It was noon when he woke. The curtains parted with a fury, sending in streams of sunlight that burned away at his eyelids. He groaned, rolling over to bury his head in his pillows but feeling nothing but the hardwood floor. The splintered wood poked at his cheeks, his fingers cracking around the dried paint that covered them. How had he ended up on the floor? He blinked, his eyes begging to squint in the face of the painfully bright light.
Ah yes, that was why. A large canvas stretched out before him on the bedroom floor, the rug that usually protected his sensitive skin from the splintered floor had been pushed out of the way. The canvas was still mostly empty, splatters of paint covered the sheet in an array of colors. Basil licked his lips, his eyes focusing down on what he’d accomplished so far. He never got it quite right. He wanted to portray silks waving in the air like they did on the market streets in East Foundum. The way the houses and buildings leaned seemed to lean into each other like treetops in a forest, the piles of expensive fabrics from places Basil would never see with his own eyes, barrels of dyes, the rows of merchant stalls. He tried for the past decade to portray the city district that raised him in his art. It never came out the way he wanted it to.
He wiped what was left of the paint off on his pants and looked up towards the window. He expected to see his husband, busying himself to make sure his plants were getting sun or tidying something that Basil had no doubt made a mess of in their bedroom, but he was already gone. Basil could hear him pad off towards the kitchen.
“Gill?” he called. He waited for a moment. No answer. He heard the groan of a cupboard open and cups clinking together. He called again. Still nothing. That wasn’t so bad. Gill was often wrapped up in his head.
Basil picked himself off the floor. He dragged his canvas carefully to the side. Truly, they should invest in a better apartment but this one was right above the apothecary and Gill was reluctant to leave his shop, but Basil wouldn’t mind living somewhere with more space. He’d long given up on artistic fame, but having his own room for his work wouldn’t hurt.
Gill was still in the kitchen. He’d opened the windows, the noise of the bustling downtown sweeping into their apartment. A mixture of those fancy motorcars and carriages, people arguing out on the streets, someone shouting about a thief, rival shopkeepers trying to out-scream each other. Gill stood calmly before the kitchen table, stirring honey into his tea.
Gill turned swiftly back to the stove, grabbed the tea kettle, and poured Basil a cup before he could finish his sentence. He slide the teacup across the table.
“You’re a gem,” Basil said as he took a sip. Gill inclined his head in acknowledgment. He took a seat at the table. A bell chimed off to the side. Gill was moving again. He put the kettle and honey away and returned to the table with a small tray. He set it down in front of Basil. A small stack of slightly underdone toast and homemade jam.
“You missed breakfast,” Gill said finally as he sat opposite him.
“You let me sleep on the floor,” Basil shot back.
Gill shrugged. “You looked peaceful.” He drank his tea, his face screwing up in disgust a second later because he probably made it too sweet. He always did.
Basil pouted as he rolled back his shoulders, trying to release the tension in his bones from sleeping on the floor the whole night. He reached for the knife to spread the jam on his toast.
“Shouldn’t you be downstairs anyway?”
Gill narrowed his eyes. “We’re closed today. You don’t remember?”
Clearly not. “Of course I do.”
Gill didn’t look like he believed him. He took another sip of his tea. “You’ll want to get dressed then.”
“What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?” Basil leaned over the table, his silk robe already slipping off his shoulders. It was the most expensive thing he owned, a gift from when he was younger, unmarried, and a better artist’s model. It was just shy of being indecent exposure. It was far too short to answer the door in, let alone walk outside for whatever reason. He gave Gill a wink. Gill just stared at him until he stood from the table, mumbling something about finding his hat.
Basil sighed before turning back to his toast. The longer they were together, the harder he was to casually seduce. And Gill used to be so cute. That first night they met when they first opened the Malken Club a few streets over, Gill had been stuttering and stumbling all over him. Basil had moved in with the live theatre crowd by then, smoking cigars for the thrill of it, and wearing daring ensembles because there was no point in living unless he became art himself. And Gill had simply been someone who never spent much time in the city before.
Basil bit gleefully into his toast. Gill may over sweeten his tea but he made a delightful peach jam.
He cleaned up after himself once he was done, at least to silently apologize for forgetting whatever it was he’d promised to do that day. He dressed quickly and met Gill by the rack before the door, juggling his two hats in his hand.
“This one,” Basil was taller. He reached right over his shoulder and snatched a ragged, old cap out of his hand. It was stitched together from mismatched fabrics and smelled strongly of burnt wood no matter how many times they washed it. “You never wear the one I bought you anyhow.”
Gill fixed the cap over his turf of curly hair. “I appreciate it.” He set the hat Basil got him two birthdays ago back on the rack.
Basil made sure the cap was secure and curled some stubborn strands of hair behind his ears. He made sure the hat didn’t cover his ears. He liked Gill’s ears the most. Almost stereotypically elven. Long and pointy. Not the little stubs like Basil’s were from his mixed blood.
Gill reached for his satchel. “Are you ready, Mr. Duran?”
Basil gestured to the door. “After you, Mr. Duran.”
Truth be told, Basil was not a huge fan of the outdoors, something that often made his elven grandmother gasp and halt her whittling to give him a lengthy discussion about cultures and traditions. The “outdoors” in East Foundum were smoky alleyways and the underbellies of merchant ships were he got his first kiss and hand job–both on the same day–or in the parlors of hotels were travellers spun tales about the places they’ve been in hopes of making a buck. Basil was not keen to spending his time out in the wild among the filth and bugs. It was not a dislike Gill shared, their entire livelihood depended on it. So, Basil kept his groans to himself as the train sped away from the city and he found himself trailing behind his husband as the forest swallowed them.
Basil tried to slide his hands cooly into his pockets as they strayed off the hiking trail and stepped over gnarled roots and uneven ground. Looking up only proved to make him dizzy. The trees were tall, tops nearly blocking out his view of the sky. The branches seemed to weave and sway together like intertwining snakes. Basil did his best not to fall behind.
Gill was wholly focused on his notebook, ticking off plants on a long list as he picked them up and carefully put them into vials that he then put into his satchel. Herb medicine was a dying art, or so the papers said. Those fancy new doctors were moving into the city at a rapid rate and people like Gill, the most of the elves, were moving back into the obscurity of their nomadic groups or villages that weren’t on any map. The only people who visited the apothecary these days were illegal witches who couldn’t get their goods elsewhere–and they simply had to pretend that they had no idea if ever questioned by the cops–or those who were too superstitious and afraid of those doctors and their new methods.
They stopped briefly by a stream. Gill knelt down to wash the dirt from his fingers. He nodded off towards the rolling hills out ahead of them. “Isn’t this nice?” he asked. “You could paint this.”
“I don’t do landscapes.” Basil shuddered at the thought. Truly the last thing the world needed was another landscape artist. “And if this is you trying to get me to move to the country, I will not be fooled.”
Gill smiled. They continued on. Gill tried to include him when he could, pointing out flowers Basil could never name and their uses.
They sat again, in a patch of grass in the shade as the sun rose higher in the sky. Basil rolled onto his belly, Gill’s notebook open before him as the vials were positioned in a circle before him. Gill wanted him to draw the plants beside their name in his notebook. Basil certainly didn’t mind. He was the better artist.
Gill reached deeper into his satchel as he sat beside him. “Are you hungry? Thirsty?”
“Why bother asking?” Basil held up one of the vials in the sunlight as he sketched the curve of the jagged leaves into the notebook. “I know you’re already prepared. You’re always prepared.”
Gill set down a carefully covered jar and two cups out on the grass. He reached into the satchel again and pulled out two sandwiches.
Basil sniffed suspiciously. “You forgot my pickles.”
Gill gave him a look. He huffed at the insult before reaching back into his bag and pulling out pickle slices wrapped up carefully. Basil took his sandwich and the slices with a smile. He preferred it that way. If the pickles were kept on for too long things just got soggy, and no one liked that.
“I know you,” Gill said, running an idle hand through Basil’s hair. “Never think I don’t.” Gill balanced his own sandwich on his lap as he removed the cap from the jar.
Basil rolled his eyes as he bit into his sandwich. Of course, he wasn’t going to deny that sometimes he wished Gill was more vocal about the attention he paid him and there were times friends pulled him aside to question how their relationship was going. Gill could be quiet most days, seemingly distant at times, and more often than not he took these walks through the woods by himself, but he just took some getting used to.
Gill dipped the cups into the jar instead of pouring whatever the contents was and handed one cup to Basil carefully, the extra care was for the notebook. Whatever it was, it was dark red with a few stray flower petals floating in it. He took a careful sip while he could feel Gill’s eyes on him. He hummed his pleasure as it hit his tongue. Fragrant and sweet.
Gill seemed satisfied with that. He took his own sip. Basil leaned his head against Gill’s side. He sighed dramatically. “Oh, Gill, whatever did I do to deserve you?”
Gill was silent for a few moments. He leaned himself towards him, curling his finger in Basil’s hair and holding his cup in the other hand.
“Gods only know,” he said.