After the Masquerade: Dietre & Aleksi Who: Dietre and Aleksi. What: A visit. Where: Dietre's house at the Carnival. When: Backdated to the night of the masquerade. Warnings/Rating: Low.
There are certain things that only make sense when woefully drunk at one in the morning that would never be conceived of sober at any other hour of the day. Showing up on the doorstep of a man you barely knew was one of them. But Dietre had made up a slew of reasons and excuses to justify his actions, and so he only hesitated a moment or two before his knuckles rapped against the door of the tiny house he owned.
Dietre had to lean against the building while he waited for his knock to be answered, having used up what store of balance he had left when walking through the carnival grounds to get here. Eventually he’d learn his limit when it came to drinking. Maybe. But not yet. He still donned the outfit he wore to the masquerade, though he now held his mask in his hand rather than wear it, the red and green scarves still tied around his arm. He had the sense, at least, not to knock on anyone’s door in the middle of the night while masked. That was just asking for trouble.
After the stress of crowds and conversing with Damian Wainright face to face, he had found himself in need of comfort, a friendly face, something to chase away his loneliness for just a moment or two. Otherwise, he knew he’d be swamped with that inexplicable depression that always seemed to hit him following his attempts at being social, and he simply couldn’t bear that horrible empty feeling right now.
Maybe this was pathetic of him (Damian would certainly think so) but luckily he was too drunk at the moment to care, and when the door was opened, he wore a small, sheepish, apologetic smile.
Aleksi hadn’t been doing anything more strenuous than reading - it wasn’t as though he had much else to do, these days - and he wasn’t really expecting any visitors, so the knock on the door surprised him. Even from his place on the couch, he could hear Dietre’s heartbeat through the thin material of the door, and he moved to open it with a smile.
He blinked rapidly a few times as the scent of alcohol assaulted his senses, almost overpowering Dietre himself. Mind-altering substances weren’t something Aleksi had much personal experience with - one batch of terrible mushrooms in that dark place was about the extent of it - but he’d seen its effects plenty of times. He had no idea why Dietre would be drunk or coming to see him, but he certainly wasn’t going to complain about the latter, so he wasn’t particularly worried about the former.
“Hello Dietre,” Aleksi greeted, still smiling softly at the sight of the boy, beckoning him inside with a small motion of one hand.
“Hello, Aleksi...” It came out in a sort of drawl, as if the wine had slowed his speech, made his already husky voice huskier. Just as he hoped, Aleksi provided what he needed with that smile. He knew there was a chance the werewolf would be annoyed at him stopping by unannounced at this ungodly hour, but that had been a risk he was willing to take, and somehow it paid off. It soothed something in him to have someone look pleased to see him. No questions asked, just come right in. It was amazing.
“I had to come by to return this suit, so I thought I’d see if you were home,” he explained as he made his way inside. He swayed slightly as he walked, but the house was so small and narrow that he could reach in any direction and find something to hold onto if he needed steadying. Still, he continued on to the couch and sat rather than risk embarrassing himself by falling over. He hadn’t felt this drunk while at the party, but as always when someone drinks a large amount of alcohol in a short amount of time, the brunt of it had hit him all at once and he kept feeling more drunk as time went by despite having stopped drinking a while ago.
“...You don’t mind, do you?” Aleksi wouldn’t have welcomed him in if he did, but Dietre wanted some reassurance. He was in that kind of mood.
“You’re always welcome,” Aleksi said immediately. He thought he’d said that, or something along those lines, at least once in the past. “And I am highly unlikely to ever be anywhere else,” he added as an afterthought.
Keeping his eyes on Dietre as the younger man didn’t quite stumble across to the couch, Aleksi asked, “What was the occasion?” He was inferring from the suit and the alcohol that Dietre had been at some sort of party, which - well, he didn’t really understand why he’d choose Aleksi’s company instead, but he once again wasn’t about to complain.
“I was at a masquerade...” This was said with a sarcastic lilt, just a touch of the disdain Dietre’s father was a master of. It didn’t take a genius to guess that he hadn’t enjoyed himself.
“I had to go, I was invited... So I stood around in a mask drinking for a few hours,” he went on to explain, tossing said mask onto the nearby built in desk. “And then I spoke to a man with whom I share a mutual dislike, so…” Alcohol made Dietre more expressive, and mobile. He moved his hand as he spoke, graceful, languid gestures.
“It was pretty, though. Very pretty.” He let his head fall back to rest against the top of the couch, his eyes heavy lidded, drowsy as he seemed to speak to the ceiling. “...I might have had a better time if you were there,” he confessed. “I remember thinking at some point that I should have invited you...”
Raising his eyebrows at the tone Dietre used, Aleksi moved to sit down next to him on the tiny couch. On his own Aleksi barely fit, so it was a bit of a tighter squeeze with both of them, but it wasn’t as though he minded the closeness. Quite the opposite, in fact, and Aleksi found himself relaxing even further as he settled in at Dietre’s side as he listened carefully.
He frowned when the younger man mentioned ‘mutual dislike’, if only because he had a hard time understanding how anyone could not like Dietre. Aleksi kept that thought to himself, watching the way the boy’s hand moved through the air to emphasize his words.
The statement about inviting Aleksi brought a small smile to his face. “I am not certain that I am ready for such a nuanced social setting, but I appreciate the thought,” he said truthfully. Interactions in general were hard enough, let alone with the addition of masks and alcohol and whatever else might have been involved. “I am sorry you did not enjoy yourself,” Aleksi added.
Dietre did not tense or shy away when Aleksi joined him on the couch, those sorts of reactions had been numbed away by several glasses of wine. He could allow himself to enjoy the werewolf’s closeness. He mirrored Aleksi’s smile, lifting a shoulder in a lazy shrug before absently undoing the buttons on his suit jacket. “You don’t need to be sorry, I didn’t expect to enjoy myself. I really don’t like parties, but I’ve been making myself go to them. ...I’m starting to think I’m a masochist.”
That was an attempt at humor, though Dietre suspected it might be true on some level. He was always miserable and doing things that would make him more miserable. Even being here now, though nice at the moment, would probably lead to pain in the future. Sigh. It was all so tiresome.
“But, how have you been? Are you living like a hermit here? Have you gotten out at all?” These questions were asked with some genuine concern, Dietre had holed himself up in this little house to the point where he actually had to move out or risk another mental breakdown. He didn’t want that to happen to Aleksi.
When Dietre’s fingers fell to the buttons of his jacket, Aleksi couldn’t help they way his eyes tracked each tiny movement. The fastenings were more complex than anything he’d seen before, which certainly didn’t help the way he was staring. “Then why did you go, if you felt that way? Certainly you could have declined the invitation,” Aleksi asked, his brows furrowed slightly with his confusion. He wasn’t sure he would have understood that sentiment back before, and it definitely didn’t make sense to him now.
Shaking his head, Aleksi answered, “I have ventured out a few times. Out into the woods, so that my wolf can run. And I have taken a couple of walks through the carnival, just to see what it is like. The fortune teller next door is very nice.”
“Because I made a resolution..!” Dietre looked momentarily sulky. It did not seem to occur to him that he was being vague and Aleksi might not know what he was talking about. “I’m trying to be different.” He hated himself and wanted to change. Everyone he spoke to (which was a precious few) said he had to go out and do things, make an effort, stop being afraid. All things easy to say, but not so easy to do.
“...And because I’m lonely.” He hadn’t meant to confess this, and he winced with regret, shrinking in a little on himself. He plucked dejectedly at the knot that held the scarves to his arm. The jacket couldn’t be taken off until he at least loosened them, but being drunk he was having a bit of difficulty. The sight of the two entwined colors made him feel stupid. How could he complain about where he was in life when he didn’t know what he even wanted?
“There are a lot of nice people here.” Dietre kept his focus on the knot, avoiding looking Aleksi’s way. There are nice people everywhere, yet somehow he was incapable of befriending them. Dietre knew the problem wasn’t them, but something in him, and maybe for the hundredth time since meeting him, he wondered how long it would be before Aleksi realized he was too messed up to like.
Aleksi blinked at that minor outburst, surprised and confused again, but perhaps his clarifying questions were better left for some other time. Especially considering the revelation that followed, and the way Dietre seemed to deflate when he realized what he’d said. Rather than bring any attention to any of those things, Aleksi reached out wordlessly to untangle the knot that the boy was struggling with. As the fabric came away in his fingers, he asked quietly, “Do you regret your decision in attending?”
He pressed the scarves gently into Dietre’s hand, his head tilted to one side slightly. “I understand being lonely,” Aleksi chanced, because it was true and because he found that he hated the sad downturn of Dietre’s mouth as he frowned. “I know it is difficult to overcome, no matter how easy it may seem to be objectively.”
Dietre willingly let Aleksi take over the knot business, stealing a furtive glance at his face now and then. He didn’t quite know how to answer how he felt about the masquerade. “...Regret might be too strong a word.” And even though Pippin wasn’t here to hear it, he didn’t want to hurt her feelings since she was the one who told him to go. She had been so optimistic about it. “Um… Disappointed, perhaps. Not that I was expecting anything…” The green scarf made sure there would be nothing to expect. Dietre was wonderful at ruining things for himself before they ever began.
The scarves were squeezed in Dietre’s fist before he let them slip through his fingers and fall to his lap. His brow furrowed and the look in his eyes grew more troubled, the gears in his head clearly turning as he struggled with how much to tell Aleksi and how much to keep to himself.
“It just seems… every time I begin to get close to someone, something happens and then… they’re gone.” He cut himself off before he could confess to being afraid of getting too friendly with Aleksi for fear of losing him the way he’d lost the others.
Loss was something Aleksi was intimately familiar with - he was still processing his own, which was a slow type of progress that tended to hit him from nowhere - but his was large, all-encompassing, even, and in a way he wondered if that was easier than dealing with them individually, in a more drawn out manner. It wasn’t the same, not really, but there were enough similarities from that brief description for him to feel as though he understood.
“Is that a reason not to get close to anyone else?” he asked, feeling a bit as though he was asking a philosophical question. “An avoidance of a possibility that may or may not come to pass?”
Aleksi reached out with one hand, gently smoothing a few stray hairs back from Dietre’s face. “I cannot predict the future,” he commented, “but I can say that I would not be interested in one that did not have you in it.”
These questions were a mite too deep for Dietre to process after several glasses of wine, he could only give Aleksi a look of helplessness. “I… I don’t know.” What he did know was that everyone would tell him that he couldn’t try and wall himself off just because he didn’t want to be hurt again. He had been told things to that effect before. And he had tried to stop himself from liking someone only to fail once already, so he knew that wasn’t going to work. He fell for people too easily. A kind word, an affectionate gesture, was really all it took.
So of course Aleksi did both. Dietre’s cheeks, rosy from drinking, went a deeper shade of red, and his eyes widened in surprise. Then he second guessed himself, not quite able to accept what he thought the other man was implying. Confusion and doubt, hope and despair, all ran across his features in varying order. “W-what-- I’m not--”
A hard swallow. “But you don’t really know me…” He bit his lip, holding himself back from listing all of his faults. He once knew an angel who refused to see his bad side, and like a fool, Dietre rejected him. He endlessly beat himself up over that mistake while simultaneously feeling like he did the right thing, for how could he be happy with someone who had such an unrealistic view of him?
Sober, he’d never be able to ask what he asked next, “...How do you mean? In your future?” Dietre was in need of some clarification.
“Not yet,” Aleksi agreed with a small shrug of his shoulders, because while it might be true that he didn't know Dietre very well at this point, he was invested in changing that. “But I want to,” he added, just in case he hadn’t made that clear already.
Which evidently he hadn’t, if those questions were anything to go by. “I mean that I want to continue to have you in my life,” Aleksi said, his brows furrowing slightly as he thought of the best way to say what he was trying to express. “I want to learn everything there is to know about you, no matter how mundane or unimportant it may seem. I want to be able to continue to talk to you as I figure out what path my life takes from here.”
There were other things he wanted as well, many of which were tied up with the wolf’s desires that weren’t as easily explained - the fierce protectiveness and the devotion that was already bone deep, things that Aleksi didn’t have words to express. Still, either way, he realized that perhaps that had been too much, and he tempered the previous statements with a follow up of, “If… if that is alright with you, of course.”
Dietre did not have a way with words. When Aleksi was done speaking, he was at a loss. The question, ‘But why?’ sounded repeatedly in his head, but he could not get it out of his mouth to ask it of Aleksi. He was clueless as to anything he could have said or done in the werewolf’s presence that would have sparked such an interest. Maybe Aleksi had gone mad while he was in that other place and could no longer properly judge the quality of people he spent time with.
No, that was wrong to think. Dietre could play stupid, but he knew what it was like to want to know everything about a person. He had felt that way toward a few men, those few who burned brightly in his life only to wink out and disappear, leaving him in the dark, one after another. He’d been eager to find out whatever he could about them, even asked questions of their friends, but that was because he liked them. Surely Aleksi’s interest couldn’t be because he liked Dietre, could it?
The very idea flustered him, and he was quick to push the thought away. Aleksi probably wasn’t even interested in men, anything he’d done that could be taken as suspect was explainable as werewolf eccentricity. Still, Dietre eyed him sidelong, a look that was curious, hopeful, longing and pained.
“N-no, it’s alright,” he stammered, finally, his voice a small, shy mumble. “I don’t mind…”
“Um… Is there anything in particular you’d like to know?” He felt awkward asking, but didn’t know how else to get a conversation going. “R-right now, I mean. Or-- Well, anything you’ve been wanting to know, whenever...”
Aleksi couldn’t understand the physical reactions his words had gotten from Dietre, but he stored all his observations away for later. Perhaps with some distance and study, he could figure it out. He met the boy’s gaze evenly, though he was still confused about the emotions he saw swirling in his eyes.
“Tell me about how you came to be here. In this place, this town,” Aleksi requested, leaning in just slightly, his head propped up with one hand on the back of the couch, his entire body turned sideways so that he was fully facing Dietre.
Ah… Now this was a difficult enough story to tackle when sober let alone drunk. Dietre looked faintly sick at the prospect, but he didn’t have it in him to avoid the question, or attempt to lie. So, with a sigh, he turned his head so that he could only see a hazy impression of Aleksi in the corner of his vision. He couldn’t handle the directness of his gaze, it made him too nervous. “Well… It isn’t something I care to talk about, really,” he began reluctantly. “But I haven’t kept it a secret either, so I suppose it is better if I tell you.” Now. Before too many feelings became involved, in case Aleksi decided he wasn’t interested in knowing a person like him after all.
“...I was at college. Not for music, like I wanted, but for business, because that was what my father wanted. And I went where he wanted me to go.” Dietre started off slowly, but as he went on, he spoke faster, beginning to ramble. The whole story came from him in a nervous rush with him staring down at his wringing hands all the while. “I wasn’t prepared for it. Not for all the people, or living in a dorm. I’d been taught at home before then…”
“And, um… I wasn’t very emotionally stable at the time. Or mentally. Or anything, really. I know now that I was in the midst of a nervous breakdown of sorts… I came home for Christmas holiday to discover that my father sold my mother’s piano.” This likely needed some background information, but he couldn’t talk about the details of her death along with everything else. “My dead mother’s piano. That she taught me to play on.” That was as much as he could say on that for now.
“...I snapped. Took a knife from the kitchen and stabbed him. I ran away and tried to kill myself. Hung myself from a tree, but someone saw and cut me down.” A brief pause. “Anyway… My father didn’t die. Instead of jail, he had me committed. There’s an asylum on the edge of town; Quiet Home. I was there for a year and a half or so. My friend Misha helped to get me released…”
An anxious bite to his lip and he abruptly ended his tale. “And that’s about it.”
Aleksi frowned at Dietre’s reluctance, hating to be the reason for any less than positive emotional reaction in the boy. But before he could interject to try and drop the topic, Dietre was speaking, and it would be terribly rude to interrupt or not pay attention. Not that Aleksi was ever ignoring anything about Dietre when they were together. A kind of horror bubbled in his stomach as he listened, fear and anxiety on Dietre’s behalf for things that were long since over, and it only served to reinforce the desire to help make the younger man as happy as possible.
“Thank you for telling me,” Aleksi said softly when Dietre finished, reaching out not quite tentatively to lay his hand on the back of Dietre’s. “I am grateful for knowing, and I apologize for making you relive painful memories.”
There was a fierce longing to wrap his arms around the younger man and just never let go, which Aleksi recognized was not necessarily a helpful urge. “You are planning to stay here, though?” he asked as a follow up, as unsubtle as a sledgehammer.
The moment Aleksi’s hand moved atop of his Dietre’s expression crumpled. He had to fight the way the wine made him want to just go ahead and fall apart. He didn’t want to be a weepy drunk. A shaky breath, an attempt to swallow the lump in his throat, and Dietre heard himself whisper, “...It’s alright.”
“I’m better now, mostly...” There had been no genuine attempts at suicide, at least. He was on more helpful medications, though he was still often a nervous wreck prone to depressive spirals and pessimistic thinking. “Though, I won’t lie. I wasn’t released because of any improvement on my part. ...I’m quite sure my friend’s fiance paid a bribe or something untoward like that.” He’d never been declared well as far as he knew. He was still crazy on paper, somewhere.
He braved looking up into Aleksi’s face, and to his relief he saw compassion there, no disgust. Pity wasn’t something he enjoyed, but he’d accept it if there was nothing else. “...Yes. I have nowhere else to go. I’ve been disowned.” A shrug to show how little he cared about that. He hated his father, it was so nice to know he was free of him. “And I have friends here. Not many, but some. And that’s enough for me…”
Nodding his understanding - or at least, something like it - to Dietre’s additional explanation of his escape, as it were, from such a place, Aleksi took a deep breath, as if he needed to resettle after just hearing about that particular story.
He leaned in without thinking about it, resting his forehead lightly against Dietre’s, reminiscent of the way he had when the boy was leaving last time. Aleksi could completely understand not having anywhere else to go, which Dietre might have already figured out.
“Is there anything else you would want in your life?” he asked quietly, his eyes mostly closed.
Dietre was not taken by surprise this time when Aleksi pressed their foreheads together. He only sighed and let his eyes slip shut, savoring their closeness. The alcohol in his blood was slowly burning off, enough so that he was able to cling to some shred of his desperate need for self preservation and not say aloud what his heart immediately answered to the question of what he wanted. To be loved.
“...I don’t know.” The lie broke him and he began to cry, which was mortifying, and so he cried harder. It wine won out and he’d become a weepy drunk after all. He didn’t pull away from Aleksi, though. Instead, he dropped his head to bury his face against the man’s shoulder to hide his embarrassment. He was as hungry for comfort as he was for love, to make up for all those times in his life he so needed to be held or consoled and never was.
But this wasn’t the sort of behavior to display in front of a mostly stranger, even if the man did come off as exceptionally understanding. Dietre did his best to check his sobs and croaked a hoarse, sniffling apology. “...I’m sorry. I’m sorry… I’m very drunk.” Excuses, excuses. He was sorry, but he still didn’t move his head from Aleksi’s shoulder.
Aleksi hadn’t been expecting such a reaction, but he did immediately feel guilty for causing it. He wrapped both arms around Dietre automatically, gathering the younger man in close. The scent of him filled Aleksi’s lungs with every inhale of breath, and he could felt the tiny tremors in Dietre’s shoulders as he held onto him.
“No, I am sorry,” he murmured softly into Dietre’s hair. One hand was lightly running up and down the length of the younger man’s spine, and Aleksi had no idea what could possibly help mitigate this situation.
That hand sliding warm across his back made Dietre feel as though he could melt. It was so soothing that his crying tapered off sooner than expected. He lifted his head out of the dampness of Aleksi’s shirt so that his chin rested on the man’s shoulder instead. It brought their bodies a little closer, and Dietre told himself he should enjoy this while he could. This sort of display of instability was the kind of thing that scared people away. Aleksi may be here for him now, but people could change on a dime. Liam sure did.
“You don’t have to be,” he insisted, his voice thick and wet. “...I knew what I was doing, but I kept drinking anyway.” He always drank too much at parties, it was his coping mechanism. So far it hadn’t crept into his daily life, but there was a chance it could, Dietre knew. Another sigh. He felt so drained. “I think I just need to sleep it off…”
His bout of excess emotion mostly over with, Dietre became aware of other things, like the heat given off by the man who held him. It felt good, but he couldn’t help but be a little concerned. “...You’re so warm. Are you sick?”
“So go to sleep,” Aleksi said, like it was the simplest thing in the world. His hand come up, slipping into Dietre’s hair instead of resuming its course along his back, while the other remained wrapped around his waist, continuing to hold the younger man close. “The bed is very close,” he said with a hint of a smile, just trying to get some sort of positive reaction out of Dietre.
Shaking his head, Aleksi answered, “No. Werewolves tend to run hotter than humans. My usual temperature is about 102.”
Sleeping was not so simple. Not for Dietre. He had been plagued by nightmares his whole life. At least, until Christmas. The weird magic in the town allowed everyone to make a wish and have it be granted. Dietre wished to sleep without nightmares, and he hadn’t had one since. But falling asleep was still tricky. He was too nervous, he thought too much, his mind had a hard time stopping, it was always running in circles.
However, right now, with Aleksi’s arms around him and his fingers moving through his hair, Dietre’s mind felt almost quiet.
“Hm… You know,” he murmured drowsily, “I’ve never actually slept in that bed up there. I got Sieglinde the day I moved in. She was a puppy. She couldn’t be with me if I were up there, so I slept on the floor with her instead.” He smiled to himself as he told this story, though Aleksi couldn’t see it, he might hear it. He hadn’t been able to bear the thought of his dog being lonely or scared, feelings he knew too well. He fell in love the minute he held that little scrap of fur, and she had him wrapped around her paw.
“Oh…” He didn’t know what else to say about the information he was given about werewolves running hot. If he were witty he could have made a flirty joke, instead he said simply, “...That must be nice in winter.”
Aleksi did smile listening to Dietre’s story. The bond between the boy and his pup had been obvious to him from the beginning, and after the generosity he’d been on the receiving end of since the moment they’d met, he had no trouble imagining Dietre giving up some of his comfort to ensure Sieglinde was as comfortable as possible.
“Well, then it’s past time for you to get acquainted with it, wouldn’t you say?” Aleksi asked, almost playfully. He was mostly just relieved that Dietre seemed calmer, his breathing and his heartbeat slower than it had been. And even though he’d made the suggestion of moving, he was enjoying the warmth and weight of the younger man pressed against him. “I don’t think I could let you sleep on the floor,” he admitted as almost an afterthought.
“I suppose it is…” If it were possible, Dietre would have liked to fall asleep right where he was. Sadly, he knew that would be unfair (and uncomfortable) to Aleksi. So, reluctantly, he slid out of his arms, if only to finish removing his jacket. His face was still damp, it was too soon for his tears to dry and he had to wipe under his eyes to hasten the process.
He was quiet as he undid the remaining buttons of his jacket and shrugged it off. It took a fair amount of concentration to manage it, he was still woefully drunk after all, and he couldn’t talk and work his fingers at the same time. He didn’t stop there, but continued on with his shirt, also removing it, so that he was left in the thin white cotton of his undershirt. Dietre then tried to arrange and fold the garments in a way that wouldn’t leave them too rumpled, but he was too drunk and he quickly gave up.
“You really don’t mind if I sleep here?” He asked, brows together. Aleksi could tell him a hundred times that he wanted him there and he’d still ask if the man was sure. It wasn’t that he doubted Aleksi, he doubted himself.
Staring rather blatantly as Dietre stripped off his layers, Aleksi blinked to refocus when he heard that question. “Not in the least,” he confirmed with a small shake of his head. “In fact, I’d probably have to insist on it.” He didn’t like the idea of Dietre wandering around outside, alone, with his senses dulled by alcohol. Not that it looked like that was going to be an issue, given that the younger man had made himself comfortable.
Aleksi stood up from the couch, offering one hand to Dietre to help him up since he had no idea how off-balance the boy might be.
“Then I can’t decline, can I?” The smile Dietre gave Aleksi as he took his hand was a little wan, his face still blotchy from his crying. One last sniffle or two and he stood, leaning on the other man while he used the bottom edge of the couch to pry his shoes off at the heel. He would have taken them off at the door if he had been sober and thinking straight, he liked to keep things clean.
The ladder to the bed loft seemed daunting despite it's shortness. Dietre hesitated, but already he was trusting of Aleksi and felt the man wouldn’t let him fall. Slower, and clumsier than he would have liked, Dietre ascended. There was no room to stand up here for even an average sized man, let alone one as tall as him and Aleksi. Dietre made his way atop the bed in a sort of crawl, rolling over onto his back with a sigh and his head on the pillow.
“Oh,” he murmured, once settled. “It is rather nice up here, isn’t it..?”
“It is,” Aleksi agreed, following Dietre up to the loft. He was very glad the younger man had been able to get up without any trouble, though obviously he would have caught him if he’d fallen. It was not, perhaps, the most intuitive place for falling asleep, but given his circumstances, Aleksi wasn’t in a position to complain. Much better than sleeping in the woods in his fur, which is probably where he’d be if Dietre hadn’t found him that first day.
Not bothering to even try moving around the small area - made smaller just by Dietre’s presence - Aleksi laid himself down at the younger man’s side. He smiled, fond and indulgent, at the way Dietre was sprawled out. “Are you comfortable?” he asked softly, reaching out to comb his fingers through the younger man’s hair once more.
Somehow it had not occurred to Dietre that Aleksi would be joining him in bed. It wasn’t that he thought the man would take the couch, he just didn’t think very far ahead. He was still too drunk for that sort of thing. When he realized Aleksi was climbing in after him he grew quite flustered indeed. Voicing the complexities of his feelings on the matter was beyond him, and if any thoughts had begun to materialize, they vanished like the wind the moment the werewolf stroked his hair.
A deep blush creeped out from the white collar of his shirt up his neck to stain his cheeks. When asked if he were comfortable, Dietre could only nod shyly, thoroughly tongue tied. He could not look away from Aleksi’s warm expression. Only one other man had ever looked at him that way, Nilus, who wasn’t even a man, but an angel. Dietre had thought him mad for such adoration and backed away from his offer of love, too confused to accept it. He had wavered between intense regret and feeling that he had done the right thing since then. It was never him that Nilus loved, but a man Dietre bore a resemblance to. That had been a year ago, though. Dietre had a sense that he changed since then. Grown up a little. Made friends with reasonable people who were capable of talking sense into him. He wasn’t so apt to recoil in disbelief that someone might like him, but then again, Aleksi was a werewolf, perhaps getting into bed and caressing another man was totally normal for them and meant nothing deeper than friendly affection. Dietre just had no idea.
“Um…” He ventured, finally, after biting nervously at his lip. “What you said about wanting to know about me… I’d like to know about you too, everything you’re willing to talk about.” He smiled suddenly, bashful and a bit embarrassed. “...Only, not right now, because I think I’m about to fall asleep any minute…”
Dietre’s blush didn’t go unnoticed, per se, but Aleksi didn’t pay it much mind, didn’t consider any of the multitude of possibilities of what it might mean. He was mostly just glad for the nod, since he had no idea what he could have done to resolve the issue if Dietre hadn’t been comfortable.
Smiling back, warmed all over from the expression on the younger man’s face, Aleksi nodded, saying, “Okay. Whatever you would like to know.” That was, perhaps, not an entirely truthful offer, though not intentionally - it was only after he’d spoken that Aleksi realized there were things he likely wasn’t quite ready to speak on, though he couldn’t have articulated it well at the moment.
In any case, it seemed a rather moot point, given that Dietre looked at least halfway to sleep already. “Sleep well and sweet dreams,” Aleksi offered softly, dropping his hand from Dietre’s hair to wrap his arm around the younger man’s waist instead.
Dietre had bid Aleksi goodnight and fallen off to sleep almost as soon as the words had left his lips. Sometime in the night he had nestled himself deeper in the other man’s embrace, face buried against his collarbone. He slept like the dead, no dreams, no restlessness, no waking up anxious and overthinking every aspect of his life.
It would have been the perfect night’s rest if it wasn’t for the ache that started within his skull. A dull throbbing between his eyes woke him despite his efforts to stay asleep. He grimaced, eyes squeezed shut, and turned his face to his pillow with a reluctant whine. This always happened when he drank, yet he still hadn’t learned his lesson. And every time he told himself he wouldn’t do it again. Maybe next time he really wouldn’t.
Confusion followed the headache and Dietre finally sat up, blearily looking around himself. It took a moment for his surroundings to look familiar. The masquerade came back to him in bits and pieces, as well as what went on afterward, and he hardly knew what to think.
“W-what… What time is it..?”
Aleksi hadn’t fallen asleep quite as quickly as Dietre had, but the relaxed state of just laying there with the younger man in his arms was almost better than unconsciousness. In a rare turn of events, he didn’t wake up from nightmares in the middle of the night at all, Dietre’s scent permeating into his brain enough to keep him grounded.
The loss of that warmth next to him pulled him back to wakefulness, and Aleksi found himself yawning as he blinked his eyes open to find Dietre sitting up next to him instead of laying down as he had been. He let out a low, wordless rumble at the question, an acknowledgement that he’d heard. Turning his head, he glanced on that tiny alarm clock sitting next to the bed and then answered, “Almost nine.”
Dietre squinted against the daylight filtering through the windows, hair mussed, his cheek imprinted by the wrinkles of Aleksi’s shirt. He rubbed at his face in disbelief. “Nine? That’s so late..!” Most people probably wouldn’t think so, but to an insomniac like him it seemed equivalent to waking up at noon.
His first thoughts went to his dog. “Sieglinde must be beside herself.” Dietre had never left her alone for so long. He hoped Adrian noticed his absence and took it upon himself to feed her. ...But Adrian had gone to the masquerade too, he might not have gone home last night either. Dietre’s brows came together in worry and indecision. He wasn’t in any condition to go running off just yet, and he realized how rude that would be. He couldn’t do that to Aleksi, not when he’d been so kind as to tolerate his drunken nonsense.
All he could do was hope Sieglinde would forgive him for his negligence. Dietre lay back down, a little pouty. “I feel terrible…” About his poor pup and in general, hangovers were not fun.
Aleksi stared for a few long moments, and then sat up, mirroring Dietre’s position unconsciously. He reached out and combed his fingers into the younger man’s hair, a hint of a smile at the corners of his lips at the sight of the messy tangles.
“Do you want to go check on her?” he asked, amazed all over again at the depth of Dietre’s compassion. Aleksi was never the type to need a ton of time in the morning to adjust to being awake, so if Dietre wanted to get up and leave right now, he’d be happy to do so.
A chuckle punched its way out of his chest at the sight of the younger man flopping back down to the sheets, and the expression on his face as he did so. “I can make coffee, and breakfast, and then we can go see your pup?” Aleksi offered, taking a snapshot memory of Dietre to store away for later.
Nilus had kissed Dietre once-- twice, but they had been so brief and he had been so shocked that he could barely recall what happened. Aleksi combing his fingers through his hair now moved him more than those half remembered kisses ever did. There was a tenderness to the act that Dietre had never been treated to before. His heart fluttered and he knew, with a touch of dread, that that the werewolf had him. He was falling hard and there was no end in sight, he’d be head over heels worse than ever before. When his heart got broken this time it’d be the end of him.
Struck mute as before, he only nodded to the question of wanting to check on Sieglinde. He made no move to get up to do so, though. Breakfast wasn’t exactly an appealing idea, thinking about eating made Dietre feel a little queasy. But he couldn’t refuse the offer. To be honest, at the moment, he probably wouldn’t be able to refuse Aleksi anything.
“...Alright.” A small smile played on his lips after he found his voice, sweet and shy. “Coffee sounds good.”
Warmth bloomed in Aleksi’s chest, and a smile grew to match Dietre’s. “Okay,” he agreed easily.
He leaned down, affection and instinct driving his actions, and nuzzled his forehead against the younger man’s briefly. As he drew up and away again, Aleksi dragged his nose along the side of Dietre’s temple.
“I’d offer to bring it up to you, but I don’t think the ladder is very conducive to that,” he commented almost playfully before rolling out of the bed. “So instead you should just take as long as you like. It’ll be ready when you are.”
Dietre’s heart fluttered for a second time, thudded and skipped, thrown off course by Aleksi’s closeness. He shut his eyes when their foreheads met, exhaled a soft breath when the werewolf nuzzled his temple that might have been a sigh or a puff of a laugh. It seemed wrong for him to be getting this sort of attention, he hardly knew what to do with it. But he liked it. Loved it.
“Oh. A-alright… I’ll be down, um, soon. In a minute.” He felt like he was tripping over his words more than usual. He decided he should stay where he was until his face no longer felt like it was on fire at the very least.
He remained laying down while Aleksi descended, distracted from his headache by the butterflies in his stomach. After a moment he rolled into the still warm indentation the werewolf left in the bed, and if he turned his face to the sheets he could catch his scent. From below he could hear the sounds of Aleksi moving about the little kitchen. Eventually he sat up so he could watch. Even at a distance the sight of the other man made his heart skip a beat. He could only sigh at himself.
Having regained his composure, Dietre finally climbed down from the loft. He hung back shyly before asking, “...What are you making?”
It gave Aleksi a comfort of some sort, to be able to care for Dietre. Not just as a repayment for all the things the younger man had done - continued to do - for him as he was figuring out how to restart his life in a brand new place, but something about being able to provide for Dietre just felt right in a way that nothing had since he’d watched his hometown burn to ashes. Deliberately pushing that thought, and any related to it, away for the time being, Aleksi concentrated on the task at hand, setting the kettle on to boil water for coffee as he weighed the (rather limited) options available for breakfast.
There was a mug of coffee waiting for Dietre on the end counter when he emerged, Aleksi’s own sitting next to the stove where he could take occasional sips from it as he cooked. “Toast, and scrambled eggs,” he answered, glancing over his shoulder to see if the simplicity of the meal would be sufficient. “Unless you have another request,” he offered, resisting the urge to abandon what he was working on to go wrap his arms around Dietre again until he stopped looking so anxious.
Dietre came closer when spoken to and claimed his coffee, sipping as he pulled up a stool to sit on. No element of the suggested breakfast sounded frightening to his stomach, which was good. “No, no… That sounds fine, thank you.” He didn’t mean to come off as overly polite, but he couldn’t help a certain level of awkwardness. How was one supposed to act after sharing a bed with another man??
Cradling his mug in his hands, Dietre willed the caffeine to get to work, he felt too groggy and stupid to be interesting. He drank, thinking, thinking, absently raking his hair back until something came to him. “Um… Were you able to sleep decently last night? I hope I didn’t interfere too much?” He didn’t want to say how well he slept until he knew, he didn’t want to rub Aleksi the wrong way by seeming like he was saying, ‘Sucks to be you, I slept great!’ if the man did not, in fact, sleep well.
“I slept better with you in my arms than I have since I woke up in that place,” Aleksi answered, honest and open. Down there, he had never slept peacefully, always alert, on edge even while unconscious. It was a relief to be able to relax so fully, a sensation he’d never been privy to before, even… before.
“And my bed will smell like you for a few days, and I expect that even just that will help as well,” he added, almost as an afterthought, smiling at the mention of it. “And yourself? I trust you didn’t wake up in the middle of the night or anything?” Aleksi felt certain he would have noticed if Dietre had, but it didn’t hurt to ask.
Why it pleased Dietre so much to hear that they had both given each other a good night’s sleep he didn’t know, but it did. His expression brightened despite his hangover grogginess and he smiled a bit more easily. “Oh. Well, I’m glad I could help…” He caught himself about to offer to come share a bed whenever Aleksi wanted and bit his lip to keep it inside. That was just too forward.
“...Days?” He looked both faintly amused and unsure if he was somehow being insulted. A werewolf’s nose must be sensitive indeed. Of course, Aleksi meant nothing bad. It was strangely flattering, actually.
“I slept very well. I don’t normally.” Aleksi had met Dietre at a point in his life where his insomnia didn’t have him in an iron grip. Even, say, six months ago, Dietre did not look nearly as healthy as he did now. Having a roommate to look after things like shopping and cooking had helped him quite a bit. “...It may have been the wine, but I think it was mostly you.”
Aleksi nodded, saying, “At least a few days, yes.” And he’d do everything in his power to help conserve that so that the scent stayed longer. Dietre’s scent had imprinted itself into Aleksi’s brain during that first meeting, and ever since, he’d associated it with a certain level of comfort that was different from anyone or anything he’d ever know before.
Grinning almost bashfully at the confirmation that Dietre had slept well, Aleksi repeated Dietre’s words, beyond pleased that the sleeping portion of the evening had gone well. “I am glad I was able to help,” he said, still grinning, and then added, “You are welcome any time, of course. Sieglinde can use all the extra blankets to make a nest wherever she’d like.”
He turned to grab the toast that had just finished, slathering a layer of butter over it before setting in down next to the eggs on a plate, and then sliding it over to Dietre. “Please let me know if you’d like anything more, or different,” Aleksi said, moving to start fixing his own plate of food.
Aleksi’s grin was contagious, though Dietre was not one to grin. Instead, his smile lingered, unfaltering, long after it would normally fade. Being given the freedom to come here any time brought a happy flush to his cheeks. He wondered how often he could get away with showing up before Aleksi became annoyed and if he were brave enough to test the man’s limits. Probably not, sadly. He was too scared of ruining things for himself the way he had before.
“I doubt my stomach could handle anything else. This is perfect,” he assured his host. Dietre never had much of an appetite, but he intended on eating every bite of this meal even if it made him feel sick after. He wouldn’t let Aleksi’s effort be wasted.
Alternating between bites of toast and egg, Dietre ate quietly for a moment. He couldn’t allow the silence to get too heavy, though, so after a bit he asked, “Do you think Sieglinde will be mad at me when I get home?”
Dietre’s continued smile sparked a warmth in Aleksi’s chest, one that he felt he could carry with him for some indeterminate amount of time. He stared for a few moments, committing both the sight and the feeling to memory before putting his own food on a plate.
“Unlikely,” Aleksi answered, moving to sit down at Dietre’s side. He was, perhaps, a little closer than was entirely necessary, but after having been pressed against the younger man all night, it was difficult to put any additional distance between them when it wasn’t entirely necessary. “She will mostly be very glad to see that you have returned. And I wouldn’t be surprised if she demands a bit of attention from you at first.”
Dietre knew Aleksi was probably right, Sieglinde seemed a creature incapable of holding a grudge. As soon as he opened the door she was going to be bouncing around in excitement. Just thinking about it made him miss her, and feel another little pang of guilt over having left her alone all night.
“You’re coming with me?” Aleksi said so, but Dietre liked to have more confirmation. “I think she’ll be happy to see you.” His smile widened with a faint teasing glimmer. “Unless… she realizes you’re the reason I’ve been gone. Then she might get jealous.” Most people who knew Dietre saw him as grim and serious. He so rarely felt comfortable enough to attempt jokes, but right now he did. His anxieties were sure to sweep in again to overwhelm him eventually, so he had to do his best to enjoy this lighthearted moment while he could.
“Perhaps you should bring a peace offering… Just in case.”
“Yes,” Aleksi answered immediately. He watched as Dietre’s smile shifted, grinning widely to match the younger man’s expression. Chuckling at the teasing words, Aleksi retorted, “Oh really? And what would you suggest for such an offering?”
He kept beaming at Dietre between bites, working his way steadily through the food on his plate. “How did you come to have her?” Aleksi asked, curious.
“Oh, just something from the fridge will do. She’s easy to please,” Dietre answered, that light tone still in his voice. Food was a good way to Sieglinde’s heart. Adrian was always sneaking her people-food and she loved him for it.
Being asked about how he came to be Sieglinde’s owner sobered him up, that brightness dimming. “Um… She was a gift. A sort of house warming and late birthday gift rolled into one.” He spoke softly now, slowly, reluctant. These things were hard to talk about still. Maybe they’d always be hard to talk about. But he would, because Aleksi asked and he wanted to reward the werewolf’s interest in him, hoping to keep him interested.
“...There was a man I met at Quiet Home, a fellow patient… Though, like you, he wasn’t just a man, he was actually an angel.” Dietre’s head was bowed over his food, but he stole a glance at Aleksi to see if he believed him. “A real angel, from Heaven, with wings… but he had been on earth for a very long time. We were friends. ...He was my first friend, not only here, but ever.”
As he spoke he absently pushed around bits of egg with his fork, his eyes sad. “He left town about a year ago, not long after he gave me Sieglinde…”
Aleksi listened closely as Dietre answered his question, frowning slightly at the sadness that seemed to radiate off the younger man as he spoke. He felt terrible for bringing up something that upset Dietre, even if he hadn’t had any way of knowing that would be the case. Storing away all of that new information for later review, Aleksi reached out, curling his fingers around the back Dietre’s free hand where it was resting on the counter.
“I am sorry,” Aleksi said quietly, squeezing his fingers gently where he was touching Dietre. “Thank you for telling me.” It felt… weighty, in a way, that Dietre had shared that bit of his past even though it was obviously at least somewhat uncomfortable for him to recall.
Aleksi briefly ran through his - very limited knowledge of - angels, and then decided it wasn’t as important as focusing on the present, and what he could do to make Dietre smile again.
“Do you want to go see her now?” he offered, since it was the only thing he could think of that might lift the sudden cloud in the room.
There was relief in Dietre’s eyes, and a brief look of gratitude, when Aleksi let the subject pass with only an apology. Thinking about his prior relationships (if they could even be called that all) would just get him started down that road of anxiety and paranoia, doom and gloom, visions of what could be all crashing down to nothing. It didn’t take much to throw Dietre into a downward spiral. All the people he liked best were the one who knew how to steer him away from such things, and it seemed Aleksi was catching on nicely.
“Yes. Yes, the sooner probably the better,” Dietre answered. He did as much justice to Aleksi’s cooking he could, leaving just a few scant pieces of egg and a bit of crust and crumbs on his plate. The coffee was downed to the last drop, he had needed the caffeine and already felt it help lessen his headache.
“Then let’s go,” Aleksi agreed with a smile, grabbing the empty dishes and stacking them in the sink to be dealt with later. “Your shoes are under the couch,” he offered, not sure if Dietre would remember that, given his state of inebriation the night before. He grabbed a sweatshirt for himself from the small row of hooks by the door, and then held another out to Dietre, who only had the fancy jacket from the night before, which he had said he was returning to someone here in the Carnival anyway.
Dietre stood, his shy smile beginning to return. His shoes were found, and he accepted the sweater with a softly spoken thank you. Though he had a bag of his clothes stashed away at the costume tent, he did not change back into his own shirt. He kept Aleksi’s sweater on. It didn’t matter that it was cheap or that it was too big for him. Not even later once he was home and Aleksi had returned to the carnival did he take it off. It was his now, but not his, and the feeling of warmth it gave him had nothing to do with the material it was made from.