Far too quiet, if you ask Alhaitham. He puts his quill down and screws the cap of his inkwell back on, then looks up at the clock. It’s late. Kaveh left for Lambad’s Tavern hours ago; he should be back by now, drunkenly chatting Alhaitham’s ear off, but he isn’t.
Alhaitham sighs and gets up, pushing his chair back underneath his desk. Every now and then, Kaveh gets too drunk to walk back home, and the responsibility to pick him up falls on Alhaitham. It’s an irritating deviation in his schedule, but an inevitable one.
He shrugs on his coat and heads out into the night. The streets of Sumeru City are usually bustling, even at this hour. Some people are headed to and from the Grand Bazaar in time for the night market, their hips laden with pouches of Mora and their arms filled with bags of ripe fruit and homespun cloth. Others are headed to the tavern, just like he is.
As soon as he steps inside, he’s greeted with warmer air and the scent of spices and wine. It’s as loud and rowdy in the tavern as ever: he can hear drunken, slurred singing from upstairs amidst all the chatter and laughter.
He approaches the counter, and Lambad smiles at him. “If it isn’t the Scribe!” he greets jovially. “I was surprised to see Kaveh come in without you.”
“I had work to do,” Alhaitham says curtly. “Speaking of Kaveh, where is he?”
“Upstairs, I believe,” Lambad replies. “He’s racked up quite the tab today. Is he really alright?”
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Alhaitham says. “Has he been troubling you?”
“He just seemed upset about something, that’s all,” Lambad explains. “He’s had more to drink than usual. Isn’t that a sign that he might be upset?”
“It could also be a sign of overindulgence, something he’s prone to engaging in,” Alhaitham deadpans. “I’ll pay off his tab.”
Lambad chuckles and hands over a slip of paper. “Technically, it’s your tab.”
“Our tab,” Alhaitham amends.
Alhaitham takes one look at said tab, and the sum of Mora stamped at the bottom, then sighs. “He’s such a spoiled brat,” he mutters under his breath.
Lambad raises an unimpressed eyebrow. “Who’s the one spoiling him?”
Alhaitham says nothing. He slides over a hefty pouch of Mora, which is an answer in and of itself, and Lambad’s lips twitch into an amused smile.
“Go fetch him, loverboy,” Lambad says with a snort, accepting the payment without counting the coins first.
Alhaitham pointedly ignores the unwanted nickname. He turns around and makes his way up the steps, then rounds the corner. Before he can even begin to look for Kaveh, he hears someone exclaim, “Alhaitham! Oh, thank the Greater Lord.”
He turns to see Khaldun waving him over. Across from him, Yavanni nods in greeting. Next to her is Kaveh, who is slumped over the table, head pillowed in his arms.
Alhaitham resists the urge to sigh again. “What happened?”
“He’s been moving from table to table all night,” Khaldun explains. “I think he’s talked to every patron that’s stepped into the tavern.”
Yavanni shrugs. “We’re just the ones who were unfortunate enough to come last,” she adds. “He had one last drink before passing out at our table. Then again, it might have been for the best. If I had to listen to this oaf sing Vikram’s praises one more time, I would have surely joined Mr. Kaveh in his drunken stupor to escape.”
Khaldun rolls his eyes and pours himself another glass. “Again, I don’t see how you kissing Rifaet’s ass is any better.”
Yavanni scowls. “Oh, you—”
Alhaitham watches them argue for a silent moment. They come to the tavern together every night just to argue, but despite their differences, they always leave together. As he watches them bicker, he wonders if this is what his arguments with Kaveh look like to outsiders.
He clears his throat. “May I take Kaveh off your hands before you carry on with this discussion?”
Yavanni and Khaldun both freeze, almost as if they’d forgotten Alhaitham was there in the first place.
“Of course,” Yavanni says, suddenly flustered. She taps Kaveh’s shoulder. “Mr. Kaveh? Could you wake up? The Scribe has arrived to fetch you.”
Kaveh stirs, mumbling something incomprehensible.
Yavanni pokes him again. “Mr. Kaveh?”
Kaveh yawns and gets up, rubbing his eye with one hand and stretching the other over his head. His braid is falling apart, the quill tucked behind his ear is askew, and the laces of his blouse have come undone. All things considered, he looks like a mess, but the light streaming in through the stained glass window makes him look ethereal.
Then he cracks one red eye open, sees Alhaitham, and says, “What are you doing here?”
“I liked you better when you were unconscious,” Alhaitham retorts. “Come on. We’re going home.”
Kaveh shakes his head. “No,” he hiccups. “I don’t… I don’t wanna go home yet.” He turns to Khaldun, beckoning with a hand. “Pour me another one.”
Khaldun looks at Alhaitham nervously, then carefully puts Kaveh’s glass away. “I think you’ve had enough for one night, Mr. Kaveh.”
Alhaitham sighs. He takes Kaveh by the arm and hauls him up. “Come on,” he says again, more forcefully this time. “You’ve bothered these people enough.”
“I’m not—not a bother,” Kaveh slurs. “Maybe to you. But not to them.”
Yavanni offers him a sympathetic smile. “It was nice seeing you, Mr. Kaveh. Have a safe trip home, both of you.”
Alhaitham lets Kaveh lean on him as he guides him down the stairs, placing a hand on the small of his back to steady him. Kaveh mumbles complaints under his breath all the while, but Alhaitham pays him no mind, too busy making sure Kaveh doesn’t trip to argue back.
Lambad shoots him a knowing look on the way out. “Take care of him,” he says, waving them off.
“He’s a grown man,” Alhaitham grumbles. “He should be able to take care of himself.”
Lambad arches an eyebrow. “And yet you take care of him nonetheless.”
Alhaitham sighs. “Who else will?”
They step out into the cold night air together. Alhaitham fumbles with the laces on Kaveh’s blouse, tying them shut, but Kaveh whines about the cold anyway, so he drapes his jacket over his shoulders for good measure.
He lets Kaveh stumble around as they make their way home, trying his best to tune out his drunken rambling.
It’s all well and good until Kaveh stops walking entirely, pausing underneath a street lamp.
“What is it now?” Alhaitham asks, turning to look at him.
Kaveh still looks like a mess. He clutches Alhaitham’s jacket tighter around his trembling body, eyes wide, strangely vulnerable under the dim lighting. “Am I a bother to you?”
“Where is this coming from?” Alhaitham replies evenly, approaching Kaveh’s side, taking him by the arm in an attempt to get him to keep walking.
“Haitham,” Kaveh starts, tone solemn, his expression serious. “The thing is, I—I—” He staggers, swaying on his feet, and leans against Alhaitham’s side. “I’m in love with you.”
Alhaitham stares at him. “What,” he says flatly.
Kaveh stares back. Then he keels over and throws up on the sidewalk.
Alhaitham doesn’t flinch, but he does move to hold Kaveh’s hair back as he retches into a poor, innocent flower bed. He’s sure that Tighnari would have several choice words to say about this, but it’s a better option than Alhaitham’s shoes, so he lets Kaveh cough and hack around his own bile without saying a word.
As soon as Kaveh stops retching, he sways again, leaning against Alhaitham’s side and wiping the corner of his mouth with his sleeve.
Kaveh bursts out laughing, nearly hysterical with it. “See?” he exclaims, gesturing to the desecrated flower bed. “I’m in love with you, and—and it’s so gross, it’s so gross that it made me throw up. You’re gross. Being in love with you is gross.”
“Okay,” Alhaitham says slowly.
Kaveh closes his eyes. “I want to go home.”
“Okay,” Alhaitham says again, holding his arms out. Kaveh obliges and lets Alhaitham pick him and carry him all the way home.
The rest of the walk is quiet, and Alhaitham decides not to think about what Kaveh said. He’s drunk. He didn’t mean it. There’s no point lingering on his words.
Kaveh’s hair tickles his cheek. He can feel the outline of his lips on his neck. Alhaitham tries to picture those lips moving, speaking, saying the words all over again.
I’m in love with you.
Alhaitham shakes his head. Don’t think about it, he reminds himself. He’s drunk. He didn’t mean it.
He’s relieved when they finally make it home. He nudges open the door to Kaveh’s room and dumps him onto his bed. Kaveh yelps and grumbles his complaints, but Alhaitham ignores him and starts taking his shirt off. Kaveh’s clothes reek of alcohol—and now his own vomit—so he needs to get them washed quickly before Kaveh just dumps them on his bedroom floor and leaves them to gather dust.
His blouse, white and frilly, is silky in Alhaitham’s hands. When he looks up, he sees Kaveh’s bare chest, a sliver of moonlight caught on his collarbones.
“Oh,” Kaveh says. “This, I understand.”
He takes his pants off himself. Alhaitham is almost relieved until Kaveh reaches for him and draws him in so that Alhaitham is on top of him, caging him with his arms. Kaveh parts his lips, spreading his legs.
Alhaitham pulls away, appalled. “I am not sleeping with you,” he says.
Kaveh squints. “You’re right. I should brush my teeth first.”
He rolls out of his bed and stumbles to the bathroom. “That’s not it,” Alhaitham calls out after him. “You’re drunk. And you just—”
Confessed your love for me, he wants to say, but his mouth clamps down around the words.
He hears water running. The sound of Kaveh brushing his teeth, spitting into the sink. Alhaitham sighs and rummages through Kaveh’s mess of a closet to find him some spare clothes to sleep in.
As soon as Kaveh steps out of the bathroom, Alhaitham all but wrestles some pajamas onto him, all while Kaveh says, “What? You don’t want to fuck me? We do it all the time.”
“You’re drunk,” Alhaitham says again. “And we don’t do it all the time.”
“This sucks,” Kaveh says, crawling back into his bed, drawing his blanket over himself. He buries his face into his pillow, voice muffled as he says, “You don’t love me, and you don’t even want me anymore.”
“That’s—” Alhaitham pauses. “That’s not true.”
It’s silent for a moment. Then a soft snore slips past Kaveh’s mouth.
Just like that, it’s quiet in their household once more, but the gears in Alhaitham’s brain are turning loudly.
What just happened?
Kaveh wakes up the next morning to a pounding headache, a dry mouth, and no memories of what transpired the night before.
There’s also the scent of something heavenly coming from the kitchen, so he crawls out of bed to investigate. Alhaitham is in the kitchen making food, and there’s a pot of tea brewing on the stove.
“Morning,” Kaveh says, wincing at the bright sunlight filtering in through the kitchen window.
Alhaitham’s face shifts slightly when he sees Kaveh. It's an expression for sure, but Kaveh has no idea what he’s expressing. Disdain? Surprise? Annoyance? All of the above, probably.
“Go sit down,” Alhaitham replies. “Breakfast will be ready soon, and I have turmeric tea for your hangover.”
Kaveh pauses. “You know about my hangover?”
Alhaitham looks unimpressed. “Who do you think brought you home from the tavern?” he asks. “Go sit down.”
His head is pounding too much for him to argue, and it’s not like he can yell at Alhaitham without hurting his own delicate eardrums, so he goes to sit with a huff, crossing his arms over his chest.
Breakfast is fresh flatbread with jam and honey, and the turmeric tea Alhaitham serves him is far too bitter, but it’s better than living with his hangover, so Kaveh drinks it and asks for seconds. Alhaitham obliges and pours him a second cup, probably just glad that Kaveh isn’t complaining about the taste.
“Your hangover must be really bad,” Alhaitham points out.
Kaveh groans, rubbing his forehead. “I don’t remember anything,” he says. “What happened last night?”
“You cussed me out. You were barely able to walk. You—” Alhaitham pauses, working his jaw. “You threw up in a bush.”
Kaveh squints. Through the haze in his mind, he can almost recall the memory of bile in his mouth and Alhaitham’s fingers in his hair. “I have vague memories of that,” he says.
“What else do you remember?” Alhaitham asks, far too curious for his own right.
“Nothing,” Kaveh says, suddenly nervous. “Why? Did I say something? Do something?”
Alhaitham looks away. “You said a great many things,” he replies, a non-answer. “That’s typical of you, though. All you ever do is work your mouth.”
Kaveh rolls his eyes. “Don’t complain about my mouth,” he says, lifting his cup. “You’ve done far too many things with my mouth to complain about it.”
Alhaitham sighs. “You’re being far too crass for this hour. It’s only morning.”
“And you’re being too much of a prude,” Kaveh snaps back, turning his nose up at him. He swallows another mouthful of terrible tea, then says, suddenly insecure, “I really didn’t do anything ridiculous last night, did I?”
Alhaitham is silent for a moment. “Don’t worry about it,” he says at last, picking up his plate and cup. “I have work to do today. Don’t burn the house down.”
He disappears into the kitchen.
Kaveh sighs and smears more honey on his flatbread, ignoring the nagging feeling that something between them has gone horribly, horribly wrong.
Alhaitham successfully manages to avoid Kaveh for a grand total of four days.
Before that, however, Kaveh lives with three days of Alhaitham leaving at dawn and returning at midnight. At first he graciously assumes that Alhaitham is truly just busy with work, boorish Scribe duties and all, but he realizes that’s not the case on day four.
On day four, he stumbles out of his workshop at midnight for another cup of coffee. Alhaitham is there by the doorway, shrugging his cape off.
“Oh, you’re back,” Kaveh says absently, rubbing his eyes.
Alhaitham freezes like he just caught robbing the Kalimi Exchange. He doesn’t say anything, just swiftly turns around and heads straight for his bedroom.
“What in the—don’t ignore me, that’s rude,” Kaveh says, offended.
The door clicks shut.
Kaveh decides to forgo his coffee and leave his project unfinished for the night. He mulls over Alhaitham’s strange behavior while he brushes his teeth, then some more when he changes into a pair of clothes that aren’t stained with oil and charcoal.
He really must have done something ridiculous while he was drunk. That has to be it, right?
Kaveh yanks his Akasha System out of his ears. Alhaitham would chide him for it, but Kaveh discovered years ago that taking it out helps him sleep better, so he doesn’t always wear it to bed. Fuck the Akademiya, anyway. It’s not like the General Mahamatra himself is going to bust down his door for wanting a peaceful night.
Here’s another thing Kaveh accidentally discovered: sometimes, when he sleeps without the Akasha System in his ears, he dreams.
And dream he does.
He dreams of Lambad’s Tavern, warm and lively. In his dream, he stumbles around from table to table with a bottle in hand, harassing all of the patrons into listening to him rant about his terrible roommate.
Eventually he makes his way upstairs. There are two hazy faces that greet him, but they become clearer when he comes close.
Yavanni and Khaldun are arguing over drinks, as always. Vikram this, Rifaet that. Personally, Kaveh thinks Rifaet has a stick up his ass, though it’s highly likely that all Haravatat scholars do.
Kaveh points an accusing finger at them, waving his bottle around. “If you two hate each other so much”—he hiccups, then stumbles into a seat—“then why are you always together?”
Khaldun flushes red all the way to his ears. Yavanni crosses her arms over her chest and says, “It wouldn’t be fun if we agreed on everything. I like challenges. Surely you do too, Mr. Kaveh. It’s a Ksashrewar thing, isn’t it?”
“I suppose you’re right,” Kaveh says, or at least, he thinks he says it. Words feel strange in his mouth, and the room is spinning. He leans against the table, placing his head in his arms.
Everything is a blur. He opens his eyes, and suddenly he’s in the streets of Sumeru City, blowing cold air out of his mouth, Alhaitham’s jacket draped over his shoulders.
He’s under a street light. He draws Alhaitham’s jacket tighter around him, not even because of the cold, but because Alhaitham is looking at him, and he feels so naked and vulnerable under his piercing gaze.
He feels himself stammer it out.
Your jacket is really warm. Can I keep it? Am I bothering you? Am I a burden? I don’t want to be a burden, not to you. I’m sorry. Should I be sorry? Haitham, I–I—
He tries to say it all, but only some of the words he wants to say comes out.
Then, worst yet: “I’m in love with you.”
Alhaitham stares at him, his eyes colored bright with surprise, and Kaveh stares back, sick to his stomach. He turns away and throws up, and then it’s just bile in his mouth—Alhaitham’s fingers in his hair—
Kaveh jolts awake.
Holy fuck, he mouths. Then, out loud, “Holy fuck.”
No wonder Alhaitham has been acting so strange. He lets the dream—no, the memory—come back to him in bits and pieces as he braids his hair, but his fingers start shaking halfway through, so it looks like a mess, but he ties it off anyway, tucking one of his quills behind his ear to hide it.
Then he stumbles out of his room, hardly awake. It’s early, so early that he catches Alhaitham in the kitchen, drinking his morning coffee.
“You,” Kaveh says, pointing a finger at him.
Alhaitham stares back. “I should go,” he says, putting his cup down.
“Oh, no you don’t,” Kaveh says hardly, grabbing him the sleeve of his jacket. “I asked you if I did anything stupid while I was drunk. You told me not to worry about it.”
“You’re still hung up on that?” Alhaitham asks. “You have nothing to worry about.”
“I told you that I’m in love with you,” Kaveh blurts out furiously. “Nothing to worry about? Just turn me down to my face, Alhaitham. I know you don’t feel the same way about me.”
“You were drunk,” Alhaitham says evenly. “You didn’t mean it.”
“I was drunk,” Kaveh agrees, the fight suddenly leaving his body. His shoulders slump, and he runs a hand through his hair. “But I did mean it.”
They stare at each other for a long moment.
“Please don’t throw up,” Alhaitham says suddenly.
Kaveh fiddles with his quill. “I feel like I’m going to throw up,” he replies. “Trust me, having feelings for you is a truly nauseating experience. Should I start packing my bags today or tomorrow?”
Alhaitham blinks. “What?”
Kaveh plucks his quill out from behind his ear. “I’ve long since overstayed my welcome,” he says. “I’m sure the uncomfortable realization that I’ve been harboring feelings for you is your last straw. It’s fine, really. I understand.”
“Kaveh,” Alhaitham says slowly. “Are you stupid?”
“I graduated with honors,” Kaveh retorts.
Alhaitham makes a frustrated sound in the back of his throat. He takes the quill from Kaveh’s hand and tucks it back behind his ear, then he cups his jaw and kisses him, pushing him back until his hip meets the counter.
Kaveh kisses him back, and then suddenly he remembers the situation they’re in and pulls away. He laughs nervously and says, “As fun as our whole unofficial fuckbuddy arrangement is, you do realize how insensitive it is to try and sleep with me now, right?”
Alhaitham looks incredulous. “Kaveh, I love you too.”
Kaveh gapes at him, suddenly horrified. “You what?”
Alhaitham frowns. “Don’t make me say it again.”
“You can’t be in love with me,” Kaveh says. “I don’t pay rent. I never do the dishes. I—” He starts, stops, then starts again, “I threw up in a bush after confessing my disgusting feelings for you.”
“Don’t tell Tighnari,” Alhaitham says drily. “He would be very displeased with you.”
Kaveh bursts out laughing, leaning against the counter to support his weight.
Alhaitham sighs, reaching over to stroke Kaveh’s hair. “I don’t ask you to pay rent, and I let you get away with not doing the dishes. I pick you up from the tavern when you get too drunk to walk, and I hold your hair back whenever you throw up from drinking too much. Do you think I would do all those things if I didn’t love you?”
“Oh,” Kaveh says.
Alhaitham rolls his eyes.
“In my defense,” Kaveh says, “you’re not the most romantic person. What was I supposed to think?”
“I let you steal my wine, and I pay for your bar tab,” Alhaitham says flatly. “What’s next, I have to buy you Sumeru Roses?”
“The house could use some plants,” Kaveh replies.
Alhaitham raises an eyebrow. “For you to throw up in?”
“God,” Kaveh says, but he’s smiling. “Just kiss me again.”
“My coffee is getting cold,” Alhaitham replies.
“Fuck your coffee,” Kaveh says, pulling him in for another kiss.
Alhaitham’s lips taste like coffee and honey. Kaveh reckons that it’s fitting for a sweeter beginning.