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That knot of anxiety unwound even further, finally taking the shame with it. Viv knew it would be back later, when she had space and time to think about it—but for now, she was simply grateful to be able to breathe again.
She felt… a little more confident, she decided. If not with herself, not exactly, with their ability to try to support each other.
And supporting each other right now meant…
“We should talk to Isaac right now,” Viv said firmly. “We want to talk to some other witches anyway, and it’s honestly most important to make sure that your health isn’t failing. If you bleed out from this energy thing, the lanternfish doesn’t even have to hunt you down, right?”
“Hmm. That’s a way to put it,” Thys agreed dubiously.
Viv squeezed their hand, then wound their fingers together, interlocking them. “This is all about taking care of you. If it’s not normal that you’re still draining like this, he may be able to do something about it. And if it is normal, then we know that. AND he can maybe help get us the spell we need. Involving Varsha can wait until tomorrow.”
“You have convinced me,” Thys said with a solemnity that was belied by the sparkle in their eyes. They pulled out their phone. “I don’t want you to let go. But I should call, then.”
It was convenient that Thys had Isaac’s number, Viv realized, or at least knew where to look it up. Otherwise they’d be sent on another runaround to get back in contact with the Good Neighbours.
But that wasn’t necessary—Thys called, stepping away to explain to Isaac quickly that they were still not feeling well, and that the drain was still happening, and also, they could use some magical consultation. Thys listened briefly to his response, then said, “We can do that. We’ll be there,” and hung up.
“Well?” Viv asked.
“He sounded concerned. He agreed to see us tonight—one of his patients cancelled, so he said if we could get there within the hour, he’d see us. His clinic’s nearer to the gate but isn’t so far, so if we go now, we can make it.” Thys made a shooing gesture, and started walking.
Viv nodded, falling into step beside them. “I’d figured as much with how fast he arrived at the pub. Should we bus?”
“Oh, no thank you. I hate buses. They make me ill,” Thys said. “It’s only a twenty minute walk. It should be fine.”
“Sounds good.” At least Viv had always liked walking, since she was doing a whole lot of it. “So, can I ask what kind of music you do? I heard you practicing last night…”
“Oh.” Thys sounded pleased to be asked. “Well, you know I sing and play guitar. I’d say it’s… folksy but, hm. I try to capture the wild feeling inside me with it. Longing, and loss, sensuality and struggle…”
“I got a sort of a Florence or Hozier feel from what I overheard?”
Thys stuck that narrow tongue out at Viv. “Rude, to compare me to others of my kind, but yes. I suppose we’re all struggling to reach the same thing.”
Viv laughed a little. “Any crazy fans? It’d be sort of funny if this lanternfish was one. I mean, sort of like Misery, but, you know, ironic funny?”
“I haven’t received any disturbing fan mail, if that’s what you mean,” Thys said. “I suppose I’d better make myself more popular so I get a normal stalker next time.”
“I guess,” Viv said wryly. “I’d like to hear some of your music! Maybe the stalker could be me.”
“Well, with luck, you may attend any of my concerts as my guest, which would make me very easy to stalk.” Thys teased.
Feeling her cheeks flush, Viv ducked her head. She knew what Thys was getting at: as the wife, she’d hardly have to ask for tickets.
It was still too strange to think about. Sort of nice, though. If this could work, wouldn’t it be lovely to have something… something reliable?
As she looked up again, whatever maudlin, awkward thing she was going to say died on her lips. “Oh, hey, a corner store.”
“We should buy flashlights. It won’t take long. I don’t have any battery-operated lights or anything that we could use. But with flashlights, if the power goes out, we’ll always have some kind of light source.”
“Oh, a good plan!” Thys exclaimed. “I have candles, but otherwise, everything I have is plugged in.”
They took a quick detour to do that, and, feeling a little better armed, headed the rest of the way to Isaac’s. It was a simple clinic as part of a strip mall that also included a vacuum cleaner store and some kind of bakery, something called Loaf Portions.
Isaac met them in the waiting room, nodding to his receptionist; presumably he’d explained the situation, because the receptionist, a black woman with what looked like stars in her hair, just gave them a smile and waved them to go along with him.
The office looked like any medical office that Viv had been in, albeit with additional unguents and strange jarred items on the desk. Isaac asked Thys, “Are you okay with her being in here with you?”
“I’d prefer it, thank you,” Thys said lightly.
Viv sat in the spare chair as Isaac gave Thys a basic examination—eyes, ears, throat, and listened to their heart with a device that didn’t look like a standard stethoscope. He pulled out a pair of glasses with magic circles etched into their lenses—the same that he had built around their body, Viv thought, or at least similar—and looked Thys over with them.
“You’re right,” he said finally. “You’re continuing to drain away and not be restored, and the reason you’re stable is that Miss Dormer is replenishing you as fast as her own energy refills. So you are both somewhat under the weather but have established something of an equilibrium.”
“That’s not as you expected,” Thys said.
“No. I’d suspect that some part of you was being… kept by your attacker, perhaps, so that it may feed off you instead of just letting that part die.” Isaac frowned. “I can’t imagine a situation where that’s necessary, rather than cruel. Now, I can’t ward you against it, but what I can do is…cut your connection to any part of you that is separate. You’re in one body right now, yes? No additional moths?”
“I don’t believe so,” Thys said, brows furrowed.
“Then, with your permission, I’ll do so. I’ll have to cut your connection with Miss Dormer momentarily, but I can reconnect it after.”
Thys turned to look at Viv, and Viv realized with a start that they were asking permission. “Oh. Yeah, sure! I mean, of course. It was going to disconnect when Thys was healthy again anyway, right? So.”
“Ah.” Thys’s tone was hard to read, but they turned mild, guileless eyes back on Isaac. “Then you have my consent as well.”
And a moment later, Viv was alone.
It… hurt. Not physically, and there was no actual sensation to it, but her heart ached. That sense of someone else’s feelings nearby had been like living in a home and hearing someone you loved going about their life in another room. And now it was gone. It was just her, alone, unwanted.
She drew a sharp breath, and then the sensation was back, that steady, alien comfort of Thys’s presence.
“There,” Isaac said. “You should replenish from here on out, but if you’re not improving by tomorrow night, call me again and I’ll make room for you because that will be very concerning.”
“Of course,” Thys said. They sounded pleased—weirdly smug, even. “Thank you. There was one more thing.”
“Yes?” Isaac lifted a brow.
Thys turned to Viv again. “Right,” Viv said. “So, this thing that attacked Thys, we think it might come back. We’re hoping to get a spell that we can trigger which will flood the immediate area with total light—we want to eliminate all shadows. We’ve, uh, heard it can help. Can you do that? Or do you know someone who can?”
“It’s not my specialty,” Isaac admitted. “But I’m joining the Twilight Counsel for a meeting tonight, and I can put in a request. It should be simple enough for someone who focuses more on light manipulation, so I can’t imagine it will cost too much. I can get someone to bring it to you tomorrow, I’m sure. Sooner, if you call and it’s an emergency.”
“We’ll pay whatever we have to,” Viv said, though if it did cost too much, she could only hope her aunt wouldn’t find out. “I promise.”
“Well, your word’s good enough for me,” Isaac said gently. He made a few notes on a file, then held it out. “Can you take this to Natalie out front for me?”
Thys took it. “Thank you, Isaac,” they said. “I appreciate it.”
“Of course. Please take care.”
They headed back out to reception, where Thys handed over their file and their health card for the receptionist to note, then headed outside..
“How’re you feeling?” Viv ventured.
“I’d say that I feel better already,” Thys said, “but I’m not sure if it’s my imagination. Now what?”
Viv hesitated, then took Thys’s hand again. It felt better, holding hands. “Let’s go back home. With all the warding, we’ll be safe if we stay in the apartment, and if this thing is more active at night, better to stay inside with all the lights on. Will you be able to sleep?”
“It’s not my nature, but as long as we wrap it up within a few nights, it won’t leave me too tired,” Thys said, tightening their grip on Viv’s hand. “That’s fine.”
They headed back to the apartment just as it began to get dark, and Viv couldn’t help but feel as if they’d dodged a bullet somehow. She stopped in her own apartment to get fresh pajamas and a pair of clothes for tomorrow, and then they headed to Thys’s apartment, where they were almost mugged by all three cats. Even gentle kitten Pebbles was getting in on the climb and scream train.
“Oh, they do miss you,” Thys said, laughing.
“Sorry, I should have warned you,” Viv said. “They always do this. I’ll feed them and—do you mind if I shower?”
Thys waved a hand. They seemed more confident somehow, maybe due to their energy returning. Viv hoped so. “Oh, do go ahead. Then we can figure out sleep arrangements, perhaps?”
Their voice had dropped at the end, teasing, and Viv felt her face heat up. “Right! Yeah, okay,” she squeaked, and shut herself in the bathroom.
It was hard not to get excited by that, though, and her hands were trembling a little as she undressed, looking at herself in the mirror. She flushed more at the sight of her nude body, imagining Thys looking at her too, touching her, and ducked in the shower.
As she washed her hair, feeling the suds trickle over her like fingers, she couldn’t help but fantasize that Thys would decide to join her in the shower. What would she do if Thys did? Viv wondered, heart beating fast. She closed her eyes, biting her lower lip, and tilted her face up into the spray, imagining that moment. She wouldn’t turn Thys away now. She wanted this far too much.
If the power flickered, she missed it.
But when she opened her eyes again, it was pitch black in the bathroom.
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