It was still dark outside when Carrot awoke. He turned over in hopes that his fear would be proven wrong. But, yet again, he was met with disappointment. He was alone in bed. The blankets and sheets next to him hadn’t even been touched. He sighed, rubbed his eyes and slowly sat up. It was way past sundown. He could tell. He’s woke up to the same empty bed at this time for the last three nights. This would make it four. A soft glow of light entered the bedroom from beneath the closed door. Jonathan must have closed it earlier that evening to avoid waking him up. Carrot had purposefully left it open this time in hopes that the sight of the bed would entice the professor to get some rest. Of course, it hadn’t worked. Carrot stretched his legs and sleepily hopped out of bed. The cold, wooden floor beneath his feet made him wince. It was always a little chillier when Jonathan wasn’t in the room, he thought. Or perhaps it was his lack of clothing entirely. As quickly as he could in the dark, Carrot fetched his nightshirt and stuffed it over his head. He fussed with a drooping ear between his fingers before making his way to the door.
Jonathan sat at the table in the dim light of a few candles. The embers from a fire lit earlier that night were now all ash in the fireplace, providing no heat to the cool room. He meant to keep it going but he’d hardly even noticed when the flames died out. His studies were way more important. Using tweezers and care, he plucked a small, slimy vein from what seemed to be the brain of a creature that had died a few days ago. The vein was a deep ashen color, slick with black blood Jonathan was careful to not let touch his skin. He held it up above a candle. Quietly in his head, he counted the seconds it took before the vein was consumed by the heat. He set the tweezers down on the dish with the brain and replaced them with a pen. The sound of his nib making quick and scattered notes was soon met with a soft creak of a door opening. Without moving an inch, Jonathan’s eyes flickered up to see Carrot, sleepy and poorly garbed for this temperature, standing in the hall.
“Did I wake you?”
Jonathan’s voice was as calm and comforting as Carrot had always thought it to be. But it was also strained with exhaustion. The professor’s attention was quickly back on his studies, on his findings, on his experiments and notes and this new breakthrough that he was so close to-
Jonathan’s writing paused. He realized there had been no response to his question. He looked up again to see an empty hall. To his side, he heard logs being carefully put into the fireplace. He thought for a few moments as Carrot got the fire going. He hadn’t meant to let it go out. The cold didn’t affect Jonathan much, he always figured it was a smaller nuisance that didn’t need wasted energy or attention. However, as much as Carrot was fine with it, Jonathan couldn’t help but want to warm up the shivering limbs of such a small boy. Carrot’s face was much more adorable with some color to it, after all, and a cold-stricken assistant was of no help to him. The warmth of a well going fire waved over Jonathan’s left side. He sighed involuntarily. He’d almost forgotten within the past couple of hard studied hours how nice it felt to be warm. The fireplace was supposed to stay lit until he made his way to bed that night, so as to help heat up the cabin for Carrot since he wasn’t in bed. However, he never made it that far. As usual. What time was it again? Jonathan shook his head. That didn’t matter, he was onto something now. He couldn’t let these thoughts pass, he had to continue with his work.
Jonathan’s pen stilled in his hand again as he listened to the fire crackle. He glanced ahead to the open bedroom door. His notes resumed, “You should head back to bed. With the fire going, the cabin will be warm in no time.”
There was no answer. Jonathan didn’t look up but his writing slowed. He was trying to focus on his work but, what was this? Was he being ignored? “An assistant without a voice is no good to me.” Still no answer. “And one with a voice they are not willing to use is even worse.” Only the crackling of the fire answered Jonathan’s calm irritation. “Carrot-” He dropped his pen and made to turn around before two small hands suddenly rested on his shoulders from behind. They slid forward, crossing onto his chest as Carrot pressed himself against Jonathan’s back and settled into a light embrace. Jonathan turned his head to see Carrot’s face buried in his shoulder. He rested his head against Carrot’s and exhaled a groan of comfort. He grabbed one of Carrot’s hands on his chest, rubbing it softly to bring some warmth to it. Using his other, he traced Carrot’s forearm, feeling his soft skin and enjoying the boy’s gentle touch. After staying like this for what seemed to be hours, Jonathan sighed.
Jonathan could feel a soft smile against his neck. He carefully undid the embrace around him to turn and face his apprentice. Carrot’s hair was a ruffled mess, blond strands tangling around his ears and sticking out every here and there. His hands, which Jonathan held in his own, were warm and he was just beginning to see some pink return to his cheeks. Carrot’s eyes were nearly shut, the poor thing looking as if he’d sleep walked through the past five minutes. Looking into those tired eyes almost seemed to sway Jonathan on his stool. A sudden rush of exhaustion crashed over him. He supposed that was what happened when you didn’t sleep for days straight. Carrot stepped forward and placed his hands on Jonathan’s face, slipping his fingers into his hair. The contrast of Carrot’s kind and gentle touch compared to the demon Jonathan had been disecting for days almost had him reeling. He closed his eyes and reached up to tenderly hold onto Carrot’s wrists. The fingers in his hair wiggled about lazily as Carrot leaned in to rest his forehead against Jonathan’s.
“I think it’s time for bed.”
Jonathan opened his eyes, appraising the sleepy gaze from his loyal assistant, whose face was so close to his now. His long lashes, his rose dusted cheeks, his small and almost pouted mouth. Jonathan couldn’t remember the last time he’d kissed those lips. He could hardly even remember what they felt like. He brushed a thumb over them with resolve.
“I believe you’re right.” Jonathan glanced to the fireplace, noticing for the first time a small pot above the flames.
Carrot nodded, his lips still against Jonathan’s thumb. The professor huffed out a tired chuckle. How he deserved an assistant such as Carrot was beyond him. Not that it mattered, he already had him, after all. But how grateful he was. “Thank you.” He pulled Carrot into him, wrapping him up in a warm and much needed embrace. “But I think I will skip the tea tonight. Or rather, this morning.”
Carrot’s ears drooped for a moment. “It certainly would help me want to rest but I think you’ve done a great job of that yourself.”
These were the things Jonathan never thought he’d be able to get used to. What did it mean to care for someone? It’d never appealed to him but rather it wasted time and he already had so little. Carrot wasn’t very needy or demanding of him and that was a relief. However, to have someone who could so accurately notice your own limits? It was a wonder. All wrapped up in a small, cursed boy whose beauty was only the beginning of how stunning he was turning out to be. Jonathan stood, walking past Carrot to remove the kettle from above the fire. The wooden floor creaked lightly beneath his boots. He knew he needed rest. He ignored it, yes, but he knew. He’d like to think Carrot was telling him in some sort of way that he’d be useless if he passed out from exhaustion. Or perhaps that was own subconscious.
Perhaps Carrot just cared .
He stopped in front of Carrot, reaching out to cup his face and tilt his small chin upward. Jonathan was a busy man of many talents and discoveries and here, in front of him, was this small half asleep boy whose soft ambience only seemed to mock the dark bags under his own eyes. In a world such as theirs, he would be a fool to ignore any chance to discover new findings. But in a world like theirs, he would be a bigger fool to ignore the much needed comfort and gifted companionship standing right in front of him.
Perhaps Jonathan cared too.