you? They like you that much? But no, it is a good idea. I offer you--” he made a show of patting down skin-tight jean pockets “--well, give me ten minutes and I will bring you all the rabbits in the park. Your competition is eating your bushes.” He pointed at bite marks in the leaves. “Not good for property value.”
Danny gave up trying to figure out what was happening. “Did you want something - a shirt, maybe? - or are we done here?”
“Property value,” he returned immediately. “It means nothing. So how did you choose to live here? I have gone through half this country and most of it is shit.” He stared at Danny expectantly for a moment before throwing him a (sadly metaphorical) bone. “I am looking for a place for us. Not this place, so you can keep your shirts.”
“Holland wanted to live in Boston,” Danny said, relieved, both that Ruben didn’t really want to move in and that he’d gotten to the bottom of his nonsense. Now he knew the topic of conversation, he was content to abandon the doorway. “Drink?” Leaving the door open for Ruben, Danny went to the kitchen and pulled a soda from the fridge. “By ‘us’, you mean you and Kaye?”
It was weird to be invited in but Ruben followed anyways, kicking off his shoes inside the door. He doubted Danny had any drinks he’d want (there was a reason he usually showed up with his own) but maybe Marissa had something good. “Ja, we are moving in together, and Kaye picked not-Europe.” Checking a cupboard, he was pleased to see a familiar bottle from his last visit. “So I am making a list, but instead of Boston, it is...” Ruben gestured vaguely, conjuring a glass in his hand.
Danny leaned against the counter. As a couple, Ruben and Kaye made sense - both of them instinctively prone to making a person feel uncomfortable - but it was hard to imagine them living together. Actually it was off-putting for Danny to imagine Ruben and Kaye even being in the same room together so he stopped. “Well, being in the same timezone as her school might work for Kaye,” he suggested, unsure if Ruben was asking for advice (but otherwise why was he here?).
“...Fan.” That hadn’t occurred to him. But he couldn’t really be blamed for not thinking of Kaye’s timezone-comfort when he would still be Apparating to Sweden for work: timezones meant nothing. Still, Ruben pulled up the list and tapped out a quick note. His top choice should be fine, but he might need to reconsider the State of Fires.
“But for Boston,” he returned to the main topic of interest. “How did you choose here? Did you just walk in and think of some cozy little family and decide it was your house?” Ruben’s expression said what he thought of this process. It was dumb, and also, it didn’t work.
“Needing five bedrooms narrowed it down,” Danny pointed out. “And a fireplace.” For some unfathomable reason, Muggles didn’t always build fireplaces into their homes. The ability to connect to the Floo network had been a consideration when making the purchase. “And this place didn’t need much work, mostly just redecorating.” Which was ideal, because Danny’d grown up with a house elf, and even cleaning spells had been unfamiliar three years ago.
“Hm.” Ruben nodded, satisfied with the concrete and very non-sentimental reasons Danny had given. The places he had checked out had good features in this way: not too many stairs, a warm climate or at least a hot summer, decent-sized kitchen, space for a giant bed, walls without cracks, and so on. (Okej, most of what he looked for were things he thought Kaye would appreciate. He could live without any of that; he had few preferences aside from easy outdoor access, which was a low bar.) If an overly emotional person like Danny could decide where to live based off physical traits, it was proof that he was right, feelings meant nothing, and he should stop double-guessing every place he went into.
Not that he was looking for validation, especially from someone named Dubois.
With no further reason to stay beyond taking advantage of Danny’s hospitality - a tempting idea, but it didn’t seem like anyone else was around, and he had better things to do - Ruben wandlessly turned the empty glass and bottle into a leering skull-shaped mug and left it in the cabinet for next time. “You are sure that you don’t want help with the bushes?”
“Leave the rabbits alone.”
“You are lucky I already ate.” And that he had been useful for once, but Danny didn’t need to know that. Casually cracking his neck as he strode out of the kitchen, Ruben retrieved his shoes and headed outside, calling behind him a loud “See you again!” that was definitely intended to sound as ominous as it did. He was early for meeting Kaye, but that had never stopped him.
Written with support from B & Cassie