[Please read the instructions before jumping in!
Although Antoine and Lithway both got two votes, one of
the Antoine votes had leaned more toward another option….]
“I think I’m good,” Tam said after considering it for a few moments, his tone almost apologetic.
“I get it,” Antoine said, holding both his hands up. “I really do. I’m the guy who handed your brother off to a witch, after all.”
Tam shook his head, not making direct eye contact. “It’s not that—I honestly do trust you. You didn’t know who I was when you stepped in to help me out when that vampire guy tried to mug me earlier, but…” He shrugged. “Even if you completely believe that Istem doesn’t have any way to spy on you, that doesn’t mean it’s true, right? Especially if she knows you weren’t too happy to be used to bring my brother to her.”
“Fair enough,” Antoine said. “Do you have a place to stay, though?”
Tam hesitated, then nodded. “Someone else already offered to help me out,” he said. “I don’t have to go home before I’m ready. Hopefully with Ash there with me.”
He wasn’t sure exactly how much he’d offered Lithway in return, but then again, Lithway was a gorgeous celebrity, and Tam’s birthday had been pretty lousy so far. He hoped he could let himself have something nice—especially if the phone had good news.
There wasn’t more he could do tonight anyway.
“I’m glad,” Antoine said. He drained his drink in one smooth gesture, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Can I walk you there? I’d like to make sure you get wherever you’re going without getting kidnapped.”
“That’s completely fine,” Tam said, embarrassed. “Honestly, I’m grateful.”
They headed out of Beanheadings, making their way through the dark city streets. Antoine seemed bigger somehow, more secure. After they’d gone a few blocks, Tam tilted his head, looking aside at him. “Are you doing something?”
“Just a little protective magic,” Antoine said. “To make sure we get left alone.”
“I was supposed to have some on me from Istem,” Tam said after a moment, “in exchange for her taking my brother. My parents wanted to protect the family. But I still had that guy come up to me today…”
“That’s weird,” Antoine said, after an equally thoughtful pause. “Maybe they’re the sort set to go off when attacked only? I don’t really remember meeting you before, so I can’t say if I noticed protections up then. Deterrents are usually more effective, I’d think. You weren’t attacked any other time you came down here?”
“No. But who knows why,” Tam muttered. “I was usually with my brother when I came down here, so maybe both of us together were enough of a deterrent.”
They walked in silence a bit further before Tam stopped; they were on the block with the library and the theatre, and he didn’t want Antoine to see where he went for sure in case Istem had some way of tracking that. “It’s just up here,” Tam said. “Thanks again for your help.”
“No problem,” Antoine said. He lifted a hand as he turned to go. “You’ve got my number, and you know where my shop is. Let me know if you need any help, magical or otherwise.”
“Will do,” Tam said. He watched until Antoine rounded the corner, then jogged to the theatre and up the steps.
He stayed under the awning there for a few moments, quickly texting Sahil an update for when he could use phones again, and also dropping a line to the safety friend (who he’d told only that he was meeting up with a dubious date, giving date, time, location, and the usual stuff) that he was fine.
Then he dug his brother’s phone out of his pocket, opening it up and looking through his apps and files.
At first, he was disappointed. Nothing in the videos, no new points left on google maps, no notes. But Antoine had said Ash had gone along in a hurry, and that meant he wouldn’t have had too much time to do anything fancy. And, sure enough, when he checked Ash’s gallery, there were a series of photos: some shop names, some street corners, a fancily decorated post on the corner, an unusual store display, and similar.
Landmarks. They weren’t ones that Tam recognized, but they were ones he could compare against the urban explorer’s guide, and talk to other locals about.
His heart soared and he tucked the phone away again, turning to go meet Lithway.
When he first rattled the handle, he thought the theatre door was locked, but a moment later, it opened under his touch. He slid through into a semi-darkened lobby, only one set of lights on, and looked around a bit uneasily.
Some places were ones where you didn’t feel like you belonged when it was after hours; it had been odd enough earlier, when there was no show on, and downright eerie now.
“Hello?” he called. “Lithway? I’m here…”
Tam’s voice echoed out in the lobby, and he shook himself, heading for the door he’d gone through previously to enter the backstage area. A shadow flickered out of the corner of his eye, and he turned, abruptly remembering the vampire earlier—
But Tam turned right into a crushing warm embrace, darkness flooding over him for a moment as his face was pressed into robes made of shadows.
“There you are, my sweet boy,” Lithway murmured. “I thought perhaps I’d scared you away.”
Lithway smelled like lavender, which even Tam thought was a very inane realization to make in the moment.
The actor released him, and Tam drew a surprised, deep breath. “Uh, maybe you have now!” Tam said, but laughed, knees weak with relief. “I’m sorry I didn’t write or call, I didn’t want the person I was with to know who I’ve been working with, just in case…”
“Now that sounds like a story,” Lithway said, smiling. Their dark eyes were a paler black in their face, as though they’d literally lit up somehow. “Why don’t you come tell it to me?”
Lithway led the way back to their room, and poured Tam some wine as Tam explained what he’d been up to for the rest of the day—he kept some of the details back for succinctness’ sake, but he’d already told Lithway that he was meeting an Antoine who he’d then suspected to be the witch’s son, and was the person who had taken Ash. He didn’t see any harm in filling Lithway in on how the meeting went.
Sipping their own wine, Lithway hmm’d their way through most of the story, interjecting appropriate gasps of shock (when the vampire appeared) and murmurs of sympathy (over the things Tam had learned about Istem).
When Tam was finished, he was feeling more relaxed—nowhere near drunk, thankfully, but the wine had helped calm him down and the chance to talk the latest encounter over with someone seemed to take a weight off as well.
“My dear,” Lithway said, leaning their chin on their hand at an angle that didn’t quite look comfortable to someone with bones, “it sounds like you’ve had quite a night at the end of quite a day! Before I say anything else, let me assure you: I’ve been in contact with our lawyer and impressed the urgency on him. He passed the request onto one of his acquaintances who works on cases like yours, and she’ll be in contact with you tomorrow, if you don’t mind leaving me some way to have her contact you?”
“Oh! No, that’s great,” Tam said, flustered. “That’s perfect. I know legal proceedings are slow, but better to have everything on the go than nothing, right?”
“The words of a clever man,” Lithway agreed. “Now, business aside…” They put their cup of wine down on the desk with a gentle click and leaned forward. Their cloak of shadows billowed in tatters around them to rest on the arms of Tam’s chair, almost wrapping around him, but not quite touching. “Would you like to spend some time just celebrating your twenty-first year? Or are you too tired?”
Tam drew in a slow breath of that lavender-scented darkness. This part over the theatre was an old apartment building; more rooms than Lithway’s might still be available, if he wanted to just sleep. He could probably even stay in this room and do nothing more—if he wanted to.
But he didn’t really want to be alone, and he was more than a little interested, heart beating fast, every one of his senses seeming more alert. Lithway’s face hovered a hand’s breadth from his own, smoky eyelids covering their eyes, a faint smile lingering on their lips.
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[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]