The two of them stood there, breathing hard as Julian's arm stayed wrapped around her waist, until he properly looked around. He had to slouch a little to avoid bumping his head on the rafters. "Mazelinka, dear? Are you home? Sorry to drop in like this, it's the guards…" His voice called quietly in the small home as Verun stared at him.
"Who's Mazelinka? Did we just break in?"
"Well, yes, but-"
"You got some real bad habits, Julian." Verun clicked her tongue in disapproval and he flushed under her scrutiny.
"Mazelinka is a friend of mine, she knows I come in through the window when guards are about." He waved a hand and turned, glancing at the flowers in the windowsill pot, his face falling. "Ah, uh oh. We kind of trampled the dragon's breath."
Verun was about to respond when the front door shuddered, opening with a heave. A small, quick woman took one step inside before her eyes narrowed on Julian.
"Ilya, you slippery boy. Did you come in through the window again?"
Julian straightened up a bit too quickly, smacking his head on the rafters with a wince and a pop in his neck. "Ah, Mazelinka, it's good to see you, such a sight for the sore eye… is that a new shawl?" He leaned down to give a kiss on the cheek, a smile playing on his lips.
"You know it isn't," she said dryly. "I thought you might be around when I saw the guards… and who's this?"
She turned her eyes onto Verun and she smiled in return, nervous about this new stranger.
Julian swept over to Verun to introduce the two of them. "Mazelinka, this is Verun, a… new friend."
"A new friend, ey? Well, welcome in Verun, make yourself comfortable."
She moved on by, letting out a squawk when she saw the state of the yellow flowers in the windowsill, and Julian nearly tripped over himself apologizing. "Ah, Mazelinka, that's my fault, I take full responsibility for it, I just-"
"Don't fit through the door, I know." She sighed deeply and shook her head. "Get that round pot for me, would you?"
He blinked and bobbed his head in a nod, stepping over to a cupboard set in the dirt wall behind him. As the tension of their flight eased, there was a slight sway in his step and when his gaze drifted to Verun he looked… tired, like he was about to fall asleep on his feet. He said that the bite wouldn't last but his gaze looked dazed, unfocused. Verun was no doctor, but she had little bits of miscellaneous medical information and she was pretty sure that could be a sign of blood loss.
As he reached for the cupboard, Verun put her hand over his, leaning close to him. "Hey, stop for a moment. Let me see the bite."
His eye fluttered wide open, staring at her with more focus than he had in the last five minutes. She shuffled him aside and took the pot out of the cupboard, fixing him with a stern glare. "Show me."
"The…? Oh the bite, you want to… see. Right." He gave a quick glance to Mazelinka and unfastened his jacket and lifted up the bloody shirt under that, exposing smooth pale skin where the bite had been. Julian flashed her an unsteady grin. "What do you think, good as new? Amazing, isn't it?"
Verun reached out to brush her fingers against the skin. She could hardly tell where the bite was in the first place, feeling a small shiver as her fingers pressed to his skin.
"Are you impressed? It's your master's handiwork, it shouldn't surprise you too much." He let the fabric drop once more, and Verun shook her head in confusion.
"Julian, I've never seen Asra do something like this. He can heal small wounds, scrapes and bruises and the like, but something like that…?"
"Something like what?" Mazelinka looked over at them with a protective glare. "Ilya, what have you been getting yourself into?"
"Nothing I wouldn't do again, dear." Julian whisked the pot from her hands and took it over to the fire where Mazelinka stood. She rubbed a sprig of dried herb between her fingers and frowned as she sniffed it.
"Damn, worrywort's gone stale. I have more in the garden, if you two will excuse me." She grabbed a small rusty knife and shuffled out the door, leaving the two of them alone once more, at least for a minute.
As soon as she was gone, Julian slumped down onto the counter with a sigh. "Huh. Who knew a bite like that would take so much out of me… not to belittle your bite or anything, I've treated a few dozen before, unfortunately." His gaze hardened as he looked out the window. "You've been the only survivor. And me, I suppose, though I don't really count, do I?"
Verun felt her heart ache for a moment, staring at him. She had to remind herself that he was a doctor, someone dedicated to help and preserve life. Of course he wouldn't have just left her to bleed out in the street, he just wasn't that kind of person. But then… why was he blamed for the murder of the Count?
He shook his head. "They're not actually aggressive, the eels. Just starved. And they wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the… the Count."
Verun knew. Until she asked, she would never find any answers. But seeing this side of him, small moments snatched with a smile, of a hand in her hair, pain on his face even as he grinned… it made her scared to ask, scared to know the truth, if she didn't like it. But she had to know.
"Did you really do it, Julian?" She kept her voice quiet, almost hoping that he wouldn't hear and have to answer.
But he froze, eye fixed on her. Then his gaze dropped to the floor, and she could see his pulse jump at his temple. Then he looked up at the ceiling, anywhere but at her, laughing nervously. "You know, I've been asking myself that question for three years, but it sounds much less irritating when you say it, Verun. Did I do it… would you believe me if I told you the truth, about what I remember from that night? I know I wouldn't. But Verun..."
He leaned over the counter, finally looking at her again with his face half hidden with his fingers as he set his head on his hands. "Did I do it… did I murder the Count? What if I told you I don't remember, any of it? Not even the day before, or the day before that… almost the entire week, I can't remember."
"Ilya, you're barely standing." Mazelinka appeared in the doorway, raising an eyebrow at him. "When's the last time you slept?"
"Ah, I don't need to as much as I used to, not since the curse. You know that, Mazelinka."
"Who says? Your eye is rolling. Curse shmurse, you still need your rest."
He dropped his gaze to the floor, his gaze slowly making its way to Verun's feet and slowly upwards until it reached her face. Mazelinka gave him an unimpressed look. "I'm fine, dear. Haven't felt this good in a while."
She sighed, tossing a handful of sand into the cauldron and stirring it in. "Uh huh. And I'll be very happy for you after you've rested, so go on. Shoo."
"Aw, Mazelinka… just until the soup is done." His gaze still hadn't left Verun's face, wandering like he was fixated. Or maybe he was just very, very tired.
"Just til the soup is ready, hmm? Can you survive that long without her?" She shot a glance over to Verun, making the girl blush.
Julian sighed and blinked slowly, tearing his gaze away from Verun. "I suppose…" his face was also flushed, and he stepped his way towards a curtained off room, sliding his hand into Verun's on his way past. "Don't worry, cutie. I'm leaving you in good company."
And then he slipped away, leaving Verun's cheeks burning. He didn't even seem to realize what he said, his words echoing in her head. With her strongly androgynous looks, she didn't get complimented much, and she certainly wasn't used to it. Mazelinka watched him go, turning back to the pot for a few moments.
"He won't do it. He'll be in there pacing and muttering to himself all night unless he's pinned down." She looked over at Verun with a quietly sly look. "One of us needs to keep an eye on the brew though… hmm. Verun, you want to make sure he lays down, or shall I?"
"I-I'll keep an eye on him," she stuttered. Mazelinka smiled kindly.
"Thank you. Head on back and make sure that boy rests some."
Verun nodded and slipped past Mazelinka, pulling the curtain aside as she joined Julian in the small room. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, his jacket and cloak laid out at the foot of the bed, shirt loose around his shoulders with his gloves beside him.
Verun stepped forward and he stopped, looking up at her with a tired smile. The bags around his eyes seemed darker than normal, or at least darker than what Verun had seen so far. "Ah, did Mazelinka send you to tuck me in? Don't worry, I-I-"
He stuttered to a stop as Verun seated herself in front of him, carefully undoing the clasp of his boots. One by one she pulled them off as he tried to continue speaking. "I know… when my body is beat," he said quietly, laying a hand on her cheek. For a second his eye shone with an absolute adoration, before Verun stood up and sat beside him on the bed. Then he settled back with a slight shrug. "It might take as long as it takes, but it'll heal up regardless. Stab me in the back, and I'll walk it off, but healing takes everything I've got to stitch me back together."
He leaned on her shoulder, his lips just inches away from hers as he spoke. Verun stared at him, almost too close for her eyes to focus on him. For a moment their lips almost, almost- pressed together, but then Mazelinka pushed the curtain aside, a bowl of soup in hand.
She handed the bowl to Julian with a stern look. "Drink. Verun, will you be staying the night as well?"
Julian sputtered as he tasted the soup, drawing back some. "Oh, so it's this soup, huh?"
"I won't just be letting you drive yourself into the ground, Ilya. You're still human, you need rest as much as the rest of us whether you like it or not." He mumbled something in protest and Mazelinka gave a great sigh, taking the bowl and placing it into Verun's hands. "Make sure he drinks, alright? I have a feeling he'll take anything you give him."
"What for? I'm not even tired any mo-" his words broke off into a huge yawn, after which he gave a sheepish look. Mazelinka patted Verun's arm before heading back into the main room, letting the curtain swing shut behind her.
"She makes that soup when I can't sleep, bless her. I don't know what she puts in it, but it always manages to make me sleep. No matter if I'm half in a frenzy, mad out of my mind and beating my wings against the walls."
Verun was pretty sure that she knew at least some of the ingredients in it, and would know more if she had been paying attention as Mazelinka made it. She glanced over the golden liquid as Julian waited patiently for it. Verun could see the tip of his tongue peek out of his mouth, swipe across his lip as he stared at her. That look was expectant, even as his gaze settled very specifically on her lips. She wasn't sure if it was an invitation or if he was truly lost in his own world, but as she set the soup down on the small table near the bed, his eyes stubbornly followed her lips.
So she leaned over, a hand against his cheek leading him as his eyes slid closed and their lips met. A sigh escaped him after that first brush, and suddenly he wrapped his arms around her, pulling Verun closer. She wasn't prepared for the passion of it, Julian murmuring her name against her lips. It was like he was hungry, absolutely ravenous for her touch, his hands sliding up the back of her shirt and making her shudder.
Her fingers twisted into his hair and he let out a quiet groan. "Oh, Verun, Verun… come here, come closer."
And she was pulled over him, thrown off balance as he pulled her closer until they were chest to chest, bodies pressed together as much as they could be like this. But it was overwhelming for her, and Verun pulled him away by the hair, wrenching a hiss of pleasure-pain from him as he stared up at her straddling his lap. She held his head back with the hand in his hair, eyes gliding up the long, long column of his neck that was exposed with his head tilted back like this - even as the sight made her throat go dry. There was a gnawing heat in her belly that made her want to drag her lips and teeth and tongue over that column, wanting to teasing lines into his skin and go lower into the wide V of skin on his chest that his shirt did nothing to hide.
"Hah- I- was, was that too much? What’s wrong, I'm sorry, I can do better, I'll be good."
Verun just continued to stare down at him, and god, he just looked so… so pretty, with his face flushed and eager and pleading. It made her want to see what she could do until he would break. She pressed him back, watching his chest heave as he waited for permission to kiss her again. But she was curious, so she placed a hand on his chest and pushed him down, and he went easily until his back was flat on the bed. He already looked like he was about to break, to beg her for just a few more kisses, a few more moments, but he simply watched her.
"I was told you'd need to be pinned," she murmured with a small smirk.
He blushed, but laughed quietly. "Well hey, if it's you who's pinning me, I'm rather… inclined to stay put." His pun took a moment to register in her mind, and when it did Verun let her head fall to his chest with a groan.
"Julian, that's the woooorst," she whined, making him shake with mostly silent laughter. Then the curtain parted and Mazelinka shook her head.
"Now that's enough, you two." The two of them disentangled themselves under her gaze, blushing, before she threw a sheet over them. "I assume you'll be sleeping with him, Verun, or would you rather sleep in the hidey hole?"
Verun could see Julian's gaze on her, heated yet still gently teasing from his pun. She hummed, tilting her head. "I dunno, maybe I'll take the hidey hole…"
Mazelinka laughed as Julian's expression changed to something like betrayal, but Verun couldn't hide her giggle as he pouted. She patted his knee with a grin.
"Oh fine, you. I'll stay here."
Mazelinka's laugh died down as she grinned. "Well then, I'll leave you two with a goodnight."
"Don't worry Mazelinka, I'll be an absolute gentleman, I promise."
"Verun, hold him to that," she said with a wry look.
"Absolutely. Hold me however you want, Verun."
Mazelinka rolled her eyes, lightly swatting his head as she turned around and walked out, letting the partition close. "And get some sleep already!" She called back, before it fell silent.
"That I can't promise you," Julian murmured, turning back to Verun. She let herself settle beside him, before she grabbed the bowl of untouched soup in her hands. It was a bit cold, so she used a bit of magic to warm her hands and get the soup back to the perfect temperature. He stared up at her, blinking sleepily, but she gently roused him with a hand hooked around his neck to pull him up.
"C'mon, Julian. You need to at least eat, even if you already feel like you're going to pass out."
He huffed a bit and sat up, propping himself up on his elbow as Verun offered the bowl. His eye was mostly closed as he gulped it down quickly, leaving only the dregs of it before he laid back. Then he moved, splaying out his limbs to make some sort of room for her next to him as he waggled his eyebrows. It wasn't enough for her to sleep without having to cuddle up to him and he knew it, though Verun definitely didn't mind, her gaze traveling the length of his body.
"There you go my dear, just enough room for the two of us." He then lifted the sheet for her, and with a sudden bout of jitters she slipped under them.
She turned to meet him, their chests brushing against each other as they breathed, inspecting his eye. He smiled back at her, a hand fiddling with the edge of his own shirt.
"I uh… hope I'm not coming on too strong for you, Verun." He sighed, the noise dreamy and wanting as his hand twitched up, as if to brush over her cheek. "Ohhh, I'd love to make something real with you, such… such a special one, you are."
Verun smiled and pressed forward to brush her lips over his. He responded gently, hand reaching out eagerly before he stopped himself and moved back, much to her disappointment.
"You could, you know," she answered quietly.
"If we had more time…" his smile dropped into something mournful, an expression that Verun was already familiar with… and already learning to despise. It seemed out of place on his face, a face that was meant to smile and laugh and love. She reached over to brush away the hair around his face and he stiffened, his eye glancing at her nervously.
"Verun…" he murmured, before shaking his head. "Don't mind me, I'm just rambling… must really be exhausted."
Gently, with a shiver in his skin, he drew her closer to press their lips together. It wasn’t as passionate as Verun was expecting it to be based on earlier, but she supposed that he was very tired. But he lingered there, eye searching her face as if he was scared of something, or like he was expecting her to disappear like a too-good-to-be-true dream.
"Goodnight, Verun." He smiled slightly for a moment before moving to turn away, before she stopped him. With a tired, questioning noise he followed Verun's lead, moving his arms and legs where she wanted them, humming in contentment once they settled.
Verun's arm was between his shoulder and the pillow, both of them laying on their sides. Julian's arm was trapped under her, though she was hoping that his arm wouldn’t go too numb. Their other arms were wrapped over each other's backs, and one of Verun's thighs was wedged between Julian's legs. It was comfortable, a sleeping arrangement her and Asra fell asleep in often enough… though with his lankier form, Julian's face ended up perfectly pressed into her chest, making both of them blush. But again, it was comfortable, and Julian clearly couldn't care less about any awkwardness when he had his own exhaustion to worry about.
They hadn't been in that position for more than fifteen seconds before his eye drifted closed and his breathing shifted into patterns of sleep. With barely a thought Verun used her magic to extinguish the candle in the room, and she followed him down into the realms of sleep.