Content warning: Alcohol use, mild language, sexual themes, referenced sexual abuse
When Bast hears the low groan from the bedroom, he quietly begins making tea. The motions are familiar, as soothing as the brew itself. He takes a handful of dried ironwort stalks down from the cupboard, the flower buds crinkling as he counts out six and returns the rest to the bundle.
The floorboards creak with soft footsteps in the next room over.
He fills a pot one-third of the way with water and adds the stalks whole. Some of them need to be folded in half to fit, and he does so carefully so as not to break off any of the flowers.
A muffled retching noise comes from the bathroom.
Bast winces in sympathy as he covers the pot and sets it on the eye of the stove. After turning up a low heat, his hands come to rest on the counter.
It’s just waiting now.
It’s about midnight when Bast looks over at Corvin and sees him swaying on his barstool. He grins and claps him on the shoulder. “Looks like you’ve had plenty,” he says. “Thought you were switchin’ to non-alcoholic stuff?”
Corvin’s eyes swim up to meet his. He grins back, open and wholehearted, and Bast thinks maybe they should go out drinking more often.
“I did,” Corvin tells him. He’s pronouncing his words very carefully, like he’s practicing for a play. “I’ve been having the…iced tea, think that was it.”
“Huh, guess you…” A thought makes it through the thick cloud around Bast’s brain. “Wait, not the Long Islands, right?”
Corvin smacks a hand on the table. “That was it. Really like them.”
“Oh buddy,” Bast says. “Those are majorly alcoholic. You’ve had, what, two of ’em? An’ those beers to start?”
Corvin blinks. “Is that a lot?”
“For someone who’s only ever drunk once before? Yeah, that’s a lot.” Bast pats him on the shoulder again, more gently this time. “Should prob’ly get you home before any of those drinks make a reappearance.”
Liz leans over. “Ah, sorry I didn’t stop him. He said he’d drunk before and I thought he meant, y’know, more than once.”
Bast eyes Corvin as he goes to stand. “I mean, he seems to be handling it alright…”
As soon as Corvin’s feet hit the floor, he’s falling. Bast leaps up to catch him before he can knock himself out on the next table over.
“...or maybe not,” Bast mutters.
Corvin’s put on muscle since they first met, but he’s still light enough that Bast easily props him up. Corvin laughs and leans against him, trusting Bast to keep him upright.
Bast turns to find Corvin standing where the kitchen/dining room meets the hallway. He’s still dressed in his jeans and red shirt from last night, now rumpled and creased. His dark hair falls over half his face as he stares at the floor.
“Hey, it’s no trouble,” Bast tells him. “Wasn’t your fault you didn’t know what Long Islands were.”
If anything, Corvin just looks more miserable. “I…I meant for everything after.”
Bast hears the water in the pot begin to murmur and turns to shut off the heat while he thinks of a way to respond.
“Okay, hand on my shoulder, let’s go.” Bast keeps a firm arm around Corvin’s waist as the other man dutifully reaches across his back and grips his opposite shoulder. “Sorry to leave ya so suddenly, Liz. Miri.”
Miri raises her cocktail with a smirk. “Are you kidding? It’s suddenly girls’ night, who’d complain about that?” She slides off her stool with far more grace than her six drinks would suggest and moves to sit next to Liz, who laughs and clinks her bottle against Miri’s glass.
“See you boys later,” Liz calls. “Make sure Corvin drinks some water.”
Corvin gives a wave as Bast starts leading him to the door. He seems perfectly content to lean most of his weight on Bast and let him configure their balance. When they step outside, Corvin hums and drops his head against Bast.
“Holdin’ on there?” Bast asks him.
He almost trips over his own feet when Corvin gives his shoulder a tight squeeze and laughs in a low, almost husky voice. “You’re so sturdy,” he murmurs. “And you have good shoulders.”
Bast is far too drunk to trust his intuition, so he settles for a neutral response. “Uh…thanks? Hey, you walked here, right? Where’s that new apartment of yours again?”
“Mmm, don’t know,” Corvin says. “Nash gave me directions to the bar. Can’t remember it all backwards.”
“We gotta get you a smartphone,” Bast mutters. “Okay, change of plans. You’re comin’ home with me.”
Corvin lifts his head to give Bast a bright-eyed, breathless smile. “Yeah?”
“Sure,” Bast says. “Not like you haven’t stayed over before. We were pretty much roommates back before…”
“Before you saved me?” Corvin’s expression contains no hint of pain. He remains relaxed against Bast, smile still easy. Bast is once more reminded of just how far Corvin has come in the two years since they met. He’s a completely different person from the suspicious, malnourished young man too scared to testify.
Looking at Corvin now, with his tense shoulders and lowered eyes, it’s hard not to see him two years younger. The idea that Bast is even remotely responsible for this regression makes his chest tighten.
“You got nothing to apologize for,” he says firmly. “We all get a little weird when we drink. Least you never smacked my ass and told me I’d look good in hotpants.”
That startles Corvin enough that his head jerks up, eyes wide. “Who - ?”
“That was Miri,” Bast says with a half smile. “I like to bring it up every now and then. Keeps her humble.”
Corvin’s brow furrows. “Isn’t she a lesbian?”
“Far as I know.”
Bast gestures to the little dining table. “You wanna come have a seat? Don’t have much to eat besides cereal, but I’ve got some tea brewing. Hell of a hangover cure, I promise.”
Corvin hesitates, then a tentative smile comes to his face. He pulls out a chair and sits at the table. “Is this the mysterious mountain tea of legend?”
“Sure is.” Bast reaches for the cupboard again and pulls out the two boxes of cereal he has on hand. He checks the labels. “You want, uh, some healthy stuff with almonds in it or this sugar one that’ll kill you by age forty?”
Corvin smirks. “Well, I’ve always planned to die young.”
When he helps Corvin to the bedroom and gets him seated on the bed, Corvin doesn’t let go of him. His hands slide up Bast’s arms and wrap him in a close embrace. “You’ll be good to me, right?” he mumbles into Bast’s neck. “Always so gentle. Even when I don’t deserve it.”
“Uh,” Bast says. His heart thunders in his chest. “Hey, you - you good, Corvin?”
That’s when he feels Corvin’s lips ghost over his pulse. It’s a soft, barely-there gesture, but coupled with everything else tonight Bast can’t ignore it. He swallows hard and carefully pries Corvin’s arms off.
“You’re drunk,” he says. “Like, hilariously drunk. You just take it easy for a minute, okay?”
“Stay.” Corvin’s hands curl into Bast’s shirt. “I want…I need…”
“Y’ need some water,” Bast says more firmly. “An’ some sleep.”
Corvin seems to wilt. His hands release Bast’s shirt and come to rest on the bed. He lowers his head, lips pressing together in an expression Bast recognizes as self-beratement. He kneels down to catch Corvin’s eye.
“Hey, you’re good. It’s all good, I’m just a bit worried. Wanna make sure you’re safe. I’m gonna get you some water, ’kay?”
Though his expression doesn’t change, Corvin nods. Bast stands and heads back to the kitchen. When he returns with the water, Corvin has pulled off his boots and now sits on the edge of the bed looking slightly lost. Bast hands him the glass of water and watches to make sure he drinks it.
“Alright,” Bast says as Corvin sets the glass on the nightstand. “I’ll just be in the living room if you need me. You get some sleep.”
Corvin nods, eyelids already drooping. Bast closes the door softly on the way out.
He lies awake on the couch thinking about Corvin, and the history between them, and what’s changed tonight. He touches a hand to his neck, hyper-aware of the patch of skin where Corvin kissed him. By the time the sky outside the window begins to lighten, he still doesn’t know how to feel.
Bast busies himself with making up the bowls of cereal as he searches for something to say that will pierce the growing silence.
“Didn’t know you were into guys,” he blurts out, and immediately has to close his eyes and resist the urge to bang his head against the wall.
Fortunately, Corvin seems mostly untroubled. “Neither did I,” he says. “Well, not until a few months ago. I always used to…” Here he hesitates, and Bast knows from the way the lines appear on his face that he’s thinking about his time under Il Ragno’s thumb. “I used to prefer the female clients because it usually hurt less.”
Bast feels his jaw clench as the old anger sparks in his chest. He knows it won’t help Corvin, won’t make the memories soften or the nightmares go away, so he takes a breath and keeps his face neutral as he slides a bowl of cereal and a jug of milk across the table to Corvin. As he moves away, he feels Corvin touch his hand and turns to meet his eyes.
“It was a long time ago,” Corvin says softly. As usual, he’s able to read Bast like a book.
It was less than two years, Bast thinks, but he nods. Sometimes he thinks Corvin is better at moving on than he is. Sometimes he still wakes in the middle of the night, blinking the color of Corvin’s bruises from his itching eyes.
(Still, it’s nothing compared to Corvin’s nightmares.)
He’s grateful when Corvin draws back. It leaves him free to turn away again and focus on the tea.
The scent when he lifts the lid of the pot is floral and earthy, and for a moment he closes his eyes and lets himself imagine his yiayia’s presence in the steam that rises. He thinks again about how she would have immediately taken Corvin under her wing had she lived to meet him, and the thought of how she’d fuss over his skinny appearance is enough to return a smile to Bast’s face.
He strains the tea as he pours two mugs, filtering out any bits of plant matter that might have separated during the steeping process. The resulting liquid is a clear, rich amber. Satisfied, he brings the two mugs to the table and takes a seat across from Corvin.
“Careful,” he says as Corvin reaches for a mug, “it’s probably still scalding.”
Corvin’s precautions against burning his mouth begin and end at blowing on the tea’s surface for a moment before taking a sip. His eyebrows come up. “It’s good,” he says.
“What, surprised?” Bast huffs in mock offense. “My grandmother was an artist when it came to tea.”
Corvin takes another drink. “I thought hangover cures were supposed to taste awful. To distract you from the pain, or something.”
Bast shakes his head and reaches across the table to steal the milk back. “Nah, this stuff is different. Has a bunch of antioxidants, whatever those are. Plus it’s warm and mostly water, so it helps.” He stirs the milk into his bowl of cereal and watches Corvin drink from his mug with two hands. He can’t help but feel a touch of pride that he likes it so well, and then that pride morphs into something soft and fond that Bast doesn’t want to think on for too long.
In the two years that they’ve known each other, there’ve been several moments like this, where he’s noticed how well he and Corvin fit into each other’s lives. Somehow Corvin managed to strike up a friendship with Liz without even realizing she was close with Bast and Miri as well. And somehow Corvin is the one most likely to provide insight on Bast’s toughest cases.
(Bast has been after Corvin to pick up some criminal justice classes at the community college for some time now.)
“Bast, can I…” Corvin trails off, and Bast blinks when he realizes he’s been staring.
“Yeah, go ahead. You’re about to ask an uncomfortable question, right?”
Corvin cracks a weak smile. “Yeah. Yeah, I am.” The smile fades and his hands tighten around his mug. “Does it bother you? Knowing that I’m… Well, to be honest, ‘into you’ feels like an understatement.” His eyes lower again. “I - I know I made you uncomfortable last night, but I swear it won’t happen again.”
Bast leans back in his chair and lets out a long breath. The knot of conflict that’s been tightening in his chest since last night somehow seems more snarled than he remembers. “Here’s the thing,” he says. “It wasn’t…entirely bad, y’know, to be hit on by an attractive man.”
Corvin’s eyes dart up. He swallows. “But?”
“But it’s complicated,” Bast says. He chuckles. “Speaking of understatements.”
“Is it?” Corvin holds his gaze, and Bast wonders if he can see the tangle of emotions behind his eyes better than he can. “Can’t it be as simple as two people being interested in each other?”
When he puts it like that, it’s as if he’s once again provided the vital perspective Bast needs to understand a case. Interested is a good word. There’s a lot that’s interesting about Corvin, from his dry sense of humor to his alarming propensity for sleight-of-hand to the way his eyes seem to glow beneath his dark lashes. Bast was certainly interested enough to become his friend, to continue meeting with him alone or with others long after the Ragno case was laid to rest. (And Il Ragno with it, according to recent news from the state penitentiary.)
“Have you…been in a relationship before?” Bast asks. “A real one, I mean.”
“Sure,” Corvin says. “Not recently, but Ginette says I’m probably ready for one.”
The casual name-drop of Corvin’s therapist reminds Bast once again of the progress Corvin has made. He looks at Corvin’s easy, open posture and the hopeful glint in his eyes. He thinks of his yiayia then, and how she taught him to brew ironwort. Most teas, she said, need to steep for the right length of time. Drink them too late and they’ll be bitter; too short and they’ll be weak. But mountain tea is forgiving. There is no right length of time. There is no wrong way to drink it.
Bast takes the first sip from his mug. Perfect temperature. He smiles, remembering how Corvin was willing to burn his mouth for the sake of trying something new. “I gotta admit,” he says, “I want to see where this goes. I don’t wanna rush anything, and there’s a lot in my mind I still have to straighten out. But…” He gives a wry shrug. “Maybe it’s like you said. Maybe it oughtta be simple.”
“I won’t ever rush you,” Corvin says. “We can take time. Feel it out.”
He rises from the table to put his dishes in the sink, and Bast does likewise. Corvin hesitates, lingering.
“Are we still on for tomorrow night? Dinner at the Eclipse?”
Bast blinks at him. “Why wouldn’t we be?”
A relieved grin comes to Corvin’s face. “I just thought you might need some space. I…I want to try this, but I’m so damn scared of losing you.”
Bast feels his words as a physical ache in his chest. He holds out his arms and Corvin tucks himself easily into the embrace.
“Even if I wasn’t interested,” Bast murmurs, “you’d have to try a lot harder than that to get rid of me.”
He feels the tension ease from Corvin’s shoulders with a sigh.
“And I’m not going to break, you know,” Corvin says. “Or at least, if I did I’d bounce back from it.”
Bast smiles at him fondly. “I know, I know. You’re sturdy like that. With good shoulders.”
Corvin’s surprised laugh is a sunrise in his chest. They’ll be alright, Bast thinks.