“And that's the last of the books Nadia sent over!” Julian exclaimed triumphantly. Asra had asked the day before if Julian would be willing and able to help him move boxes of books the countess had given him into his shop. Julian had, of course, agreed to help as a habit before really thinking it through. It was only when they were halfway to the shop, arms full with boxes of books, that he realized this meant spending a day alone with Asra. Something that had not happened in a very long time. Despite his worry, the day passed by surprisingly fast, with friendly banter, catching up, going over everything the past weeks had thrown at them while they struggled to stop the end of the world. Goat men, Nadia's powers, Muriel coming out of his shell (just a bit), reuniting with lost siblings. The day was over and the books were in place before Julian even realized time was passing. It was just suddenly dinner and time for him to leave Asra to his devices.
“Thank you for all your help today, Ilya. I appreciate it. It was fun.”
“Thank you for lunch and the company. I suppose it is time for me to take my leave and head home.”
“See you later, Ilya.”
The Doctor paused at the door, hand on the latch. He could walk away, keep pretending everything is fine. The world is safe, Asra is happy, the apprentice is happy, Nadia, Pasha, hell, even surly Muriel is happy, Julian is pretty sure he’s happy anyway. Hard to tell with someone so reclusive and quiet. What right does Julian have to not be happy, especially over something that happened so long ago. Also, today was a really good day. Things could end up being just fine without him mucking up the waters. But then, he came back to Vesuvia looking for answers. He got some very important ones, but there were still more that he felt he needed. He took a breath, thinking of everything he’s learned these past weeks. It was time. Deep breaths, he can do this.
“Actually, I want to talk… to you… about us. And what we were.”
“Oh,” Asra blinked, then sighed, “I agree, I feel we have too.”
“I understand if you’re busy or you just don’t, Oh… You agreed. Right, ah, well, there are a few… I mean, there are some things that have been going through my head over and over about you, I mean us, i mean-”
“Ilya, would you like to sit down? Maybe have some tea? It’ll help calm you down and pull your thoughts together.” Asra seated himself down at the table in the back of the shop, pouring the tea into 2 cups. Pushing one to the empty seat, he gestures at it, a friendly facsimile of that fateful night, all those years ago.
Taking another deep breath, Julian managed his way to the seat, grateful his knees didn’t buckle from nerves. How he HATES these kinds of talks. He takes the seat in front of the cup, choosing to stare at it instead of his… friend? Ex? Instead of Asra. Asra, on the other hand, was staring right at Julian, waiting, trying to gather his own thoughts to prepare for the conversation they both knew they needed.
“I wasn’t fair to you.”
Julian startled, “what?”
“I wasn’t fair to you.” Asra repeated, “when we were.... Together. I was…. Lost? Confused? I wasn’t in my right mind and you got caught up in it.”
“I got caught up in it… please tell me, Asra, what was IT, exactly? I just, I want to know what I was to you. Because in highsight, I think I had one thought of what was happening, while you had another.”
“I was… it was…” Asra paused, taking a sip of his tea, “I’m not sure what it was.”
“That’s not a good enough answer. I know it’s your calling card or your nature to be mysterious and indirect but just this once, Asra, please can you just-”
“I think I wanted to hurt you.”
“Give a straight answer.” Julian hardly breathed out the last of his sentence, somehow managing to deflate more than he already was. “You wanted to hurt me? Why?”
“After I came home, and learned that-” He choked on the words, “After finding out what had happened, I went to the lazarate. When I got there, when I saw the fires, when I dug through the ash, something inside me broke. Something died.” Asra looked down at his hands, the faint scars on his fingertips from when he dug until his fingers bled. He refused to heal them with magic, keeping them as reminders.
“When it sunk in that they were really and truly gone, I shattered. I… I couldn’t cope. I poured myself into research, tracking down old tombs of ancient magics. Forbidden magics, necromancy, alchemy, anything that could have the chance of bringing them back. It led me to the palace. Where I learned that you were the head doctor, the one trying to find a cure… and that they caught the plague because they were working with you.”
Julian tried to swallow as his mouth dried and his throat swelled up,
“And you blamed me.”
“And I blamed you. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t even right. You can’t place blame with these sorts of things happen, but I wasn’t thinking properly at all. Everything was just… pain and anger and desperation. Not only was I stuck working with Lucio,” he made a face that Julian would have likely laughed at were the atmosphere different, “but now I had to work with you as well. Rather than blame myself, I chose to blame you because it was easier.”
“So you only slept with me to get back at me in a sort of way?”
“At first, I suppose. I was honestly going to try to avoid you at first. I just wanted to do my own research, find an answer, a spell or anything, and then never see or think of you again. But you kept seeking me out, asking for help, brainstorming ideas, reminding me of them with your enthusiasm to help, everything just got more complicated for me.”
“After we, after.. You know… the first time, my emotions got more confusing. I was still in love with them, but there you were, eager and beautiful and alive” Julian blushed but kept his eyes on Asra, “I didn’t mean for it to keep going after that. I was going to tell you I couldn’t, that I couldn’t love you the way you wanted, but having another person to hold, not being alone at night felt too good. It pushed the loathing and depression back just enough to become addicting. So I thought ‘well, if it's just physical, what could it hurt?’ I didn’t expect you… I didn’t think about your feelings at all.”
A silence fell over the two, Asra looking down, waiting for anger, disgust, anything but what followed.
“You were lonely. I was a placeholder?” Julian said it hollowly and with no emotion, unusual for the usually dramatic doctor.
“No! Well, maybe at first. But then I saw you were getting more attached and I knew it needed to end. I realized that I didn’t actually want to hurt you, not really, not like I thought I wanted. So I started to distance myself from you, hopefully let you down easy after some time apart. But then you got sick, Lucio locked you away, then the fire, then you ran. I never got the chance to, I never got to explain to you…”
“That you didn’t actually love me.”
“That I couldn’t love you the way you deserved. Not then. Not so soon after…. You were a good friend to me. You were one of the few lights in the dark during that time. You and Nadia both helped pull me through it. And I was ruining it. I was wrong to blame you and unfair in how I treated you, and I'm… I'm sorry. Ilya, I'm so, so sorry. I was selfish and not thinking. I know I hurt you, but I don’t know what else to say but I’m sorry.”
Julian sat in silence, mulling over everything Asra had told him and the choked out apologies. There were tears in both of their eyes, Julians flowing freely.
“I owe an apology to you too.” Julian admitted, reaching for Asra’s hand across the small table.
“I feel, now, looking back on it, I feel that I was too pushy. I could see that you were hurting. I knew about your relationship with your apprentice, but I kept pushing. I suppose I was trying to help? Then I was just being selfish too. I’m sorry.”
Asra wiped his nose on his sleeve and coughed out a laugh, running his thumb over the back of the doctors hand, “Gods, we were a mess.”
Julian replied with a slight chuckle, “A proper disaster.” and the tension began to break. Without thinking, he took his first drink of the tea, now cool. And immediately made a face.
“OH GOD! I forgot this wasn’t coffee! Eugh! How do you drink this stuff like water??”
“Same way I imagine you manage to drink so many Salty Bitters. Just with more taste.”
“How DARE you? Salty Bitters are….. Well… They are pretty terrible, aren’t they?”
They both started laughing, small at first but growing, the last of the tension melting away into relief. Asra stood and walked around the table to stand by Julian and held out his arms. The doctor sank into the hug, pressing his face against the magicians chest, feeling hands run through his hair.
“I’m sorry, Ilya. I never should have hurt you like that. I’m never going to let that happen again. I hope you can forgive me.”
Looking up from the hug, Julian smiled, “Only if you can forgive me. What do you say, Want to give our friendship another shot? I won’t push for any more than that, unless you want more.” He grins as he wiggles his eyebrows before Asra gently pushes his face.
“Of course you fool of a man. You don’t save the world with someone and then just NOT remain friends. As for trying to be more again, I don’t want to get your hopes up. Let's just, see what happens. But, would you like to stay for dinner?”
Julians stomach responded for him with a rather loud growl.
“I suppose I could.”