The lace undergarment almost tears under the sharp points of Pinkie’s nails. He holds it up to the dim lighting of the storeroom, nose scrunching as his eyes study it. “Well, if he’s gonna abandon you on your birthday you might as well spend his fucking money.”
Lace and satin, rows of perfume and scented oils, stockings and garters. Basil still wore Gill’s sweater, now over a pair of brown suede pants he brought years prior. He lowered his head, tucking himself up to his nose in Gill’s scratchy collar. It all felt so strange. All at once. As if his pants, once the height of fashion, were too youthful for him. Even if they too fell from grace in the years since their first release on the market. They were tight around his rear and he tittered back and forth from one foot to the other.
So many young men surrounded them. Laughing gleefully, blushing at the promises their new underclothes came with, bodies not yet softening with age and still just as appealing as they wanted to be. Faces rosy and wrinkle-free. Basil’s hands slid into his pockets.
Gill’s money aside, the garment Pinkie held seemed rather…small. Something he would have worn when he was eighteen and following older men into alleyways.
“Am I not a bit too old for that?”
Pinkie raised an eyebrow. “Oh no, sweetie don’t be one of those.”
“Hurts to be thirty? Sexy doesn’t age.”
Basil rolled his eyes.
“No, really. If you’re mopping now what will you do five years from now? Ten? It only gets better.” He put the lacey number down all the same, grazing his finger along the next stack of neatly folded undergarments. “You’re still attracted to Gilverd, aren’t you?”
“He’s gorgeous,” Basil sighed. He thought of his wide back. Chaotic hair sticking out from his head, whipped by the wind, or the way it fell flat against his ears when wet. The hair on his knuckles. The pinprick of hair surrounding his chin and cheeks. His eyes, dark and narrow like two slashes of dirt in the snow. The way he held him, running his hand along the curve of Basil’s spine and pushing him towards his chest.
Now Pinkie rolled his eyes. “And he’ll be gorgeous ten years from now. You will be too.”
Still, Basil found himself folding into the shadows whenever someone younger brushed by. “We really can’t stay long. I told Gill I’d keep shop.” And he had. A few people came by like he’d been told and he fully intended to stay behind the counter watching Gill’s plants wilt.
But there truly was something pathetic about a lonely birthday.
“Fuck his shop.”
He snorted as Pinkie moved onto the next lacy number. A pair of satin lavender briefs. The lace details confined purely to the hemming. A pretty color and still muted enough in style not to make him feel like he was trying too hard. Basil reached over his shoulder and snatched them out of Pinkie’s pinched fingers.
“He didn’t mean to upset me.” Gill would never do anything foul on purpose. It was his most irritating quality. Such silent caring. He wasn’t always much of a talker, didn’t let his face reveal what he was thinking, but he caressed Basil with such sweet affection. Always. Since the first night they held hands and Basil guided him through Foundum.
Not a chance Gill set out to abandon him on his birthday. His rational and logic, mixed with some untidy planning likely lead him to believe he could make both parties happy. It wasn’t Gill’s fault.
It was Venali’s fault.
That hateful bitch didn’t want him to be happy. Didn’t want Gill to be in Foundam, or with him.
“But he did,” said Pinkie. “So fuck him.”
Basil tried to roll his eyes, but he stepped closer to the display table all the same. His fingers hovering over delicate stockings and garters. The opposite should be true but at times it was harder to feel sexy the longer he stayed in a relationship. There were days beyond his control, when Gill simply wasn’t in the mood, where no amount of thigh flashing or purring would tempt him into bed. And it was hard to remind himself it wasn’t his fault or something he was doing wrong. Basil had those days too.
But he wasn’t who he used to be. The sexually provocative young man who artists clamored to paint and rich men desperately wanted to please. Maybe the young, hot, easy city boy would always be more thrilling than the failed artist and lazy husband.
“What sort of appointment did he say he have anyway?”
Basil pursed his lips. The garments began to pile in his arms. He should put everything back. They had debts. Money problems. Now was not the time to shop to ease his woes. But the pieces he picked weren’t too flashy. They’d look nice. He needed to feel sexy again.
“Venali’s here.” It burned his throat to admit. Pinkie’s mouth began to open, his face pinched in anger that would always rival his own. Basil cut him off. “I shouldn’t have been upset. He sees his family so rarely.”
Gill had so many siblings. Basil only remembered seeing them all together at the wedding, and then the nomadic elves had been herded reluctantly into the city for the ceremony and hadn’t spoken a lick of a language Basil could understand.
“It’s smart. Keeping us separate,” he added.
“She couldn’t pick a better day to drop by?”
“She probably doesn’t know what day it is.”
“Oh, horse shit.” Pinkie’s voice carried throughout the shop. Idle chatter hushed around them, a few shoppers sent them dirty looks. “She knows and she gets off to it. Nothing gives her more joy.”
“Are you done?” Basil nodded to Pinkie’s hands. He tugged mindlessly at a pile of ribbons, had a few undergarments bunched into the crook of his arm, and his body leaned towards a shelf of perfume bottles. “I have to get back to the shop.”
And it was either he paid now or he’d lose the courage to spend money.
“I’m done if you are but I loathe to take you back to that miserable place. Let’s go to Vipress.”
Pinkie clicked his teeth. “Why ever not?”
“It’s too early to start drinking. And I’m not watching a woman whip someone’s grandfather.” Not again.
Pinkie nudged him with his free elbow. “You’re no fun.”
No. Another reason he’d feared turning thirty.
When they’d paid, Basil didn’t bother taking a proper look at the bill. He threw it in the bin as they exited the store, holding the neatly tied bundle to his chest as they stepped out into the cold. Pinkie tried to tempt him away for a drink. Basil shooed him off with off-handed promises to head out later.
A promise was a promise.
He struggled to get the key out of his pocket when he approached the covered glass door of Gill’s shop. Their home. He shoved the bundle under his armpit and kicked the door open. The main room was empty as it should be, except for an army of overgrown plants dominating every corner of vision. Basil turned the lights off before he left. Never a good idea to leave oil burning unsupervised around so many flammable substances.
He stepped over the threshold. The bell jingled above him.
“Darling?” The word lifted from his throat. The main room was dark, but he saw a glow from the backroom. Gill’s workshop. He started towards it, the door left open a crack when he swore it was closed when he left.
Basil hesitated when the voice he heard didn’t belong to Gill.
“Mr. Duran has been providing my master service for years.”
“That so? And you think you know what you’re doing, lird?”
Basil stomped towards the door and gave it a hefty kick. It hit the wall with such a bang, but the noise only disturbed the child climbing his husband’s meticulously organized shelves. Her stubby fingers barely brushing the edge of a glass jar.
Across from her, an elf leaned against Gill’s work table. Tall. More than tall. Uncomfortably long and slender and his loose garments hung from him like a sheet. He turned his head towards Basil, lips curling into a grin. Two rings hung from his nose, another two in each long ear. His eyes wrinkled in the corners as his grin widened.
He knew this man. He saw him at his wedding. Basil knew stories from his childhood. How he covered himself in the juices and mashed bits of berries and laid out on roads to con travelers out of their money and goods to help an injured child.
Gill’s older brother, Venali’s twin, Vaeril.
“Why are you here?” The question could be directed at either of them. Wyn was trespassing and possibly robbing them, but Vaeril could certainly be guilty of the same. Wyn’s eyes widened so large they threatened to pop out of her face. Her jaw slackened, mouth opening as her mind gears turned in search of an excuse.
Vaeril simply turned his body to face him with his arms outstretched. “It has been far too long! Come give big brother a hug.”
Basil stayed rooted to his spot. “Do I have to call the Queensguard?”
Wyn stumbled away from the shelves. “No.”
Realizing he wasn’t going to get his hug, Vaeril let down his arm and lowered his long body to whisper to Wyn. The whisper was still loud enough for Basil to hear.
“This is where you offer an explanation.”
Basil set down his bundle, crossed his arms, and waited for one.
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