Jamil barely has options on how he wants to spend his free time, but working part-time in Mostro Lounge is definitely not one of them.
He has completely forgotten what kind of deal he had made with Azul to wound himself up in this situation, but the deal had been so sudden that even if he had been paying attention, he would not have remembered the details.
“It has only been a day, and yet you fit in here so well.”
Jamil doesn’t stop washing the dishes when he hears Azul enter the room, not bothering to ask what exactly Azul meant—Jamil has hardly exchanged a word with anyone else, where the hell did Azul get that idea?
“That’s one way of saying you want me to continue working here.”
“Indeed,” Azul answers without a shred of shame, and Jamil takes the liberty to roll his eyes. It’s a bit satisfying when he knows Azul can’t see him with his back turned to the door. “I'm sure our future together will be fruitful if you come to Octavinelle!”
“For someone who I assume has high standards, the bar you set for a fruitful future is awfully low.”
Jamil can’t hear Azul’s footsteps, but he can feel Azul's presence coming closer.
“Are you implying that I was settling for less the moment I had my eye on you?”
The way he says it makes Jamil tighten his grip on the sponge, the plate squeaking loudly as he does so. Doing the dishes suddenly seems a lot more interesting than whatever is going on in their conversation right now.
The uniform Azul made him wear him is too uncomfortable. The air in the room turns stifling. The entire experience becomes far more agonizing when Jamil realizes he is practically defenseless in Azul’s territory, and never has he ever wanted to leave Octavinelle as soon as possible.
“I reject your offer,” Jamil not-so-subtly dodges Azul’s question, remembering he is in the middle of a conversation. “I’ve told you so many times, what part of it don’t you understand?”
Azul not saying a word doesn't surprise Jamil the least bit, but him slipping a card on Jamil's breast pocket does.
“It’s my contact information,” Azul answers when Jamil raises an eyebrow, “I’d be more than happy to welcome you to Octavinelle should you wish to transfer.”
For someone who has more than enough resources and manpower to keep Mostro Lounge running, Azul sure is persistent on recruiting him. Jamil absently wonders how he is still able to put up with his stubbornness. “I’m not going to use it.”
“There’s no harm in keeping it,” Azul pats Jamil’s breast pocket as if to make sure the card is still there. His touch lingers far longer than necessary, and Jamil has half the mind to swat his hand if it weren’t for the soap suds on his hands.
“Well then,” Azul lets go before Jamil could comment on his invasion of personal space, “I have business to attend to. Thank you once again for your help.”
As Azul leaves the room, Jamil releases a breath he never knew he was holding.
The last thing Jamil wants to think about before he falls asleep is the card that Azul gave him.
Jamil swears he hasn’t even looked at the card for more than a few times before throwing it away, but somehow he has everything memorized like the back of his hand. For once, his good memory is working against his favor.
Jamil turns off the lights and lies down on his bed. There’s no harm in keeping it, Azul’s voice echoes in his mind.
He closes his eyes. He rolls over. There’s no harm in keeping it.
There’s no harm in—
Jamil clicks his tongue. He wishes his mind can just give him a fucking break.
Begrudgingly, he yanks his phone off the charger and goes straight to his contacts. He may as well save Azul’s number if he has it memorized anyway.
Azul shouldn’t have come to class.
It didn't take a genius to figure out Azul isn’t feeling well from how he looks like he's about to faint any second during lectures. It's not exactly surprising how Azul ends up in the infirmary later in the day, but Jamil never would've thought that Azul would pass out right in the middle of flying class, just when Vargas asked him to help Azul fly.
Jamil is not entirely sure why, but somehow he feels a bit guilty for not keeping a close eye on Azul.
As he waits for Azul to wake up by his bedside, Jamil hears the shuffling of bedsheets, and Azul's eyes flutter open.
Jamil sighs. "About time."
Eyes languid, Azul scans his surroundings. “Where are we?”
“We’re in the infirmary. How are you feeling now?”
Azul doesn’t respond, but the way he massages his temples right after getting up answers Jamil’s question.
“How long was I out?” Azul asks.
“Probably around, uh,” Jamil fishes his phone out of his pocket, blinking when he checks the time, not realizing how quickly the time has passed. “Two hours.”
Color drains out of Azul’s face, panic filling his features. “I have to get back to Mostro—”
“No.” Jamil cuts him off with a tone of finality. “You’re not leaving on your own, not when you sprained your damn ankle. I told Jade what happened so he should be coming after a few minutes, at least wait for him before you leave.”
It's only then Azul notices the bandage wrapped on his left foot. “Have you been here long?”
“Not really. I only stayed here for a bit,” Jamil says it in a neutral tone like there’s nothing for Azul to worry about. It’s as if he didn’t carry Azul all the way to the infirmary, as if he didn’t bandage Azul’s sprained foot, as if he didn’t skip basketball practice to keep Azul company.
There’s no need for Azul to know such things or else he would insist on getting something in return for Jamil, just like that time when Jamil had to request cheat notes he definitely didn’t need just so he could teach Azul how to fly. Jamil would rather not deal with Azul going fussy over something he did of his own volition.
Breaking himself out of his reverie, Jamil remembers that he still has Azul’s glasses with him.
“Azul, give me your hand."
Azul gives him a dubious look, but quickly complies. Jamil hands him his glasses. “I tried to find your case after you passed out, but I still haven't found it.”
“There was no need for you to do that,” Azul puts on his glasses. “I apologize for the trouble.”
“It’s no trouble,” Jamil simply answers.
A ray of sun peeks from a cloud, bathing the infirmary with a tinge of orange. Nobody makes an effort to continue the conversation and they eventually fall into a comfortable silence. Azul turns to the window, watching the sunset.
Jamil thoughtlessly gazes at Azul.
It’s a huge mistake, really—it’s only then he becomes too aware of how the sunlight hits Azul's skin so perfectly, it feels like Jamil is crossing a boundary just by the sight of him.
Jamil finally breaks his gaze and berates himself from staring too long, refusing to acknowledge the warmth blooming in his chest.
Jade needs to hurry up.
Jamil stops by Sam’s shop after a few weeks.
He’s not supposed to be there—he has already stocked up enough ingredients that would last the dorm at least a month, though he finds it odd how their expenses went up when he bought less stuff than usual.
As he roams around the store, he keeps a close eye on the price tags, comparing them to their prices the last time he visited.
Jamil holds back a sigh. They definitely got higher.
A familiar voice interrupts his train of thought.
“Welcome! What can I do for you?” Sam grins broadly as he waves from his usual spot. Jamil walks to the counter, generously not pointing out the gradual increase in prices.
“Do you have eyeglass cases?”
“Thank you for your gift.”
Jamil puts on his lab coat for alchemy class. He stares at Azul like he has grown another head. “What the hell are you talking about?”
Azul brings out a case Jamil has never seen him use before, its design Jamil is all too familiar with. Azul switches out his eyeglasses for his lab goggles. “You see, someone gave this to me yesterday, but there’s no trace of who the sender is.”
Jamil turns his back to Azul. “And what made you assume that was me?”
Jamil can’t see him, but he has an inkling that Azul is smiling. It's loud. Obnoxious. “I had a hunch.”
The way Azul says it with absolute confidence tells Jamil it’s more than just a mere hunch.
“You’re completely off the mark,” Jamil replies without missing a beat as he walks to the laboratory, leaving Azul behind.
They both know that isn’t true.
For what seems like the nth time, Vargas asked Jamil to help Azul fly. Jamil can’t be bothered to teach him anymore since none of what he says seem to get through Azul. Either from sheer lack of skill or just plain unwillingness to learn, Jamil can’t really tell at this point.
So Jamil decides to take a completely different approach.
For the first time since he had saved Azul's number in his cell phone, Jamil shoots him a quick message, telling him to visit Scarabia at midnight.
Azul texts back less than an hour later, saying he will be there.
Azul eyes him incredulously from Scarabia’s balcony. “Is this why you called me here?
“You're right.” Jamil is on the magic carpet, extending his hand to Azul. This is the only way he could think of right now to get Azul used to flying without forcing him to get on his broom. “It never hurts to have a little experience on the sky, don't you think? It might help with flying lessons.”
As expected, Azul doesn’t seem too pleased. “I was never informed about this.”
“Obviously. You’re not going to show up if I told you,” Jamil suppresses the urge to roll his eyes. “Do you really think I'd let you fall? You have very little faith in me.”
Jamil realizes what he just said too late, and he knows too damn well how hypocritical he sounded, asking for something so significant from someone he barely trusted in the first place.
Azul is still visibly wary, but after a few moments of contemplation he finally takes Jamil’s hand. “I’m only doing this for today. Nothing better happens, or else.”
Jamil pulls Azul up to the carpet then situates himself, suddenly registering Azul's tight grip on his back, stretching the fabric of his dorm uniform.
He blinks. Azul is trembling.
“Azul,” Jamil calls him calmly, “take a deep breath.”
Azul does as he's told.
“Don’t worry, I’m here. I’ll make sure nothing happens to you.”
He catches himself off guard when it comes out a lot softer than he intended it to be. In an attempt to push it back to the back of his mind, they set off.
The next few minutes are spent in silence as the cold wind whips their skin. Jamil is used to this sensation, the thrill of being one with the sky that seems to be so unreachable from below, but at the same time, with Azul clinging to his back, it all feels new.
He doesn’t miss the way Azul hasn’t moved a muscle the entire ride. Azul is completely frozen in place.
Never has he ever regretted using the carpet this much.
Jamil stops the carpet mid-air. “Azul?”
“Are you sure you’re okay with this?”
Azul only clings to him more tightly. Jamil can't tell if that’s a yes or no.
“Do you want to go back now? It's perfectly fine if you do.”
Jamil feels Azul shake his head from behind him.
“I see. That’s good.” Jamil feels his shoulders relax. He's glad he didn't do something wrong. “I understand you’re scared, but nothing is going to happen if you keep hiding like that. The view is not on my back,” he pauses. “Look at the sky.”
Azul slowly loosens his grip on him and gradually peers over Jamil's shoulder into the sky, and Jamil stays where he is. Jamil does not join Azul in looking at the stars, already too familiar with the sight of them from up close.
Instead, Jamil fixes his gaze on the new scenery beside him.
Jamil isn’t a fool. He is painfully aware of how he can’t seem to tear his eyes away from Azul, how he is finding himself getting way too comfortable under Azul’s touch, how he feels a lot warmer than usual even when exposed to the cold nights of Scarabia.
He tries to push down what he is feeling right now, the sheer unfamiliarity of the emotion serving as an ugly reminder of how he should be in control of his emotions like how he’s been told to do so for his entire life.
Jamil’s fists tighten, nails digging painfully into his palms. He hadn't meant to feel this way. He has managed to keep his shit together this entire time, and yet Azul draws out all sorts of emotions from him so effortlessly, breaking down all the barriers Jamil worked so hard to build over the years without trying.
He hates that Azul finds it so easy to find the right buttons to push, the right words to back him in a corner. Jamil wanted to be understood, but why did it have to be Azul? If only he knew the extent of Azul's presence to him, Jamil should’ve put in more effort to push him away.
But no matter how far Jamil drives him away, Azul would always find his way back to Jamil's side like the obstinate person he is.
An hour later, Jamil walks him back to the Hall of Mirrors.
“For the price of my torment, you will answer my question truthfully,” Azul glances at him. His expression is devoid of the usual gasconade, not a single trace of his fear from earlier.
As if the entire thing never happened.
Jamil narrows his eyes. “Depends on what question you’re going to ask.”
“The day we were in the infirmary...” Azul stops right in front of the mirror to Octavinelle, “why did you lie to me?”
Jamil’s blood runs cold. So he knew the entire time.
That was just a white lie. It shouldn't be a big deal, so why is Azul making it sound like one?
He doesn’t meet Azul’s gaze. “Does it really matter?”
“Yes, it does.” Azul’s eyes are burning holes into him. “Basketball practice apparently took a little longer than usual that day, that’s what Floyd told me before I could even scold him for being late for his shift.”
A thoughtful pause.
“Of course, you wouldn’t know practice ran late. You weren't there in the first place. Even Floyd noticed, you know.”
Azul seemed satisfied that he had Jamil backed in a corner. He then pulls out his case, completely aware it’s Jamil who gave it to him, as he takes a cloth from inside and pretends to wipe his glasses. Jamil glares at the case—it simply reminds him of how lying is the only way for Azul to accept anything from Jamil without having to think about payment.
Jamil feels a spike of anger.
“Would you at least pretend to be grateful if I admitted that I skipped practice to accompany you?” Jamil spats, and Azul's eyes widen. “Highly doubtful. You’ll just try to make it up for me as usual. Do you think I'm doing all these in hopes for compensation?”
Even Jamil himself could taste the venom dripping out of his words. He never intended to lash out at Azul. His voice is hoarse from years of keeping it low and quiet as what’s expected of him, as if reminding him to calm down and keep it together like he always did. But he doesn’t. “When are you going to realize that I'm doing this out of my own free will, and that you're being a nuisance by refusing my help?”
At this point, he isn't sure what kind of face he is making, but from the way Azul is looking at him with remorse, Jamil would rather not know.
“And why are you...” Azul cuts himself off and takes a moment to compose himself. “My apologies. I got carried away.”
The ugly emotion in his chest worsens. That’s his line. “What the hell are you being sorry for.”
He wishes Azul would just lash back at him. What is keeping him from doing so? Why won't Azul leave Jamil alone, as he has always wanted him to do? That way, Jamil could remember to keep his emotions in check and be in complete control.
No matter how hard Jamil tries, he can’t really look at Azul straight in the eye anymore. He doesn’t want to stay there any longer.
“I better get going.” Jamil enters the mirror to Scarabia, not looking back, ignoring the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach.
His lone footsteps echoes loudly in the quiet corridors of Scarabia in the dead of night.
Jamil's fever is already making him feel like shit.
It is terrible enough that he’s forced to not attend class, but his mood manages to dive right into the negatives when he learns who knocks on his door during lunchtime. Fucking perfect.
Jamil scowls at the person in front of him. “Why are you here.”
Azul’s face is placid. “Am I not allowed to visit a friend?”
Friend. Jamil’s grip on the doorknob tightens. “What, did you miss me?”
Jamil doesn't know if he said it out of courage or stupidity. He blames the fever for clouding his judgment.
“How could I not?” Azul replies without missing a beat, and Jamil suddenly wishes he never said that. “It’s been a while since you haven’t attended class. I can’t help but worry."
The way Azul said it so matter-of-factly, Jamil notices how Azul didn't have his usual bravado. Azul would never have behaved so honestly, or shown such openness, under normal circumstances. Azul is supposed to act so pretentious, to be so proud of himself.
Azul is not supposed to act like this, it makes Jamil want to believe whatever comes out of his mouth even when his mind tells him not to.
“Get straight to the point, Azul."
“I’m handing you a copy of my notes and worksheets. We've covered a lot of material while you were gone,” Azul finally answers.
Jamil steps aside to let Azul in his room.
“We also have to answer a couple of assignments for alchemy class,” Azul continues. “They're due tomorrow, but you can turn them in after you feel better.”
“Are they difficult?” Jamil asks in a poor attempt to continue the conversation as he goes back to bed, even when he’s sure Azul will say it’s nothing he can’t manage.
A brief pause ensues as Azul contemplates.
“Nothing you can’t manage.”
Azul takes a seat on Jamil's bedside, and Jamil almost flinches when he feels a container placed on his lap.
He levels Jamil with an unimpressed stare. “It’s soup.”
“I have eyes.” The eyeroll Jamil does is so exaggerated it looks painful. “You don’t need to tell me that.”
Jamil goes quiet for a moment, staring at the container like it's a problem he can’t solve. “How did you even know I’m sick?”
“What other reason do you have for not showing up in class?”
Jamil's eyes flicker to Azul's. “I could’ve been skipping.”
“Doesn’t sound like something you would do.”
An awkward pause stretches in the room.
The container remains untouched on Jamil’s lap. His lack of response doesn't seem to surprise Azul in the slightest.
Azul audibly sighs. “Do I also have to tell you it’s not poisoned?”
“Doesn’t sound like something you would do,” Jamil repeats Azul’s words.
“Then why are you just staring at it?”
“Because I don’t know why you’re doing this for me,” Jamil couldn't help but say. Part of him suspects he already knows the answer, but he can never be too sure with anything whenever Azul is in the picture. “Perhaps you’re expecting something in return?”
That’s a line Azul would totally say. Jamil holds back a frown when he belatedly realizes the irony of the situation.
“...No," for someone who always acts like he has all of Jamil’s thoughts figured out, Azul looks extremely confused. "Are you implying that I am incapable of doing a simple deed? I am not discourteous.”
There’s no bite in Azul’s voice, that much is obvious, but Jamil almost misses the underlying apology in his words and all of a sudden it's Jamil's turn to get confused.
To be honest, he has no idea what exactly Azul is apologizing for, but at this point, Jamil couldn't bring himself to figure out why. There’s absolutely no way Azul is telling Jamil his reasons if he can’t at least say sorry.
Jamil finally opens the lid of the container. It's not like he can say the same to Azul, either. Nor is he willing to.
He takes a sip. “Tastes good.”
It’s supposed to be a compliment, but the small crack in his voice makes it sound more like an apology.
Azul wisely doesn’t point it out, but the small smile forming in his lips indicates to Jamil that he understands. “Of course it does.”
It’s only then Jamil notices how Azul isn’t eating even when it’s lunch time. He raises an eyebrow. “Why aren't you eating?”
“I’ve already eaten.”
Jamil examines him. “So you're just going to watch me eat?”
“Maybe,” Azul replies so flatly Jamil genuinely can’t tell if he’s joking or not.
Jamil is surprised he even has the energy left to say please.
Azul leaves Jamil's bedside, settling on Jamil's desk to work on his assignments. Jamil makes no effort to continue the conversation and so does Azul, only the shuffling of papers could be heard as a comfortable silence settles between them.
It takes a good while before Jamil finally breaks the silence, staring at the now empty container. “Azul.”
Azul’s eyes are still trained in his assignment. “Yes?”
“Thank you.” A strange feeling settles in his gut. It's the first time he has genuinely thanked Azul.
Azul turns away from his assignment and returns to Jamil's bedside. He reaches for the container, but somehow he doesn’t pry it from Jamil’s hands yet, laying his fingers on top of Jamil’s.
Jamil knows exactly what Azul is doing, but he doesn’t want to pull away from the warmth. Neither does Azul. Jamil stares at him.
Azul stares back. Jamil begins to wonder what Azul sees in him every time he looks at Jamil.
But he knew we would never be able to get an answer to that question.
“You’re welcome. I will now return to classes.” Azul finally takes the container and packs up his things. He then turned to Jamil one last time at the door and said, “I wish you a speedy recovery.”
As he steps out of the room, the room grows uncomfortably quiet as if something’s amiss, as if Azul was always supposed to be there. Jamil tries not to think about it, tucking himself back to bed.
The feeling of Azul's fingertips is always on his mind, and for some reason, his fever keeps on getting worse.
“I’m glad you’re feeling better.”
The moment he spots Jamil in the hallway, Azul smiles at him. His openness from when he last visited Jamil was already long gone, replaced by the usual front he puts up. Seeing him like that makes Jamil think that the day when Azul came to visit him was just a fever dream, but he knows it did happen from the way Azul looks at him so tenderly.
Jamil isn't used to this sight, but he doesn't mind in the slightest. It's something he could get used to.
A smile sneaks its way to Jamil’s lips. “Thanks to a certain someone.”