[Three Months Later]
Tam met up with Ash after their respective classes. Tam’s had been A History of Witchcraft Prior to Valefication, which was not exactly the most comfortable class to take when he was just starting out as a witch.
But he seemed to have less to complain about than Ash did, anyway. “Ugh, Witchcraft 101,” Ash sighed as he fell into step beside Tam on their way to the university bus exchange. “I feel like I went over this with Miranda within my first week, and we’re still on these basics.”
“Sure,” Tam said. “It’s a prerequisite, though.”
Miranda Doxtador was the witch that Antoine had directed Ash to as a good candidate to train him, a technowitch who ran her own small game studio in the downtown Valley area. It wasn’t quite where Ash wanted to end up using his skills—he hoped to find a good mesh of Library and Information Studies and technomancy, and was pursuing a formal degree in Witchcraft to take as his bachelor’s first.
Tam was taking the same prerequisites, though less because he had an end goal in mind like Ash, and more because he felt like he just had a lot to catch up on. Taking classes now took some of the weight off Antoine to teach him everything.
“I guess,” Ash said, rolling his eyes. Tam knew, with an annoyed, aching fondness, that Ash would continue to complain about it for the entire four years of his degree while still enjoying the hell out of it.
“C’mon,” Tam said. “Here’s our bus.”
They rode together, bumping their knees against each other and chatting on the way there—Miranda was going to let Ash start to work on data restoration today, which Ash was pretty excited about the potentials of.
Tam yawned, listening; he was super tired after having been up most of the night with an especially anxious border collie who was actually an accountant. He thought it had gone pretty well; once Mr. Martins had realized he was there to play, he’d really let go and just had fun chasing a ball and, after several hours of that, also seemed to enjoy stomping all over Tam while trying to tuck him into the couch.
“What about you?” Ash asked.
Tam grinned. “I’m going to learn how to make a pumpkin pie.”
“Like, a magic pumpkin pie?”
“Magically delicious,” Tam said agreeably.
“Great, cool. Save me a piece.”
Tam’s grin became more of a smirk. “I think Antoine is looking forward to seeing you anyway, so be sure to come by and get it.”
Ash blushed a little, then bumped his knee against Tam extra hard. “Yeah, I guess I will.”
Tam disembarked a moment later, heading first to Beanheadings to get himself a coffee. Matthias was working today, and Tam spent a little longer than expected catching him up on how his training was going, and how he was doing in school so far. He often came in to study at a table at night, and Matthias had, somewhere along the way, started tutoring him here or there on the more demonic elements of historical witchcraft—no strings attached, he’d assured him.
Coffees in hand, Tam headed out and over to Antoine’s. “Hey,” he said, as Antoine came out at the jingle of the bell. “I brought you a PSL.”
“Ahhhh, super needed,” Antoine said, taking it from him and luxuriating in his first sip. “Matthias made this one, huh? He really knows how to bring out the flavor. Ready to learn?”
“Sure hope so,” Tam said. “I didn’t get much sleep, so be patient with me. What’m I going to bake into it?”
“I was thinking a small protection spell,” Antoine said. “It won’t last forever, but…” he shrugged. “You mentioned that your parents were worried. Once you learn this, you can bake it for them whenever you feel you need to.”
Tam nodded slowly at that. He and Ash were talking again with their parents, though it was a bit strained; the trust there had been badly damaged, and would take a long time to repair. But he’d wanted to warn his parents about the lack of protection.
Eric and Alice had thought that it was perhaps for the best that they would need to learn to get by without protection. Even so, they were used to taking risks now, and a bit of a minor protection spell here or there to help keep them from just straight up dying… well, it was probably a bit useful.
“C’mon,” Antoine said, putting a hand on Tam’s back. “Let’s get started, yeah?”
This was Tam’s favorite part of training: not the spells, though he was interested in those, but how calming it was to bake. He was sure it could be stressful under other circumstances—he wasn’t sure how Antoine got up every day and tried to bake perfect things for customers Tam had overheard being quite demanding—but when it was just him rolling out dough, twisting it and pressing it in ritual patterns as he poured that energy through him into it, he could see himself doing this for the rest of his life.
Two hours later, the pie had cooled enough that he could make up some whip cream. As he worked it, Antoine said, “First slice is yours.”
“Oh, I—” Tam blanched, embarrassed. He should have said this first. “I can’t. I’m seeing Rainier tonight. Can’t have any protections up.”
Startled, Antoine laughed. “Well, that’s fine too! I’ll show you how to break your own spell, yeah?”
Ash showed up just as Tam was removing the spell from himself; it felt odd, but not difficult. The pie had sunk its protection into him, warm and deep; removing it felt like forcibly changing his own mood, finding those roots of protection in his system and gently shutting them off. He had his eyes closed, examining that feeling, when Ash flicked him in the forehead.
“I’m awake,” Tam said, disgruntled. “I’m working.“
“Now I just look like a jerk,” Ash said. He stepped away from Tam and slung an arm around Antoine. “These look good, my dude, anything for me?”
Antoine had a look on his face like he wanted to answer Anything you want. Tam laughed at the expression and picked his bag up.
“I’ll let you two work that out,” he said. “Though, the pie’s all yours if you want it, Ash.”
Ash examined it critically. “Is the crust supposed to look like that?”
“No,” Tam said dryly. “Crusts are real hard. I’ll see you guys later, right? For the show tonight?”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Antoine reassured him, though he was watching Ash lick whipped cream off an egg beater.
Ash considered Tam thoughtfully. “Is Sahil going to be okay?”
“He’s assured me it ends early enough, though he’ll have to run off right after.” Tam bumped Ash with a shoulder as he headed past. “You’ve got some on your nose.”
“It’s a good look for me,” Ash called back as Tam headed out for his date.
At least, he thought it was a date. It had been set up like a date, but without the word date actually being used. Tam had wanted to ask, because it was their seventh thing-he-thought-was-a-date, but had chickened out of texting it in response to Sahil’s invitation. That just seemed too impersonal.
He swung by Beanheadings a second time to get himself more coffee, enduring Matthias’s teasing, then headed over to the library to meet Sahil.
Sceana perked up when she saw him. “Ssahil will be right out,” she said with her faint serpentine lisp. “He jusst headed to the back to get his sstuff.”
Tam beamed at her. “Thanks,” he said. He unloaded one of the three coffees from the tray. “This is for you.”
“You do not know how ssorely this is needed,” she said, taking it, then slithering off as a patron cleared his throat impatiently at the other end of the counter.
He couldn’t quite suppress a shiver at her movement—but just because he was afraid of snakes didn’t mean he should be afraid of the person, and the discomfort was less every time he came.
“There you are,” Sahil said. He came over, sliding an arm through Tam’s. “Ready to go?”
Tam allowed himself to tug Sahil a little closer. “Ready whenever you are.”
They headed to Hell’s Kitchen again. This time, they’d made reservations for between lunch and dinner, and as a result it was a bit quieter now. They found a table together by the window, where Tam could watch the foot traffic outside, human and otherwise.
“I’m glad you keep doing this with me,” Sahil said, reaching across the table and squeezing Tam’s hand. “I really look forward to it every time.”
“Me too,” Tam said. He licked his lips. “Is this… I mean, I don’t want to seem like a total idiot, but are we, uh, dating—”
“Oh, I’m so glad you asked first,” Sahil said. “I’ve been going crazy.”
Tam laughed, relaxing. “I mean, I’d like it to be,” he said. “I’d understand if you felt I was… inconstant, or whatever.”
“No, I… don’t mind if you want to see other people too,” Sahil said thoughtfully. “I mean, I got a bit upset when you kissed Lithway right in front of me, but you’d never told me you two had a thing going on, so it was just… really sudden.”
“I didn’t mean to keep things from you,” Tam said. “I didn’t… think I had a chance with you so it didn’t seem like, um. Well, it was still very new, so not really… anybody’s business?”
Sahil patted Tam’s hand again. “I do get that. Anyway, I do feel a little like, ‘if he’s got an on-again off-again thing with Branwin’s most eligible celebrity, what does he see in me‘, but—”
“Uh, how about, you’re perfect, wonderful, kind, thoughtful, super loyal, will really put yourself out for the people you care about even if you had a messy breakup at some point—”
“We’re still friends, you know,” Sahil said, putting his face in his free hand in embarrassment.
“Also a soft angel,” Tam said, pretending to continue as if Sahil hadn’t interrupted.
Sahil wrinkled his nose, sticking his tongue out. “Okay, okay! Anyway…” He sighed. “I can get a bit obsessive? That’s sort of the dark side to loyalty. I know a relationship isn’t a place to experiment with getting over that sort of thing, but… ” He bit the inside of his cheek. “I want to be with you anyway.”
“I think if we both go into it aware of, I guess, our flaws…?” Tam shrugged helplessly. “I also want to try. I mean, I’m sort of going out with Lithway, and I’m donating blood to a vampire, which is…” He didn’t have to finish. Sahil knew by reputation, at least, how pleasant a vampire’s bite could be. “So I’d understand if you just didn’t want to deal with that.”
It only took a moment of consideration. “So… dating?” Sahil asked.
Tam beamed at him, feeling a helpless rush of affection. He took Sahil’s hand with his other one, squeezing it between both of his. “Dating,” he agreed.
“Are you two going to order or what?” the server asked.
After they’d finished, they met up with Antoine and Ash—who, Tam noticed, were looking a little disheveled—and headed over to Theatre of Dreams to watch the closing show of Diary of a Madman. Lithway had insisted that since Tam and Ash missed the opening, it was only fitting they saw the closing instead, and provided free tickets to the others who had ‘helped Tam on his journey’.
It was a gorgeous performance. Lithway embodied Poprishchin in beautiful form. The character, a Russian civil servant, oozed loneliness and isolation as he fell further and further into madness. Halfway through, Sahil leaned over and whispered that the ‘understanding the language of dogs’ thing was straight up not how dog language worked, and, because he was close, Tam put an arm around him.
After, Sahil gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before rushing off home; Ash whistled at him.
Tam sighed. “Contain him, please,” he told Antoine, then got up. “I’ll see you at home late tonight, okay?”
Ash waved. “Sure thing, loverboy. Have fun.”
He tried not to blush, but failed.
When Tam made it backstage, he found Lithway pretty much on top of the world, humming tunelessly to themselves as they drifted around, putting props away, although it was hardly their job to do so. It seemed almost ritualistic, and Tam watched for a while until Lithway seemed to be finished with it—although there were still props left.
“Well?” Lithway asked, smiling. “I saw you in the crowd. A pleasant sight, I assure you.”
“It was incredible,” Tam said honestly. “I’ve always been a fan, and getting to see you now was… it was a true pleasure.”
“Oh, please, you’ll embarrass me,” Lithway said, delighted. They slid an arm around Tam’s shoulders. “Now, I know you’ve got plans tonight, but can you spare some time for me?”
“I’d love to,” Tam said, and let Lithway lead him out and upstairs to the apartment area. A thought occurred to him, and he hesitated briefly; better to be honest with everyone involved. “Sahil and I started dating today.”
Lithway turned wide, guileless eyes on him. “Were you two not already?”
“We were in ‘it’s complicated’ status on Facebook.”
The joke hit home; Lithway snorted a soft laugh as they undid their door. “Do you want to stop this thing between us, Tam?”
“He says it’s fine, and I’ll trust him on that,” Tam said.
That answer seemed to surprise Lithway—they turned and considered him, then smiled again, soft and sly and pleased, and held out a hand. “Then please,” they said. “Let’s enjoy a fine celebration.”
Tam took it, relieved. If Lithway hadn’t wanted to continue, that would be fine—Tam was fairly sure that whatever was between them wasn’t permanent, though he wouldn’t have said that to Sahil yet. It felt like a bad basis on which to hold either relationship.
But he enjoyed the time they were sharing—the experience, as Lithway would put it—and he was sure at this point that, when the relationship eventually ended, their friendship wouldn’t.
He was a little late getting to Rainier’s after that, and Rainier absolutely let him know it—as soon as he opened the door and called a greeting, Rainier launched himself over the back of the couch and stomped up to him.
“Do you know!” Rainier said. “How annoying it is! To try to find these shrines on my own?! I’m watching where I’m gliding! I’m not watching the stupid radar thing!”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” Tam said. He put his hands on Rainier’s shoulders and turned him around, steering him back to the couch—earning himself one of those startled, curious expressions again when he let go. “I’ll make up for it, how’s that?”
Rainier considered it with his eyes narrowed… then let out an accepting grumble. “I’ll allow it,” he said, climbing into Tam’s lap.
Tam was more than a little light-headed when he finally headed home. He’d been out for what felt like a long time now on very little sleep, and donating blood was a bit much on top of it, but it had been a good day. He had no real complaints.
The apartment where he and Ash were living was down very near the gate, very near to where Ash had actually been held. It was free, part of a sponsorship program the Twilight Council had available for newly awakened witches, to help them adjust to drawing power through the gate and get them started in their new life.
Normally there was a long application process for it, but after they’d turned in the information about Bella Istem to the lawyer Michelle Alver, the Twilight Council had waived a large part of the process, along with providing a not-insubstantial reward. Istem had been pushing the limits of what a witch should do for a very long time, and this had been vital information for helping her victims.
They still got emails and letters and phone calls every few days from families who finally got someone back, or, occasionally, from a would-be apprentice themself. There were even a few batteries who got out alive, Tam had been told. Istem herself was still on the run, but with the Twilight Council and similar organizations on the look for her, he doubted she’d be on the loose for long.
Of course, there were other witches who did similar things who were out there, but setting a precedent was important. Who knew what the next year would bring?
Between the reward and smaller gifts from some of the families of people they helped, they were all right for money right now, but, Tam reminded himself, he should really get a proper job now he was getting used to his daily routine. Maybe he could talk to Lena about formalizing his dog sitting as a more permanent thing. He didn’t want to leave the financial burden of their life all on Ash—
Ash, who was sitting up late waiting for him, eating a piece of pumpkin pie. “There you are,” Ash said. “How’s my thoroughly debauched lil bro doing?” He ate another bite of pie and waited, with smug delight, for Tam’s embarrassed reply.
Love and relief rushed through Tam instead.
“Pretty good,” he said, walked over, and tipped the plate up so the last of the whip-coated pie squished into Ash’s face.
It was a weird life he’d found himself in, but he was happy.
[View The Author’s Notes and Q&A]
[Completed Parts: Instructions | Day 1 | Day 2 | Day 3 | Day 4 | Day 5 | Day 6 | Day 7 | Day 8 | Day 9 | Day 10 | Day 11 | Day 12 | Day 13 | Day 14 | Day 15 | Day 16 | Day 17 | Day 18 | Day 19 | Day 20 | Day 21 | Day 22 | Day 23 | Day 24 | Day 25 | Day 26 | Day 27 | Day 28 | Day 29 | Day 30 | Epilogue | Author’s Notes]