This was no good.
Vishal made a flat, automatic sound in the back of his throat as he continued to focus on the page. He’d reread this half of the page thrice now, and it seemed he’d have to start it again for a fourth time as his eyes slid unthinkingly over the words. To say his head was full to capacity with folklore, myths, and legends was silly. But that’s certainly what it felt like.
No good. This was no good at all. He was no good like this. He was no hunter—not like the others on the team—so what good was he going to be if he couldn’t even get the research side covered? Why did he even think he could--
He jumped in his seat the moment a hand laid on his shoulder. As warm as the voice was and as lightly as the touch came, he was still startled, shaken from his work and his worries alike. His eyes were wide as he whipped his head around to look at the intruder… but only for the split second it took him to realize who it was.
He relaxed immediately, “Farhan.”
“My apologies,” the librarian took his hand away with just as much care, smiling down at Vishal’s far-more-sheepish smile, “I know you don’t like to be touched.”
“Oh no, it’s fine. Sorry,” Vishal hurriedly attempted to dismiss, waving his hand and adjusting his glasses, “I just hadn’t realized-- I was reading, so… Well, I was trying to read anyway. I’m just…” As if he were taking in his surroundings for the first time in hours, he sighed and shook his head, “It’s late, isn’t it? I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be--”
“I told you,” Farhan was already turning his attention to the small mess strewn over the table, “You’re free to make use of the collection as long as you like, even in this room.”
Vishal still felt he was being an imposition—this section of the library was Farhan’s personal collection, after all, he was lucky to even see some of these old texts… Still, if Farhan said it was fine, he’d have to relent. The man had a way of both putting him at ease and commanding his attention. He never seemed to intentionally interject or interrupt, but Vishal felt compelled to quiet down and listen when he spoke. Sure, the same could be said of anyone with an authoritative air—which the older man definitely had—but there was a little something different about Farhan. As if his deference didn’t come out of Vishal’s usual timidity, but from genuinely wanting to hear what Farhan had to say. “Besides which,” Farhan went on in his usual, unhurried way, “I’m curious to hear about what progress you’ve made on your book.”
“Not much,” this little fib he’d told the librarian (that all this research was for a book compiling fantastical creature mythos rather than gathering info to help hunt real creatures) was easy enough to keep up by now… especially since he wasn’t lying at all about his struggle with it, “I mean, things were going well when I started… Maybe it really has gotten too late - I just can’t seem to focus. Hah—I don’t think I’ve ever stared at words so long without a single one registering.” He sighed and attempted to laugh it off, rubbing his eyes and jostling his glasses out of place. It was ridiculous, having all these rare and valuable books available to him and still being useless—he could barely bring himself to murmur something about being frustrated when he knew it was his own shortcoming in the first place.
“Hm, I see,” Farhan mused in that way he had where Vishal knew something was to follow, he set his glasses aside and looked up again to listen, happy for the distraction from his work, “Why don’t you try something for me? Here—” Farhan moved a few papers aside and brought a nearby candle over, setting it directly in front of Vishal.
“I think all you need is a break,” Farhan said as he moved to stand directly behind the chair, “Sitting hunched over reading for hours is tiring the same way physical exertion is. Tiring your mind. Sit upright for me? And just look forward into the flame. A short rest will help you focus your mind so you can get back to work. See?”
Vishal gave a short nod. He was uneasy about putting his work aside too long, but he acquiesced all the same—as he often did with Farhan. Who was he to argue with someone as intelligent as him? And anyway, it really did feel better to roll his shoulders back and stare straight ahead instead of straining his eyes over text.
It was just a short rest anyway.
“Take a deep breath for me,” Vishal did, wordlessly following the instruction, “Perfect. One more deep breath as you let your muscles relax. Still staring into the flame—right into the center of it—focus on that and let thoughts of your work fall to the side. Just for a short while after all.” It was easier said than done. Vishal did as he was told—he wanted to follow Farhan’s instructions properly—but it was difficult to keep his mind off his work. As quiet a man as he was, he rarely could keep his thoughts from--
“Looking only into the flame, hearing only my voice,”...Farhan had a nice voice.
“Hands relaxed at your sides as you already begin to drift for me,” A very nice voice. It seemed to take on a different quality now. Suddenly he really could focus his mind on Farhan’s words instead of his own thoughts. Just as he often stopped talking when Farhan spoke up, his thoughts… too seemed to fade away. Replaced with Farhan’s words. His hands slid from his lap to hang down limply.
“Perfect,” Vishal sensed Farhan’s hands settling on the back of the seat, but he paid it no mind, “You’re doing very well, Vishal.”
“Really?” his eyes remained on the flame—staring deep into the center—as his mouth hung open and he mused, somewhat vacantly, “Does that mean…” Farhan said ‘just a short while’ and then he’d go back to the books, so? “Should I get back to--”
“Hmm, no, no,” the weight of hands on his shoulders now kept him steady as he quieted down and let the thought drift away from him, “I’ll need you to continue listening for a little while yet. I know you can do that for me, yes Vishal? You know very well how to follow along with my words by now. And you feel very safe doing so, Don’t you?”
“Yes, Farhan,” He had… such a wonderful voice. It was always easy to listen to, easy to follow when he spoke to him like this, alone in this room, “Safe and Open.”
“That’s right,” It made Vishal relax further to hear Farhan sound satisfied with his answer, “This feeling is familiar and good. You know you are safe here. Staring. Still. It’s good to listen and follow… Following to the very center. Dropping Deep.”
“D.. drop...” he murmured, heaviness sinking into him as he continued to stare deeper. It was hard to sit upright when he wanted to lean in and fall ever more deeply into the light, so he was thankful for Farhan’s hand circling round to hold him in place—one palm at his collarbone, one cupping his chin to hold his head steady. It was so comfortable (so familiar) that he was happy to remain like this for a while, listening to Farhan's instructions and watching wax melt. The candle’s flame held his focus, flickering every so often to scatter stray thoughts. Farhan held him upright in place keeping him steady so he could simply relax and stare straight forwards. That beautiful voice held his mind, continuing to instruct him, reminding him to breathe, to relax, to go deeper.
“This is deeper than I’ve ever taken you, isn’t it?” he said after a time. Vishal sighed with a slow nod, happy to hear he was doing well, making progress, “In fact, with you so open and Deep, I think we can have a little talk while you’re under.”
Vishal only blinked slow and made a questioning murmur at that.
“Don’t worry, I’m certain you’ll do fine. Just continue to listen and stare. And when I speak you’ll feel compelled to answer. No need to think before you speak. No need to worry about saying the right thing. Just relax. Just listen, and if I ask a….”
The flame flickered once more, sending a soothing ripple through Vishal's mind, smoothing any last lingering thoughts away—blanking his mind out so he was ready to simply listen and respond. He sighed and nodded. He muttered, “yes,” to an order some part of his mind must have registered. And he listened.
“…you’ll find it very easy to speak. It feels good to speak truthfully and openly—without worrying about hiding anything, doesn’t it? Letting the words simply float up out of you as you exhale, no need to think too hard about them; Smart as you are, you must already know the answers to any question I ask.”
Vishal nodded and smiled at the simple compliment. For once he didn’t feel the need to shy away from it or depreciate himself. When Farhan spoke like this, he spoke the truth, after all. Why should Vishal disagree?
“Yes,” he nodded as he listened. Yes, he could do this for Farhan. Yes, he could answer truthfully, just the same way Farhan’s words were true and right. Yes, yes, yes, he was happy to be listening so well for him.
“Good. Let’s start with something easy: Me.”
“Farhan,” Vishal murmured with a sigh, the candle flickering and his thoughts beginning to circle round the man behind him already.
“Yes. What do you think of me? You’ve been in my library, spoken with me, seen my personal collection for some time now. After all this research on otherworldly beings, after seeing the old and rare texts I own, after spending time with me—surely there’s something you’ve picked up on? Tell me, what is it you’ve gathered about me by now?”
“Farhan,” Vishal repeated and nodded, knowing what he said was true: there was something about the man that intrigued Vishal. Something that gave him pause. Something which he couldn’t possibly say aloud. Until now. Now when his hidden thoughts were so easy to speak. He wanted to say them.
“Farhan… you,” the candle flickered and Vishal leaned ever so slightly more into Farhan’s palm, “You are so very handsome.”
During which Vishal simply smiled and continued to stare into the flame, relieved to finally say it out loud.
“Say… that again?”
“I think you are the most handsome man in this city,” Vishal continued obediently, not heeding the note of amusement in Farhan’s request, “I’ve thought so since I first met you.”
“Vishal,” and Farhan’s voice was so warm, so gentle even as he seemed to carefully admonish, “Don’t you think I might be too old for you?” Vishal halfway began to agree with him. Yet when Farhan’s thumb moved to Vishal’s lower lip—calloused pad drawing against it in the same gentle way—Vishal’s eyelids fluttered, and his words bubbled up unbidden.
“I think you are just the right age for me,” the thumb paused immediately while Vishal’s cheeks heated, “I think your gray hairs are at-attractive, even. Many things about you are.” Like Farhan’s hands—weathered and cool against his skin… Had they always been like that or did they just feel colder now against his quickly-heating face? “You know, I’ve even imagined—sometimes—“ Vishal continued, his brow furrowing every so slightly and his ears red hot as he tilted his head, “Imagined you… You and I. Together-- ah, um, as in…” He blinked a few times as he trailed off. Sweet Gods... did he really just say that? The candle was still before him to hold his focus, but even its soothing light didn’t quell the embarrassment that was bubbling up in his chest. His… chest underneath Farhan’s palm. He realized suddenly how nice that felt; even through the extra cloth on his chest, it was pleasant. But he didn’t normally let Farhan touch him like this, so… why would..? And what was Farhan sayi
Vishal’s stuttering thoughts stalled as his head lolled slightly, as if the phrase held a sort of invisible force. The command - firm and simple and free of judgement—settled him down enough to listen further.
“Alright. Just stare for me, Vishal. Going back down again deeper into trance. Letting those thoughts fade away as you Listen to my voice. That’s right - there’s no need to dwell on all that. Just come back to this quiet open state of mind. Alllll better.”
“Yes Farhan,” The sigh he breathed caused the candle to flicker once, and blissfully Vishal was able to let go of whatever embarrassing thing he just said. Gods, how nice it was to not worry about saying the wrong thing for once. Why would he want to leave this simple, unthinking state? What was he even worried about just a moment ago?
“Let’s move on to something less… complicated, Hm?”
“You’re doing perfectly, Vishal. Staying deep and letting yourself answer truthfully. It’s so easy for the truth to come up to the surface…” And it really was. Farhan didn’t ask about himself again. Instead it was all about easy subjects: Vishal’s research, his friends, the hunts they got up to, where their headquarters were and what they knew about the non-humans so far. Whether Vishal had mentioned Farhan’s collection to them. Simple questions with simple answers. And a simple satisfaction in knowing he was doing well answering truthfully.
He barely needed to think as they talked; he simply let his thoughts quiet and his mouth move and his mind go blank and easy and effortless...
Farhan didn’t draw things out any longer than absolutely necessary.He was satisfied that the scribe had no idea of his true nature. Besides which, there would be other nights for him to pry a little deeper. Vishal had made rapid progress tonight… even with that little hiccup in the middle there. Farhan had to huff a quiet chuckle as he moved to Vishal's side and reached forwards toward the flame.
The candle was out, his calloused fingers making quick work of snuffing the flame completely. Almost immediately, Vishal gave a slow blink, then another—very obviously trying to bring himself back into the room. Farhan smiled to himself, watching for just a short moment.
But not good enough. Farhan didn’t draw his hand away completely, but danced his fingers along where flame once was—allowing the smoke to swirl about his digits before it faded into air. Vishal’s eyes followed the dance perfectly, just as they were meant to.
Farhan raised an eyebrow, watching as something other than entranced daze passed Vishal’s mien: a hint of recognition in the tilt of his head and the small smile which tugged at the scribe’s lips. He did not seem to wake, but his own hand rose by a few inches, fingers not-quite mimicking Farhan’s movements—as if Vishal himself were drawn to manipulate the smoke as well. That was… interesting? Maybe. A little cute. But again—unfortunately—Farhan had neither the time nor the desire to play with this human’s mind any more tonight.
“Vishal, listen now” Farhan’s hand moved in wider motions as the smoke dissipated completely (Vishal’s hand lowering back down and his eyes glazing over in blankness again) now dancing to and fro, beckoning Vishal’s gaze to follow, “I’m sure you can do one last thing for me…” here Vishal was already drifting deep for him, nodding obediently even while he tried to keep up with Farhan’s movements. Soon his fingers were dancing a hair’s breadth from Vishal’s eyes, and only then did he snap—“Sleep”—and reach forward to steady Vishal’s torso so he rested back into the chair, eyelids sliding shut with barely a flutter of resistance.
“When you wake, you will go back to your research and have no memories of our conversation. Just go back to reading, as you were before, and allow the things I’ve asked and the things you’ve told me to fade from your mind. You’ve already helped me so much, done so well tonight, there’s no need to worry about anything else. No need to remember. You were simply researching, getting tired and dizzy all on your own, lost in words—as you so often do… It’s very easy to get lost and drift when you’re in this room alone with me. Listening to my voice and watching a candle flame flicker.”