Felix was standing in the middle of Mildmay’s flat when he got back. He was dripping on the floor, and his hair was so wet that it stuck against his forehead. That was probably because of the rain.
Mildmay blinked. “Hey, uh, you alright?”
Felix stared at him. It took Mildmay a second to realise that his stare was vacant, and he was gripping his arms crossed over his chest, with his nails pressed violently into his skin in a fight against what was probably numbness spreading through his body.
Mildmay sighed, and slowly so as not to startle him, grasped Felix’s elbow and brought him over to sit at the little scratched up table in the corner of his room. As he did this, Felix turned to look up at him, as if he’d just noticed he was there.
“Muh... Mildmay?” he murmured, his eyebrows pulled in in confusion.
Mildmay tried his best to lower his usual intimidation factor. “Yeah, I’m here. How do you feel?”
Felix blinked. He was trembling, and Mildmay wasn’t sure if it was the Phoenix or the rainwater dripping off of Felix’s curls onto the floor that was causing it. He didn’t really mind that, the water. The floorboards had already warped from the damp he’d had to deal with last year, and Felix was more important anyway.
“I’m fine,” Felix answered eventually. Mildmay waited for more, but Felix seemed content with that, seeing as how he’d gone back to staring at the wall opposite.
Mildmay nodded, sighed, and moved to make him a cup of tea.
Nine out of ten times that Felix visited, this was the situation. He had to be drugged out of his mind to swallow his pride and rely on Mildmay , and Mildmay wasn’t sure it was because he just wanted to be independent or because he thought if he wasn’t Mildmay would just become another abuser. Regardless, the Felix that was on copious amounts of Phoenix always lost those reservations and ended up at Mildmay’s apartment by the end of the night. Mildmay was thankful for at least that, because he couldn’t imagine what would happen to Felix in a state like this on the street (Felix had been alone for so long though, he’d probably been through it all already).
Mildmay placed the tea in front of Felix on the table, and with the towel he’d picked up from the side he began to dry Felix’s face and hair. He managed later to get him out of his clothes and into a shirt of Mildmay’s. He’d started crying during that. Mildmay tried not to think on why .
In the morning, when Mildmay woke up, he clambered up from the floor where he’d been lying to find Felix sitting cross legged on the bed, his head in his hands.
“You alright?” Mildmay croaked, stifling a yawn.
Felix groaned, and his hands muffled his voice. “Ugh. Headache.”
“Wonder why,” Mildmay muttered, and regretted it immediately, because he could see the shame on Felix’s face.
Felix stayed silent while Mildmay went about getting breakfast. When he laid the bread rolls and butter that he’d found hanging out in the back of a cupboard on the table, Felix moved carefully and sat down. It was almost graceful, the way he walked, like a glass person concerned about shattering. Grace born of fear.
They ate and Mildmay talked. Occasionally Felix would nod, or ask simple questions in an attempt to be polite, but he rarely listened and frequently devoted more attention to the fears and insecurities running around his mind and mining away at his sanity. Mildmay thought this was a side effect of the Phoenix, but he couldn’t be sure.
“I don’t want to use anymore,” Felix said suddenly. Mildmay abruptly stopped talking and stared.
“I’m going to stop,” he continued, determination in his tired eyes. Mildmay blinked and gathered himself.
“Oh. Great,” Mildmay said. “Sure.”
Felix paused, looking at the ground and curling in on himself. He looked suddenly tense, as if he had something to say and he was trying to figure out a way to phrase it that wouldn’t get him hurt.
Mildmay cut to the chase. “Do you want to stay here while you’re getting off it?” he asked gently.
Felix nodded quickly, and then promptly burst into tears.
The first week is more or less fine.
Of course, Felix almost goes and ruins it pretty much that day. Mildmay only managed to stop him because he happened to arrive home just as Felix was putting on his boots. Felix struggled, wild-eyed and distressed, and shoved at Mildmay’s arms without much strength but with a whole lot of determination and some real crazy dirty fighting skills that Felix must’ve learned in some terrible situation somewhere.
Mildmay managed to get him sat on the bed just as he began to sob in frustration.
“You know,” Mildmay muttered, rubbing his brother’s back. “If you keep crying like this, you’re gonnaget very dehydrated pretty fuckin’ soon.”
“’ Gonna happen anyway,” Felix whimpers. He wiped his eyes with his sleeve, which made him look frighteningly young. “You stop taking drugs suddenly like I am, it fucks up your body right bad.”
Mildmay nodded. He’d heard that. “We’ll handle that when it happens.”
He took Felix’s hand in his and played with his long, graceful fingers. “You got to stop me,” Felix whined, his reedy voice clogged with tears.
Mildmay’s brow furrowed. “I can look after you during the day, but I’m going to be out at night.”
“That’s fine,” he replied. “I ain’t going out at night anyway.”
Mildmay turned and looked at him. Felix didn’t smile, but Mildmay understood what the little, nervous quirk of Felix’s lips meant.
After the first weeks, things get harder than just ‘stop Felix taking’. He takes Felix out when he gets shopping, sticks by his side, and while he doesn’t go out with the usual crowd, he does bring Felix to get a drink with Cardenio. Mostly because he doesn’t want Felix to go stir crazy. (They get on like a house on fire, of course, ‘cause Felix sees everyone as a threat but Cardenio comes up to Mildmay’s chin.)
It’s week two when things deteriorate. Felix starts to get shaky and dizzy, and sometimes he has to sit down because if he didn’t he might well end up unconscious on the floor. Mildmay figured soon he wasn’t going to be able to traipse around outside safely pretty soon, so he got prepared.
He did the groceries for a week. He went into his savings to pay his rent. He went and bought blankets and smelling salts as well, just in case. Mainly, he went and found Zephyr.
“Hello Mildmay,” Zephyr said, with a kind smile as he ushered Mildmay into his workroom. “What brings you here?”
Mildmay took the warm, milky tea that he was handed and sat on the chair that was ever present in the corner of Zephyr’s workshop. It had this beaten-up cushion that sank under Mildmay as he sat down. It was real comfy, not so much physically but emotionally .
“I need some advice,” he said, casting his gaze over Zephyr’s desk, covered in soil and plants in various stages of growth. “My brother’s trying to get off of Phoenix.”
“Ah,” Zephyr replied, tone forcibly light. “This brother that you found in Pharoahlight?”
“And how is that going?” Zephyr offered after a moment of awkward silence.
“Not too bad,” Mildmay said. “He’s a bit messed up, but I really having him there. Does that make sense?”
Zephyr smiled. “Absolutely. For someone in your... situation, to find a relative after so many years is miraculous, and I’ve found that your personality naturally tends to favour the role of the protector.”
“Great,” Mildmay mumbled. He wishes Zephyr wouldn’t do this. “But, um, do you know about getting off Phoenix?”
Zephyr twitched at being cut off, but his politeness always got the better of him. “In what regard?”
“Like, he’s got real sick. He’s all dizzy and says he feels like throwing up.”
Zephyr nodded. “That sounds about right. His body has become addicted to the substance, not just his mind, and is objecting to the sudden lack of it."
“What can I do?” Mildmay asked, a hint of desperation seeping into his voice. Zephyr knowing all his feelings made him feel weird, but he weren’t half right. He’d only known Felix half a year and he meant the world to him.
A little, critical voice deep inside him that sounded eerily like Keeper suggested that maybe he liked the idea of Felix more than he liked Felix. He didn’t know Felix. Felix was a shaking wreck of a person who’d never had the agency to develop a personality. That’s what Mildmay knew, and yet he’d be lost without him.
“I’m afraid all you can do is tough it out,” Zephyr said sympathetically. “Look after him, keep him warm and safe and make sure he does not go back on this decision.”
Mildmay sighed. “I don’t know if that’s as easy as you’re saying, Zephyr.”
“I think you’ll manage,” Zephyr replied, a knowing smile on his lip.
Everyday Felix was getting better with contact.
Of course sometimes things happened that made Mildmay worry that this was all an exercise in futility. He’d spent an hour holding Felix’s shaking body while the man whimpered into his shoulder, and then the next morning he’d grab his shoulder and Felix would start breathing real fast and crying, getting himself in some mad panic. And Mildmay would stand there, watching him and feeling useless as sin.
He’d rub circles between Felix’s boney shoulder blades as the poor man threw up everything he’d managed to eat. He’d brush Felix’s hair out of the way of his face, and afterward he’d hold Felix while he sobbed into his chest, begging Mildmay to let him give up. It took all of Mildmay’s restraint not to, because this was horrible .
But sometimes, they’d be lying beside each other in Mildmay’s single shitty bed and without a word, Felix would move over, and very gently and slowly place his arms around Mildmay. And Mildmay would reciprocate, and no one would say a word, because Mildmay supposed pride meant a lot to Felix since he didn’t really have much left. He only wanted Felix to feel happy, so he let him have this.
He didn’t know who he was without Felix anymore.
Cardenio had come over, mainly because Mildmay had just disappeared into thin air and he was probably concerned, what with Mildmay’s line of work, that the Dogs or something even worse had got to him. Mildmay let him in, sat him down and gave him a cup of tea, because he was fucking polite.
“Well, I’m glad you’re not dead,” Cardenio says, taking a sip.
Mildmay grunted. “Real high fuckin’ standards.”
Felix was sat on the bed, covered in blankets. He wasn’t showing it, but Mildmay knew he was happy to see Cardenio . Cardenio , out of all of the people Mildmay knew, was the only one who had really taken the Felix issue in his stride. Furthermore he’d treated Felix like a person. People like that were few and far in between, what with the whole stigma of Pharoahlight . But Cardenio was just like that anyway- that was how he treated everyone, and Mildmay really shouldn’t have been surprised when his usual gentleness had carried over into Felix’s situation.
“Well, I was worried,” Cardenio replied, smile creeping over his face. “There’s been stuff bubblin’ up and I was thinkin’ you might of been caught up in it.”
That sounded... not great. “Stuff bubblin’ up?”
Cardenio nodded. “There’s some group talking about rebellion. Anti-Mirador crazies, the usual.”
That wasn’t shocking. These little groups would pop up, and within a month they’d be razed to the ground. The Dogs and the Mirador would hunt this one down eventually too, but what mattered was they didn’t concern themselves much over innocent casualties. Best to stay off the streets till the status quo is restored.
“Right,” Mildmay said. “Good to know. We’ll keep safe.”
“Good,” Cardenio replied, grinning.
Cardenio looked sheepish. “Sure, yeah. Until I’m fishing for their bodies, that is.”
Felix was trembling pretty bad again in the corner. “We gotta do what we gotta do,” Mildmay said, standing up and moving over to rub Felix’s back. Poor thing looked miserable.
Cardenio stayed a bit longer. He’d brought food, so Mildmay made them all dinner, and afterwards Cardenio and Felix played cards while he washed up. It was nice.
When Cardenio left, Felix and Mildmay sat on the bed together. Sweat was sticking Felix’s hair to his forehead, but he wasn’t complaining so Mildmay wouldn’t poke him on it. Instead, he wrapped him in blankets, gently pushed him on the shoulder and pressed a cold towel to his head.
“What do you think about this rebellion group?” Felix asked, his voice strained and weak.
Mildmay raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean? I couldn’t care less about it.”
Felix was silent for a second. “I don’t know. I guess I think they have a point."
Mildmay went tense. He hated that he understood where Felix was coming from. He hated it ‘cause he’d seen where that type of thinking had taken others. The kids he’d grown up with who’d left Keeper and ended up dead in the Sim, not a hero, not even remembered. And Felix was just the right amount of crazy and hopeless to get sucked into it all. But he was right, they had a point. It wasn’t going to help a soul though.
“Yeah,” Mildmay grunted. “You promise me you won’t get messed up in that, though.”
Felix looked surprised. “Why?”
Milmday rolled his eyes. “’Cause you’ll get killed, and I don’t want you dead.”
Mildmay saw the guilt that went as quickly as it came from Felix’s face. He’d seen the way that candles got brighter when Felix needed the light, and the way the little herb plants Felix had in the windowsill grew way too fast. He knew that Felix was thinking that there were other things that could get him killed, and that maybe he’d rather the Dogs to the stake.
But then why couldn’t he just live ?
Mildmay swallowed, and put down the towel before getting into the bed. Felix’s thin arms wrapped around him, and he fell asleep in his embrace.
Mildmay had been alone for a long time.
He used to cling to Keeper, but soon it became evident this wasn’t a great idea. Over time he drifted away, as their relationship slowly became more bitter than sweet, but somehow it was still hard. He needed that sense of belonging, of knowing that someone would miss him if he went. He supposed in this way he’s always understood Felix. When you’re doing really bad, and you’ve nothing else in the world, to have something that made you feel good, even if it fucked you up, was addictive.
Since Keeper, he’d been drifting. Sure, he had friends , but never anyone he was close to. Cardenio was something else, but even with him, it felt more like someone who just enjoyed Mildmay’s company than someone Mildmay was fundamentally important to.
It all came back to Methony, and his mixed feelings about her, ripping into each other in his mind and making him feel ill. She’d abandoned him, seemingly without any remorse, but he loved her because she was his mother. And maybe that’s why it hurt so much. She was his mother, the one person who was supposed to love him, but she’d thrown him away. She was an example of everything that was missing from his life.
But then he found Felix, and it was like overcoming a dizziness he hadn’t been aware of until he could feel the ground under his feet again. Felix needed him, he looked up to him and, eventually, he trusted him. Methony may have been his mother, but Felix was his brother, and Mildmay had realised actually that this was better . Because Felix was related to him, just like Methony , but Felix also understood what Mildmay was going through. Methony had dumped him too, after all.
He had flaws. He was proud to a fault, and would downright refuse to thank Mildmay for any help received, just in case Mildmay perceived that as him having wanted the help (even though he often did). He was catty, and had no clue how to do household chores because he’d barely been a person most of his life. And Felix was going through his own stuff, gradually learning how to exist as more than a rich man’s molly toy. Learning that that was something he deserved, and what had happened to him was just- wrong .
He was learning how to control his magic too. Kethe , if Methony was still alive she’d have some explaining to do as to how that came about.
All in all, Felix made Mildmay feel safe. Not in the way Mildmay undoubtedly made Felix feel safe- with a roof and clothes and food. He made Mildmay feel like he was finally worth something, like something had tethered him to the shore and would stop him drifting away.
He’d found the end of his road, and it was here , in this pokey little apartment with Felix. And he didn’t hate it.
Felix came out of the toilet just as Mildmay was finishing the washing up. He was toweling his hair dry, and Mildmay supposed he was tired of how greasy it had been getting. Nevertheless, he wasn’t sure how much success he’d have washing it in the little bucket they used for their hands. He made a mental note to bring Felix to the local baths soon, for the sake of his vanity.
“More talk of revolution,” Mildmay remarked airily as he dried his hands. He was trying to pass it off as small talk, but he was a mite concerned about Felix’s thoughts on it.
Felix nodded and, to Mildmay’s utter relief, rolled his eyes. “Who cares?”
Mildmay chuckled. “You did, all of two days ago.”
“Nah,” he replied. “Don’t need rebellion. I’ve got all I need right here.” And then he smiled, little and fragile, like he’d just jump off a cliff and was worried he might land. It broke Mildmay’s heart, but made him feel so much more loved than he ever had before.
He smiled back. (He’d die for Felix, if he asked.)
“How are you feeling?” He said to avoid replying (anything he could say wouldn’t’ve been able to express what he felt).
“You know what?” Felix said, tipping his head and taking the towel down, causing a water droplet to roll down his sharp cheekbones. “I feel absolutely fine. I think I’m on the mend.”
Mildmay grinned as much as his scar would allow, and knew regardless that Felix would understand how he really felt from the look in his eyes. In the window behind Felix, the sun breached the horizon, and carefully covered Mélusine in its warm embrace.