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He loves me, he loves me not. Forget me, forget me not.

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Olruggio spots the witch dressed in white when the man passes in front of him three times in a short amount of time. And as Olruggio draws his eyes away from the book he'd been reading on one of the wider streets of the Great Hall, he notices the look of an absolute tourist on the witch's face—that being, utterly lost.

Which isn't unheard of, given that this is the Great Hall and lots of witches seek to live here, but to all their credit, they usually figure their way to their destination out way quicker.

This man, on the other hand, doesn't look like he's actually trying to get somewhere specific, and it has Olruggio quite baffled.

When he sees the white-haired witch walk to the end of the street and turn to stroll back again, Olruggio doesn't have the heart to see it happen again and steps back from the wall he's been leaning against when the witch comes close to passing him again, "Are you... lost?"

The only reason Olruggio says it with such uncertainty lacing his voice is that his question could be taken as an insult just the same. Olruggio doesn't know the guy—maybe he just likes strolling down the same street a dozen times over.

But the witch does stop and turns to him with relief washing over his face, a taunt smile pulled onto his lips in some semblance of embarrassment, "You could call it that…  I'm not particularly going anywhere, you see, but I've also lost sight of any street I recognize."

Olruggio widens his eyes a bit at that, a bit amused how he’d practically hit the nail on the head with his assessment, now closer observing the white-clad witch in front of him. The foreign man is sweating just a bit, but that is to be understandable with the long, close-fitted sleeves he’s wearing atop the usual flowy robes of a witch, and the Great Hall is especially humid today—not enough to be oppressing, but Olruggio presumes a new arrival would feel it immediately.

Or the man is just that embarrassed. Though, the witch doesn’t seem to be overreacting over his predicament, so Olruggio doesn’t feel inclined to do so as well, rather starting to think that fixing this issue would be a good way to spend his copious amounts of spare time easily, "You got a set place you'll be living at already?

"I booked a small place just for a few days. I'm here as a tourist–" the witch starts and Olruggio’s face lightens up with his words, the problem seeming to become easier by the second—but alas.

"–though, I don't know the street name of where it’s at, hence the amount of pacing I did if you saw me,” the foreign man scratches his head and looks guilty as charged for such a petty trouble, and Olruggio can’t keep himself from giving a small sigh in turn, resisting the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose—more irked at himself for practically hyping himself up too much and jinxing it, than at the witch’s fully predicament.

“I’m Qifrey, by the way,” the white-haired man starts slowly with a more charming smile now, lowering his hand and extending it for a handshake, almost pleading for forgiveness with the way he squints at Olruggio.

“Olruggio,” he responds and shakes Qifrey’s extended hand, maybe doing both things a bit too gruffly. But Qifrey doesn’t seem to mind and rather chuckles, still looking guilty but sounding almost happy at having successfully dragged Olruggio into his situation—so much so, it almost feels like Qifrey only exchanged names for it to be less impolite to then ask Olruggio into accompanying him.

“You… do have some semblance of direction from which way you came, right?” Olruggio asks, deadpanning and incredulous when Qifrey takes a look around and then looks back at him with an expression that one would see on a lost child.

“Just about… from there,” Qifrey waves his arm and spins around to indicate a pretty large area behind him—with streets that branch towards the center of the Great Hall and lead further away from it—then adding when Olruggio must have expressed his dread to the world instead of containing it, “I wouldn’t mind a tour too. So I at least may remember the places we’ve been to.”

Qifrey quirks an eyebrow at him with this, looking to make complete peace between them for quite the journey ahead, and Olruggio accepts it with a wave of his hand and a small nod, “Though, do point out anything that looks any bit similar.”

“I’ll try,” the man almost sing-songs back at him, already turned in the direction he believes he must have come from the most and sets a slow pace ahead of Olruggio, outwardly more confident in possibly getting lost further with Olruggio there to pull him away from the clearly shadier streets.

And many shadier streets they do see, with time, as Qifrey points out all the small things he does remember, all at Olruggio’s request. Olruggio’s sure his companion had been pointing out all the things he recalled quite correctly before Qifrey must have gotten a bit too overconfident in his memory and started misremembering things. Olruggio takes notice of it soon enough when he realizes they’re practically making a b-line for the outskirts of the Great Hall and Qifrey hasn’t actually made a correct comment about anything in a while.

Qifrey almost doesn’t seem any bit alarmed when Olruggio voices this, once more doing his apologetic squint and successfully looking like a lost child with the way Olruggio is being looked at for directions again. And then, in an already forming pattern of almost perfect happy-go-lucky attitude, when Olruggio stays silent for a moment—thinking back to which exact street or turn Qifrey must have taken to misremembering things—Qifrey once more takes to pleasantly strolling further to the outer edges of the Great Hall.

Olruggio still strolls after him, not really bothering to catch up to him, deep in thought, but not falling back enough to let Qifrey wander out of his sight—he really doesn’t want the responsibility for making a man more lost than he previously was. Though he soon is ripped from his thoughts as he feels the unpleasant, familiar curling deep in his chest as they approach the edge of the Great Hall.

There is no outskirt of any sort for a city built underwater, only a sort of streak of dry and then wet shore underwater, where whatever glyph is keeping the oxygen in and water away grows weaker and allows the water to touch the ground.

Strangely—or logically, in some strange way—the water is ridiculously full of oxygen in the first few inches of where it creates a wall around the perimeter of the Great Hall.

It is also promptly known amongst the witch youth as a perfect dare spot for how long can some hold their breath. Or for another more commonly known dare—the length one can breathe in the water.

Both of the dares have never registered as anything more but stupid in Olruggio's head from his youth. And that's even without seeing his friends trying and then painfully choking the water back up—as it still was water, no matter how much oxygen it contained.

But the pain arising in his chest as the pair of them step ever closer has the least bit to do with supposed bad childhood experiences or the oppressive feel the water sometimes evokes in people. In all of Olruggio's honesty, he has never participated in any such dares.

Or a better phrasing would be that he had never been able, physically able, to participate. And in the same honesty of his, Olruggio sometimes wishes he could.

He wasn't born with a curse that would make him weak, nor one which would prohibit him to touch water or he'd die. Actually, the first few years of his life he never displayed any signs of being cursed – childhood being the time where most people figure it out through the colourful blur of childhood experiences – so much so his parents thought he must be blessed in some niche aspect yet to be known.

And then he nearly died when he and his parent thought to go on a little trip to land. The moment the flying carriage they had rented left the perimeter of the Great Hall was also the moment Olruggio had doubled over in pain he had never felt before. And only because of his mother's cries to immediately land the carriage again did he not die.

This later invoked a need to confirm the nature of his curse when Olruggio had recuperated. and the first hypothesis thought up by his parents—of him not being able to fly in a carriage or simply lift off the ground too much—was tested and proven false, his child self feeling quite alright as he sat in it while it hovered in place and lifted higher.

He only experienced the near-death experience pain once more through the process of pinpointing his curse down, but once more was enough to brand the pain in his head.

Olruggio barely remembers the comfort of his father crouching behind him and his hands holding steady around Olruggio's waist as he himself stood before a windowway right before it was opened. He knew to jump into it per his parent's instructions, into whatever landscape had opened before him that day.

But the landscape is something Olruggio always fails to recollect, as all he felt the moment his feet touched the ground on the other side was the piercing pain going through his chest again. Nail after nail were being hammered into him with each of his heartbeats, he had forgotten how to breathe, and every other part of him was being pricked by needles.

His father pulled him out of the foreign landscape the second after Olruggio had entered and had immediately collapsed, and Olruggio knew to trust that story even if he himself never managed to remember his feet giving out over the pain in the memory.

Some kids get curses like not being able to touch animals, enjoy a certain palette of foods or sing. Some kids are even born with blessings. And here Olruggio was, cursed with never being able to leave the Great Hall.

Olruggio stops where he was trailing behind Qifrey, the dull ache in his chest rising to that of a hand clenching ever so threateningly around his heart (this he is used to, having experienced it ever so often in his many years when he still tried approaching the edge of the Great Hall slowly, as if he would fool the curse in some way).

"If you want to go any closer and dunk your head into the water, you'll have to do that on your own," he calls to Qifrey as the witch continues strolling a few steps ahead of him, very clearly not putting Qifrey past doing what the kids often dare each other to do, his attitude being nothing but humorous and childish so far.

Qifrey freezes midstep and spins around on his heels, and Olruggio isn't standing far enough not to see how wide Qifrey's eyes had gone, "Why would I do that? "

"You're…" Olriggio stops before he calls Qifrey childish, even if the display Qifrey just now committed could be considered a reinforcement for his childish aspect.

But Olruggio supposes he could be nice, "It's something a lot of people do here, trust me."

" Lord above ," Qifrey rasps like it's truly horrific, slowly bringing his gaze back to the wall of water stretching far up and above them.

"I can't understand that in the slightest. But you aren't too keen on doing that... so I suppose some people here still have their wits about them," Qifrey finishes his conclusion with the most self-satisfied smile Olruggio has seen—though, to Qifrey’s credit, it’s one that doesn't immediately make him want to deck the other witch.

"And you are, what, scared of the water?" Olruggio prompts smugly back at Qifrey as the witch walks back to him and the both of them trace their steps back from where they’ve just come from.

The squeezing in Olruggio's chest also recedes as soon as they start walking, and he gives a quiet sigh with some level of relief.

It takes Olruggio a moment to register how quiet his till now always chatty companion has gotten. The heavy silence makes Olruggio snap his eyes to Qifrey almost immediately—genuinely concerned he had touched a nerve—but Qifrey speaks up as soon as their eyes meet.

"Yes… but also no. Scared just isn't the right word," Qifrey makes a face down at him, and it's the most serious the witch has been with him, "I… dislike it, a lot ."

Another silence settles, apart from their footsteps on the brick floor they move over and the soft rustle of their clothes. Then with a drawn-out sigh, Qifrey seems to mark the amount of insight he shall divulge.

It also marks the end of Qifrey’s momentary seriousness as the witch picks up a brisker pace before Olruggio and starts swishing his pointer finger around the air with an importance that is ridiculous, "Now don't you dare think that I refuse to drink water or bathe or something. That would make for a bad first impression–"

And as much Olruggio dislikes senseless rambling, he still hurries along after Qifrey with no complaints, switching between feeling amused at the bits of monologue he catches and tuning Qifrey out before he grates on his nerves

In a way, there's also a grain of relief in him with how talkative the witch is again, the silence they had been in before a bit too serious for two people that had just met—and Olruggio still huffs internally about having been the one to accidentally call it out.

Qifrey still does more than enough talking to distract Olruggio from thinkings such thoughts too much. And does so professionally, so much that, when they finally sit down to eat after having trailed back and not found Qifrey’s place of staying, Olruggio hasn't actually thought of it as that annoying.

Though that may also be thanks to Qifrey's ability to stay silent and listen from time to time, or when Olruggio had been trying to point out which street crossed which, so Qifrey would help someone in the matter of not getting lost again.

Still, the silence they enjoy together over lunch seems that much more relaxing as Olruggio can enjoy thinking spontaneously again. Though both mid-bite and mid-thought, Olruggio can't help suppress a laugh as one single thought derails whatever else he was thinking about.

Qifrey simply tilts his head in question from across the table they’ve sat down at as Olruggio clears his throat, having to start slowly, not to laugh again.

"You... strongly dislike water–" Qifrey manages a quick nod in-between Olruggio's words, and once more Olruggio nearly laughs, "–and yet you've ended up at the bottom of the ocean."

Olruggio nearly loses it when Qifrey proceeds in blinking slowly at him, either thinking about the logic in it or simply not amused. Then the man does the signature violent exhale of someone at the door of realization, before slumping over the table and smiling up at Olruggio through his lashes.

Olruggio was already prepared to playfully deflect any retorts Qifrey might have come up, but as the man simply continues gazing up at him from his unusual position over the table, Olruggio stutters even without anything on his tongue to say.

Eventually, through clearing his throat, Olruggio composes himself again, "Let's.. continue with your tour then."

 


 

Olruggio spends about a week with Qifrey like this, involved in a bit more walking than he usually participates in, but seeing Qifrey both forget, try to make sense of, and remember the layouts of some streets is endearing enough to be Olruggio's pay.

The witch also has a few unique opinions that he voices freely about the places they visit—especially the places that Olruggio hasn't ever paid thought to, having grown up here. One of the plazas they arrived at had a fountain in the middle, and Qifrey had a say about it the moment he laid his eyes upon it, "A fountain underwater seems a bit distasteful..."

And on they went, despite Qifrey's stops at the most common of places really making Olruggio feel too much of a tourist along with Qifrey when the other witches passing by took note of them.

At times, Olruggio mused himself into thinking to help people around more often—the one day where Qifrey was the one leading Olruggio around, without the both of them getting terribly lost, felt like the strangest payoff for something Olruggio actually didn't need paying for, so it was simply fun.

Yeah, that week he had fun. And then Qifrey had up and vanished. No note, no nothing.

That morning Olruggio woke up and went to their usual meeting place, waited for an hour and then waited some more because he had that amount of time on his hands, before reasoning that Qifrey having just up and left wouldn't be an exaggeration by anyone's standards.

Especially not by Olruggio's standards. In his more youthful years of growing up with his curse, Olruggio had reasoned he could manage to live with this curse of his, for all his friends could live with theirs. It did have him chained to this underwater city for life, but oh! what a city did it seem to be compared to smaller witch settlements on land—according to books and the boasting of adults around him.

But as he grew into his teens, and then ever so older, he realized the hard way that even a city of such glamour and reputation would not keep all of his friends chained to it forever. Witches moved into the Great Hall, and just the same, witches searched greener fields—quite literally—outside of the Great Hall. That included many of his friends.

Olruggio had never been left truly friendless, befriending some people in the Knight's Moralis being a good thought of his early on, as they never left the Great Hall for long, always having to return as their job requested. But throughout the friendships he had lost, he always felt like he was constantly running a fifty percent chance of losing anyone eventually.

So when Qifrey had simply not arrived that day, Olruggio simply huffed it off, still feeling hurt like hell and left behind as always—but if he didn't focus on those two things alone, then it really wasn't affecting him that much. Besides those two feelings, Olruggio barely reacted to it at all.

Because getting hung up about it was only going to tear him apart, and Olruggio had already caught himself thinking that he, at the very least, could have gotten a, "Hey, so I'll be leaving tomorrow," or perhaps a written note from Qifrey just the same—but logical as ever, Olruggio realized they weren't exactly that close that Qifrey would owe such a warning to him.

So, Olruggio did what he always did when an unexpected departure left him a little bit too airheaded, buried himself in work.

Work for a witch like him that couldn't operate outside the Great Hall had become pretty peculiar. Aside from his hobby with tinkering about and creating magical items—that both brought credit to his name and were used outside the Great Hall too—he still had to help out the other witches around him.

The calls for help seemed to evolve and draw patterns with time, so much so that Olruggio would often end up helping all the shop keepers, on the same street, at the same time, or be thinking up a way to solve a particularly messy issue together with a bunch of other witches called in for the job. 

Some of them felt like petty jobs sometimes, and once in a blue moon, some witch did treat him with pity.

Olruggio—to his own knowledge—was probably the only fully-fledged witch around who hadn’t completed his apprenticeship the common way, having to sit out on practically every one of the tests that usually happened outside the Great Hall, but still managing to complete them in a different way thanks to the ingenuity of his peers and eventually talking some witches into things.

This got him both good and bad attention. Some witches claimed that what he accomplished was further above the normal bar set for apprentices, while some snickered and disregarded Olruggio for never having the "full experience."

But his skill in magical craft and his speciality in fire magic still earned Olruggio his credibility. He still wasn’t a celebrity by any standards—most witches simply treated him normally when around him—but that was more than enough for him.

And so work he did, even through the peculiar or niche jobs one often doesn't see. They always put food on the table for him, and this time, as a small bonus, had Olruggio busy just enough not to mope about in his thoughts.

In about three weeks time Olruggio no longer was thinking about Qifrey's sudden disappearance, rather continuing his work at a less workaholic pace when laying around day after day got a bit too boring.

And sometimes Olruggio would be happily strolling through the streets of the Great Hall at his own lazy pace, and work would find him in turn. Which Olruggio sensed the moment he passed by an open door to some housing establishment and heard someone peek their head out of the building.

"–Oluggio! Hey, would be free for a tiny, tiny moment..?" Olruggio had turned around in time to see the younger witch press his hands together in a plea, peeking at him hopefully through squinted eyes that Olruggio practically only had the choice of nodding back at the boy.

"Oh, thank you. Someone booked a room just a few hours back and says they found one of the lighting devices not working... There's no-one free to immediately redraw whatever seal probably had been scratched out—uhm, I have to man the reception. So if you could just even have a look at that situation?" The young witch once more raised an eyebrow in Olruggio's direction.

"Sure," Olruggio huffed without any real irritation lacing his exhale, but he's still far from being one of those people that hear about work and jump with joy. He continued with a gruff rasp once more, "Lead me to the room though."

In no time he was ushered up a few floors and left at the door of the establishment's troubled soul. Olruggio stopped to run his hand through his beard, and not seeing any mirror around, only hoped he looked presentable, not like someone breaking an entering.

He cracked the door open and called out the moment his foot stepped on the carpeted floor on the other side, "Good day–! I'm here to fix that issue of.. yours..."

Olruggio's voice trails off the moment he shuts the door behind him and looks up to search out the inhabitant of the room, only to lock his eyes with Qifrey.

For a fair second Olruggio only manages to stare at Qifrey in pure disbelief. The grown witch standing opposite of him with a hand pressed against a wall seems to squint back in turn, before Qifrey's face brightens into a smile and he pushes off the wall in approach.

"Olruggio–! Sorry, I barely recognized you, the room's a bit too dark now for me to see clearly..." The white-haired witch intrudes upon Olruggio's personal space with ease as always, wringing his hands together with his apology.

There seems to be enough sense in Qifrey to step aside a moment later and let Olruggio further into the dim room, but Qifrey still calmly chats away after him when Olruggio dumbly takes a few steps, "Now if I only had known you worked here, I would have booked a room here last time too–"

Olruggio gives a loud groan, cutting Qifrey off as he pinches the bridge of his nose at the oncoming headache threatening to appear any time.

From the moment Qifrey had up and left, Olruggio had come up with many irritating questions he had been dying to shake out of Qifrey if he'd only get his hands on the witch again, but now with the man actually having appeared in front of his again so casually, Olruggio realizes just how much he doesn't want to ask any of them and how many had been a fantasy better left unfulfilled.

Not with Qifrey so cheery at least, which both grates on Olruggio and confuses him at the same time. Having been quite sure he'd never see Qifrey again, only for the man to actually recall him in seconds, surprises Olruggio maybe a bit more than should be normal.

With another groan, Olruggio recalls how Qifrey still hadn't given him a single sign to prepare him for the sudden disappearance.

But now with Qifrey's genuine display of joy at seeing his face and Olruggio's own brain now plausibly placing Qifrey as some sort of travelling nomad, Olruggio can't stand to be too confused about it too long.

Besides, Qifrey's a first for appearing into his life, then disappearing and appearing once more, and moreover still appealing to Olruggio despite his own judgement.

And debating the whole situation once more from the start would definitely give Olruggio a headache.

He's mulled over what he could substantially quickly, yet as he lowers his hand from where he's been pinching his nose, he realizes he's managed to leave Qifrey in a bit of an awkward silence once more.

"I uh..." Olruggio coughs into his fist in his tries to rekindle the conversation, "I don't really work here. People just happen to call me in when they're in a tight spot."

It works, somehow, Qifrey giving a short chortle that's more of a rushed exhale of amusement, etching a soft smile on his face along with it, before Qifrey moves into the center of the room. And after taking a lit candelabrum, that had been serving as a meek source of light in the dimness, points Olruggio at what he would be fixing, not without a harmless comment, "Well, I'm sure you can handle this then… probably."

Olruggio sighs when he steps closer behind Qifrey, where the man stands pointing at a false window Olruggio's seen more than a few times living in the Great Hall.

Because the Great Hall is submerged underwater, some witches had gotten really creative with bringing natural light down to the ocean floor—probably when having twenty different light sigils around the house had gotten tiring, and candles were too boring—and had eventually succeeded.

If Olruggio remembered correctly, the sigil was similar to that of a windowway, but less complex, as only light was intended to be carried through. And it was most commonly drawn over false windows, to give a more realistic feel to the light.

"I think I can redraw this," Olruggio hums as the majority of the sigil still stands, the ink having just been wiped away in the middle from the looks of it. And something wills him to add to that, in a bad imitation of Qifrey's voice, "...Probably."

It takes Qifrey a beat before the witch bursts out laughing and promptly chatting up a storm of false hurt over being intimidated, before moving over to the couch after setting down the candelabrum on a nearby table, giving Olruggio both the much-needed space and light to work in.

With another sigh, Olruggio takes to retrieving his ink wand from his pocket. The remnants of the seal showing that it was simply drawn over the smooth stone wall not carved into it, but casting on a vertical surface as big as this was still known to be more difficult than the usual paper that could be held and turned to one's fancy.

And.. he was trying to draw a pretty complex seal, from memory.

Olruggio grimaced to himself, this time not because the thing he was going to attempt was to take quite some time, but because his fingers came back moist after he skimmed them over the remaining ink left on the wall.

He was used to the sticky feel of ink when it occasionally dripped onto his hands, but this just felt liquidy to an uncomfortable extent. And as he touched it again, the moisture greeted him in more than one spot.

For a second, Olruggio nearly turns his gaze to the ceiling—to think something must have flooded down from the floor above—but then deadpans as he turns around just enough to address Qifrey.

"Did you... spill water over the sigil?" He'll admit, he really isn't thinking too credibly of Qifrey, but his friend only closes his eyes and gives a guilty chuckle.

"What good is water-resistant ink if it's not wipe-resistant?" Qifrey attempts, opening his eyes for a second and then closing them again as Olruggio continues his deadpan in Qifrey's direction.

Olruggio can't fathom over what furniture Qifrey must have tripped over to spill something exactly there—actually, there's a footrest exactly by the window, Olruggio doesn't need to fathom too hard—but he doesn't torture Qifrey about it anymore, getting a towel to wipe the excess water off and then getting to actually drawing the missing part of the glyph.

A busy silence settles as Olruggio fixes himself to drawing, occasionally hearing Qifrey shuffling about on the couch and from the sounds of pages turning later, apparently reading a book he's acquired.

Olruggio’s even thankful for the lack of idle chit-chat, focusing easier on the lines he's drawing without anything distracting him, though his own thoughts prove distracting enough in due time.

In the short pauses Olruggio makes to a take step back and assess the accuracy of the lines he's drawn and figure out what to tackle next by how much he remembers, his thoughts still manage to drift to, well, Qifrey.

The thought of Qifrey himself isn't bad, but soon enough, the prodding questions Olruggio had thought to forget just earlier are back to occupying his head once again, and Olruggio sighs softly when they stay persistent even after he tries dismissing them and focusing.

Olruggio’s aware how over the years his curse has given him a bit of a finicky, if not a paranoid side, especially when it comes to unexpected relationships. But Olruggio's also grown enough not to dump all of that on Qifrey at once.

So to both soothe his brain—confirm at least one thing on his mind so it wouldn't gnaw at him so hungrily—Olruggio searches for the words to compress as many of his questions in one, in a way that would make him sound the least like a pouting kid, and especially not to come off as sore over Qifrey's antics.

As he inks some straighter lines into the false window, he settles on a quiet, "Are you going to leave sometime later again?"

Olruggio cranes his neck back to observe Qifrey, whatever his reaction may be. For a moment Qifrey stares at him neutrally, and Olruggio stares back into his eyes in return, the rest of Qifrey's features covered with the open book he's lowered at Olruggio's question.

But the witch shuffles from lying into properly sitting on the couch the next second, and fully leans into Olruggio's direction—leaning his elbow on his knee, head placed on his palm and his whole body turned towards Olruggio.

"I'm sorry about not giving you any warning before I left—I travel far too impulsively, not that that’s any excuse–" Qifrey sighs softly, his eyes breaking away from Olruggio's gaze with a fluttering blink, and Olruggio deflates internally as his oh so thoughtfully crafted question still intruded on Qifrey's space.

Yet Qifrey still continues, a bit airily, his gaze managing back to Olruggio, "But, genuinely, I woke up at the middle of the night and just... had to go. Sorry about that…"

"It's... quite okay," Olruggio huffs with a twinge of relief and his shoulders relax with it, a laugh almost managing to seep into his tone, "As long as you're not about to follow it up with telling me you're a criminal on the loose or something."

Qifrey spurs into a small bout of laughter that's soft in all the right ways, falling back against the couch in a languid move.

"Nothing of that sort, I assure you. But in lighter news," Qifrey starts with the last of his laughter dissipating and sounding collected again, twirling a finger through the air with such ease that he makes the easy look easier , "I think I'll be staying for at least a week."

Olruggio gives a hum in acknowledgement, already turning back to the almost finished sigil before him, when Qifrey manages to rush another word in before his ink wand had connected with the wall, "Oh ah, will you be finished with that today?"

"If I remembered everything correctly, then yes," Olruggio speaks without turning his head to Qifrey, then does glance back at Qifrey again in question, "Why?"

"You could come again tomorrow," Qifrey draws out, then adds, a bit embarrassed with the way he tugs on his own locks and cracks a smile, "But sitting in the dark probably doesn't sound too appealing."

 


 

Olruggio does come the next day. And the few couple of days after that.

They sit around for a little bit before usually heading out around the city just to walk while talking, at Qifrey's lead now, as the man now is beyond confident he knows the city like the back of his hand. To Qifrey's credit, they haven't gotten lost so far.

This time, as Olruggio steps through the door that Qifrey now always leaves open for him, Qifrey's not immediately in his face. But the crackle of the fireplace is heard deeper in the room, and as Olruggio wanders further, he soon notices Qifrey reclined leisurely on the couch.

The witch meets his gaze with mischief sparkling in his eyes, if not pure smugness.

Olruggio's eyes widen, a bit stupified at the sight and about to quirk an eyebrow as the extent of his ability of speech at the moment, but Qifrey is quicker. Lifting the long fall of his cape that very clearly covers something—an action that Qifrey later in the night would describe was a "hazaa" type of moment—Qifrey reveals a bottle of alcohol hidden under his cloak.

"Look what I got us," Qifrey says with the most concentrated note of proudness in his voice, pointing to the bottle like Olruggio's eyes already aren't drawn to it.

Olruggio opens his mouth but Qifrey once more hurries ahead.

"And there are two more bottles," and again, with the utmost satisfaction in Qifrey's voice, he points across from where he lays to a low table with two more identical bottles and two empty glasses already resting atop it.

"If I wouldn't know better," Olruggio starts, sighing but feeling quite amused right along Qifrey, "I'd say you're already acting like you drank a whole bottle."

Qifrey leans up into sitting, clutching the bottle in his hands dramatically, "Well, if you don't want to, I just might have to."

Olruggio recalls one of their first conversations, and bites back while mimicking Qifrey's tone, not even trying to hide it, "Hmmm… but I wouldn't recommend it to you either , it looks like it has a liquid base and all. I wouldn't want you to drink something you dislike."

"Blasphemy. Now you're acting like you're drunk," Qifrey chokes on a laugh, trying to hold his most serious face and failing when Olruggio feels compelled to wiggle his eyebrows at him.

"You went and bought this on your own?" Olruggio changes the subject before they end with a whole theatre worthy drama on their hands, picking up one of the bottles on the table and examining the label.

"Sure did," Qifrey's voice once more betrays the proudness he must have acquired from going out into the city on his own and having bought something without getting lost anywhere in the process, "Are they any good?"

"A classic, but you picked some strong stuff. Not to mention, expensive..." Olruggio hums through an exhale, prying his gaze from the bottle just in time to catch Qifrey already working the cork open and stepping aside immediately.

To Qifrey's credit, the witch pops the bottle open without the cork flying out of his grasp, but Qifrey still manages to throw it aside when the alcohol comes fizzing up and nearly doubles over in the rush to pour it into the glasses on the table before it gets to run down his hand or land on the carpet.

"Here," Qifrey offers one of the glassed to Olruggio when he comes to sit back next to him on the couch, managing to make a single word sound out of breath and making Olruggio notice how much of the almost colourless liquid actually ran down Qifrey's hand.

The carpet is still spotless when Olruggio glances down to it, and through another amused sigh, clinks Qifrey's own outstretched glass together with his, "Cheers."

"Cheers!" Qifrey echoes, throwing his head back as he attempts to chug the drink and nearly coughs it all back, slouching over himself.

"I told you it's strong," Olruggio rasps out, his own throat burns and the drink leaves a hint of a deep sour in his mouth from the high percentage, then proceeds to lean closer to Qifrey and places a hand over Qifrey's shoulder to pull him up from leaning over himself.

"I'm not wasting a drop of this," Qifrey holds back the last of his fading coughs before lifting his face up close to Olruggio, confident in his proclamation while still looking dishevelled from his choking fit, "I can hold my liquor."

Olruggio practically shrinks back into the couch at Qifrey sudden closeness, his personal space once again being oppressed and mumbles his answer into his glass as he drinks the remaining liquor, looking anywhere but at Qifrey, "We'll see about that."

Though, soon enough not to damage Olruggio's comfort, Qifrey pulls back with a confirming smile and resituates himself back into leaning against the armrest, still facing Olruggio almost fully and looking relaxed enough to kick his feet up on the low table any moment.

Qifrey doesn't, of course, rather reaches for the opened bottle again and generously pours them both their first refill of the night, and to Olruggio's comfort, proceeds to drink only half of his cup, at a more acceptable pace after his botched first attempt

Qifrey's generosity with the refills doesn't change over the night, not once does Olruggio have to reach for the bottle when Qifrey's gotten to holding it at his side, pouring Olruggio more at the slightest nudge of his glass.

Olruggio hands sparse additions to Qifrey's many words over the evening, mixed between listening attentively and sometimes drifting off to the sound of the fireplace crackling, and the warmth that's now practically enveloping him.

The warmth could actually be hounding him at this point. The alcohol's settled and coiled warmly in his stomach, and his throat burns pleasantly whenever he pleases to take another sip.

The fireplace itself still emits heat—and keeps any sense of time passing away. Even as the false window goes dark when daylight fades to night on land, it burns bright enough to substitute it and thereby enable Olruggio to forget it.

And he's found himself pressed close to Qifrey. Olruggio can't recall when exactly the arrangement of him being pressed between the warm couch and warm Qifrey had occurred—probably around opening the second bottle, or during the time Qifrey had actually kicked his feet up on the table and Olruggio wanted to kick them off—but Olruggio isn't bothered, and Qifrey gives no complaint just the same.

But he never fully drifts off to sleep, and Olruggio comes back to whatever Qifrey was saying. It still manages to make sense in Olruggio's head and therefore he laughs like Qifrey's just made the funniest joke, and Qifrey certainly smiles at him like he has and is proud of it.

Their drunken talking eventually leads into midnight and thereby classic midnight discussions. The alcohol is definitely hitting, but Olruggio muses that they aren't as different now as they are sober, except that they change and drop the topics they're talking about even faster.

Olruggio pulls back to whatever Qifrey was saying, but this time it doesn't make sense so he actually searches his brain while moving his free hand around like he was browsing something, before settling on the first coherent thought. No real matter in if it was or wasn't what they had been discussing before.

"Do you actually know like, when you're leaving?" Olruggion slurs out, brain halting before running ahead of him again, "Wait, get me , I'm not trying to get you out of here faster, but I also don't wanna come up here one day and stumble upon some other person that moved in after you."

" Oh my god –! I'm crying from just imagining that," Qifrey laughs, indeed wiping away some tears forming at the corners of his eyes.

Qifrey's laugh is the most contagious disease Olruggio has seen in all his life, and he laughs right along, his free hand covering his full glass by reflex now, mostly because he's already laughed hard enough once at Qifrey's previous pokes to tip almost the whole glass onto himself, "Maybe, but people would just look at me all weird."

"Just get out of the city for a while," Qifrey snickers again in the simplicity—and thus humour—of it.

"Can't," Olruggio finds himself smiling even though his tongue is feeling so loose about a topic that's both touchy to him and touchy to society, as the one thing he shouldn't talk about to a person he's been around for only two weeks collectively at most.

But Qifrey's already holding his gaze with a quirked eyebrow, in a question that—if said—would have another light laughter added right along the question mark. Olruggio chortles at that part of Qifrey's influence—or maybe Olruggio’s just that good at covering difficult subjects with a heavy dose of brushing it off—and blurts it out as concisely as he can while fixating on Qifrey reaching to refill his glass, that Olruggio hadn't actually noticed emptying.

"Like I physically can't," Olruggio once more chuckles and holds his glass between them steady, "I have the funds, trust me, but I'd genuinely die if I step foot outside of here."

That was the damned thing with curses, no matter the variety—it was always, do this , or, don't do that , or else you'll die. And in whatever sobriety was collectively shared between the both of them, Qifrey holds Olruggio's gaze like he's about to wrap his head around it and say something—but then there's something wet spilling on Olruggio's pants, again .

"Qifrey –jeez! Watch how much you're pouring," Olruggio rushes to drink from the overflowing cup as Qifrey pulls back the bottle with a laughter-laced apology.

And with another dose of liquor warming his throat, Olruggio pulls right along to Qifrey's beat.

It takes for their speech to slur heavily and for time itself pass like thick jelly, before Olruggio notes, right along Qifrey, that they're done with all three bottles. Though, they're probably more than drunk enough—given that Qifrey was refilling their drinks when the liquor stopped coming out from the bottle and it took them a good second to realize what it meant.

"Dear lord," Olruggio muses silently, voice slurred and also baffled as he addresses his reflection in the last of the liquor in his half-filled cup, "I'm going to be so hungover."

" We're going to be so hungover," Qifrey says with an equally audible slur, still looking mighty enthusiastic though, and throws his head back along with the glass again.

Then, for the second time that day, Qifrey chokes on his last glass just the same, dropping his head between his shoulder as he chokes.

"Jeez," Olruggio slurs, suddenly irked out of nowhere by Qifrey's careless and slides up close beside the man, waiting until Qifrey's gotten his air back before burying his hand in Qifrey’s white hair and lifting his own glass to Qifrey's lips with his hand, "Drink. Slowly."

Qifrey glances at him with question in his eyes, but parts his lips indulgingly, leaning back into Olruggio's hold in his hair and sipping the last of their alcohol with restraint he has not shown before so far in the night, cracking a smile at some point that has a little of the alcohol dribbling down his chin.

Olruggio holds Qifrey's half-lidded gaze, breathing shallowly if at all—he certainly doesn't pay thought to it anymore—all his attention put into the way he tips the bottom of the glass higher and higher against Qifrey lips until all the liquor disappears down Qifrey's throat, and the way Qifrey still gazes into him even with the glass empty.

Olruggio feels Qifrey wrap his fingertips around Olruggio’s hand holding the glass and pulling it away just an inch or two. But it's enough for Olruggio to flicker his gaze down to Qifrey's lips, and in that same moment have Qifrey pressing them up against his.

He inhales sharply through his nose, feeling all of Qifrey's weight now leaning against him as Qifrey shuffles into his lap without sparing to bother about the liquor stains coating Olruggio’s pants from their previous escapades.

The softest thud on the carpet indicates how Olruggio's let got of the glass and then he rushes to hold Qifrey close with both arms. One hand still tangled in the witch’s hair and the other wrapping around his waist and scooting Qifrey closer, as they both try to orient the other and the now suddenly too narrow couch.

Qifrey ends up with his legs on either side of Olruggio, and Olruggio holds him to his lap eagerly while kissing up against Qifrey and his insatiably plush lips.

His lips glide over Qifrey's smoothly and lock together for so long that Olruggio jerks Qifrey's head around by his hair, seeking a semblance of air, and instantly feels the same dizzying prick in his own scalp.

Qifrey snickers happily from above him, without a hint of shame as he figures out to keep his own hands in Olruggio's locks, even as Olruggio playfully frowns at him.

But there are no hard feelings taken and Olruggio's already eagerly reaching up to Qifrey for another kiss.

Olruggio huffs out warm air between breaths and breathes in the same, warm, liquor-laced breath Qifrey's exhaling too, but his makes Olruggio's skin tingle and burn with an intensity that is almost frightening, but most of all hot.

Qifrey lifts an inch from Olruggio's lap, and Olruggio swears they're both thinking the same thing. But it's the first time they both try standing up after their drinking, stupidly at the same time, and Olruggio's the first to fall back and sprawl out along the whole length of the couch—balance no longer an attribute he possesses—with Qifrey collapsing atop of him soon enough.

For a second this option seems appropriate enough, but Olruggio realizes how out of breath he is after Qifrey turns his head to kiss him again. And Qifrey seems to ponder the same feeling for a moment too, before his head droops down into the crook of Olruggio's shoulder and he passes out then and there.

Olruggio doesn't have the strength to lift his own head, let alone do anything about Qifrey passing out on top of him, and only manages to cuddle his head closer to Qifrey's before he's out like a light too.

 


 

Olruggio wakes with the first sensation being something heavy on top of him. And he immediately doesn't even want to crack his eyes open—not even to check what could be so irritably warm so insatiably close—when he next notes that there's pesky daylight shining through his closed eyelids.

His hands do the figuring out for him while Olruggio just scrunches up his face more, for a second not comprehending the intricate shape he runs his hands over.

But then it moves a little and gives the softest grumble right into his ear that Olruggio attains all his memory of the last night in a snap—he’s also immediately thankful he didn't kick Qifrey off him while thinking he was an incredibly warm blanket.

Then a burst of such relief washes over him. Even if Olruggio hadn't fully awoken yet and hadn't gotten hold of a single coherent thought that would lead to such relief, it appears he was fearing waking up alone, or to finding out it was all a dream, or both, all since last night.

He lets all that tension he apparently had been holding out in a single exhale, immediately loving the feeling of Qifrey's sleeping form moving along with the rises and dips of his own chest.

Cracking his eyes open and attempting to move his head to look at Qifrey only results in another wave of feeling, only this time it's a hungover directly inviting itself into his head, along with a splitting headache, and Olruggio groans into the air loudly even though he had predicted this last night.

He gets a small punch on his torso for that, Qifrey shuffling a bit more above him with a grumble and Olruggio realizes he's groaned straight into Qifrey's ear. He gets another thump on his chest when he tries holding back his laughter.

After a while, Qifrey manages the strength to pull himself up a little, though he slumps back down onto Olruggio when his face has moved to rest comfortably in the center of Olruggio's chest.

Olruggio delights in seeing Qifrey blink his eye open and observe him immediately wrinkling his brow, then murmuring into his chest with audible suffering after a while, "Why did you let me drink so much last night..?"

"You're the one that said they you're not wasting a drop of it," Olruggio's voice crackles with his first words upon waking.

"And I stand by it. I refuse to throw up such expensive liquor," Qifrey grumbles but still manages some type of smile, even if it looks pained by the influence of his own hangover.

Olruggio opens his mouth to comment but closes it and only huffs with some amusement, Qifrey following suit with his exhale, and then gathers enough strength to slide closer to Olruggio's face again and push their lips together.

Qifrey's lips feel much more gentle against his this time—there's nowhere to rush with no clue what hour of the day they have woken up at. So Olruggio marvels in the way Qifrey cups his face from both sides and pecks him with small but continuous kisses, feeling the man's heartbeat with the closeness of their chests and kissing back up against him.

Qifrey's voice catches when he pulls away and Olruggio leans up after him to chase his lips, but Qifrey laughs softly and presses a finger to Olruggio's lips.

"Your beard is so prickly–" Qifrey starts with a laugh and then flips a switch to comical seriousness, "–but don't you dare shave it, it's the epitome of hotness on you."

"You know what else is the epitome of hotness?" Olruggio hums lowly, smirking when Qifrey raises an eyebrow.

"What?"

"Going out to the city and getting something for this damn headache ," Olruggio says in full seriousness and wholly enjoys Qifrey's unamused look, but after a bit more laying around even he agrees to accompany Olruggio into the city to find some medicine.

To Olruggio's credit, the moment his headache subsides, he does call Qifrey the epitome of hotness too.