Halloween I.F. – “Body of Work” – Day 8
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Augustus tore his eyes away from the sight of Soren leaning over the menu, of the long line of his back and the way his suit lay tight across his backside. He had come here for a purpose—he had too many mysteries he was actively researching to add another to his plate! Besides, he was on a deadline. He had to eat, drink, and casually interrogate everyone who seemed relevant to the case of the missing research, then casually excuse himself and be back in his workroom within two hours. He didn’t have time to play around.
He wondered if he was being so determined specifically to give himself another excuse to not go over and introduce himself, and thus actually confront that strange, fluttery-familiar feeling. He’d somehow come up with perfectly reasonable excuses like these every time he’d noticed Soren.
It didn’t matter. The excuses were perfectly reasonable, after all.
He ordered food at the bar—a flattened, battered, and fried chicken with a crema sauce and a collection of fried root vegetables with side salad—and took his drink, casually wandering the room and stopping to look at the stained glass window within earshot of the table full of drunken research assistants.
“—Like, if they want the workload to be this heavy this early in the year, I don’t know what it’s going to be like down the line.”
“I know! And that’d be fine if more of them were actually doing their job.”
“The day every professor does their job and doesn’t casually shunt additional work onto us will be the day that I see a sow soar ‘cross the sky.”
“We’re not supposed to be in charge of classroom work! We’re essentially just fancy librarians.”
“We’re not fancy compared to the librarians, have you seen—“
“The point is that that’s a totally different job description and I should complain. I should just complain to someone.”
“I guess! But I’ve heard the dean’s currently overloading the professors with research work and if he just tells them to offload that all to us it won’t be any better. They’re the ones who signed up to both teach and research.”
“I’d rather do more research and less trying to distract a class I’m sitting in on.”
“At least Spiders has only arrived late a few times. Fitzfleming has been acting so … so weird.”
“Like … emotional. She’s not like that normally. She cried once. I don’t even know why! She cried and started apologizing for nothing!”
“Oh, wow. Wow. Is everything okay in her home life!?”
“I’m not going to ask!“
“Okay, I know, but—”
“Uh, is that Pennywright?”
The table of research assistants grew quiet. Augustus took a long sip of his beer, gazing at the window with admiration a few moments longer, then turned as if he had only just noticed them due to their sudden silence. “Oh! My apologies. Didn’t see you all there.”
“Yes sir,” one of them, who he didn’t recognize, said.
“Can we help you with anything?” Pérez’s RA asked.
Well, in for a penny. “Do you know if everything’s been all right with Yujin, lately?”
“Yujin? They almost never come to get-togethers,” Olivia’s RA said. “And when they do, they’re usually pretty quiet. Secretive, actually, I don’t know much about them. Why, did something happen?”
They were obviously gossips. “No, nothing, really. They discovered some theft from my office and I was worried if they were feeling guilty or shaken about what a close encounter with a thief they must have just missed. I’m hoping not, though, it’s hardly their fault.”
“Theft?” Several of them seemed to perk their ears up. Some of them—the more bestial or elven of them, both of whom had ears that did swivel—actually did perk their ears up. “Like what?”
“Just a few books. I don’t know if I actually misplaced them, or if someone borrowed them and neglected to tell me, or if we have someone trying to hawk rare books. If you hear anything, can you let me know?”
None of them had any recognition about this on their faces, at least, and if one of them was the guilty party, they were an incredibly good actor when drunk. “Sure, we can do that,” said another one he didn’t recognize.
“Thanks muchly,” he said, finishing his drink and wandering off.
It looked as though his food were up, so he snagged his plate and pretended to wander around looking for the ideal place to sit. This gave him a chance to slide in front of Octothorpe, who seemed surprised to see him. “Hello,” Augustus said cheerfully. “Fine afternoon.”
“Is it?” Octothorpe said. “It’s Firstday.”
“It is. It is Firstday.”
“I hate Firstdays,” Octothorpe said, sighing.
“Are you … okay?” Augustus asked slowly.
“Fine. I got a paper rejected.”
“Ah.” Augustus nodded. Obviously, Ethics wasn’t exactly scrambling to have people publish all the time, but the people on the Ethics board were still academics, and it never felt good when a journal decided not to go ahead with something you’d spent that much time on. “Sorry to hear it.”
“Anyway. Did you want something?”
“Company while I ate?” Augustus took a bite pointedly, and then another because the food was really good. And then, because Octothorpe continued to look at him with disbelief—neither had any issues with the other in particular, so far as Augustus knew, but they weren’t friends—added, “I do have a problem.”
“Of course you do,” Octothorpe said, glum.
Augustus pretended that he’d been met with enthusiasm. “Someone stole some things from my office. I was wondering if anyone else had reported anything?”
“That sounds like an issue for campus security.”
“I know, but if it turns out to be someone using it for cheating, that’ll end up with your folks.”
Octothorpe sighed. “I guess it would. Cheating and forbidden spells, that’s all I get to deal with, not respected work in scholarly publications …”
Ethics was normally called in when someone was performing magic that they really oughtn’t to, to determine if they were putting other people at risk. Augustus tried very hard not to think of the ritual currently brewing on-campus in his workroom. He tried very hard most of the time not to think of his husband at all, beyond vague thoughts of loving his darling Em. One never knew when someone whose magics lay in that area would start reading minds and if they might somehow get around your own mental wards. That would be a violation of Ethics as well, of course. Just … well, there was no comparison, was there?
He ate in silence for a few moments, waiting to see what Octothorpe would do, then finally said, “Okay, so if it does turn out someone—student, professor, someone from off campus—is stealing book for their own use, can I come to you? And if you hear anything more, can you let me know?”
“Yes to both,” Octothorpe said. “Of course, if it’s off campus, it’ll be out of my hands, but a cheating student or a professor trying to poach your work, both would be Ethics concerns. If I do bring you information, though, please don’t try to confront them directly. That could get—” he shuddered, “—violent.”
Augustus was never sure if Octothorpe were a pacifist for moral reasons, or simply afraid of a fight. “Of course. Thank you.”
“Sure. Do you think I’m a hack?”
“Oh goodness no. Of course not.” Augustus ate a little too fast as he listened to Octothorpe vent about the publication’s response being too personal, though the description sounded pretty templated to him.
When his plate was finally empty, he rose. “Well, try another journal,” he said. “You never know.”
“I already have.”
“Third time’s the charm!” Augustus insisted, beating a retreat to deposit his plate at the bar and ask for another drink.
Once that was pulled, he wandered toward Olivia, who was just finishing up their meal at the bar, having eaten it at a much more sedate pace. “Hello, Olivia. This seat taken?”
“I suspect it has been now!” she said cheerfully, gesturing. He sat in it. “What’s new?”
“Oh, this and that,” he said vaguely. “Is everything well with you? I couldn’t help but hear that you’d been late to class a few times recently, and I know that’s not something you’re usually casual about.”
They grimaced, their nose wrinkling and sending their freckles for a ride. “Von Beekeeper’s just really been riding my ass to get a paper done.”
That was relatable. “Oh, word,” he said.
“Yeah, I thought the whole department might be getting it,” she said with a sigh. “Really chasing that funding. Anyway, I’ve been working on it a lot lately, you know how it is. Sometimes I hear the bell go and think, well, I’ll just finish my sentence, but when I look up it’s five minutes past my absolute drop-dead limit for when I can get to class on time. I do feel very bad about it.”
“I’m glad it’s nothing serious,” he said, smiling at them. “What are you working on?”
“Ah-ah-ah.” They waggled a finger. “Our fields are a little too close and the pressure is a little too much; what if you stole some of my ideas? I’m onto your nefarious ways!”
There was no way she was actually onto his nefarious ways. Augustus wrinkled his nose back at her. “Sounds like you have theft on the mind lately.”
That seemed to surprise her. Her eyes widened and she sat back a little. “Excuse me?”
“Pérez mentioned you’d been grilling him about anti-theft warding details,” Augustus explained. Yeah, that must have sounded weird out of context. “For your sister.”
“Oh, yes, that,” Olivia said. They frowned at him. “What are you doing asking Pérez about me? I thought you two didn’t get along.”
“Oh, Pérez is fine,” he said, waving his hand dismissively. “And I wasn’t, I was asking him about theft. Yujin noticed that I had a few books taken out of my office recently.”
Olivia groaned. “Great, my fears of theft are now increased. Anything valuable?”
“Nothing hugely so; it’s mostly just in terms of value to me and my work. And the fact it’s happening at all,” he added.
She nodded. “I haven’t noticed anything myself, but I’ll have to ask my assistant if he has. Great. Lovely. Cheers to that. Change the subject, okay?”
He waved a hand apologetically. “Sorry to stress you out, it’s just been my own personal concern since we found that. About that subject change … actually, there’s someone I’ve been hoping you’d introduce me to.” He looked around—
—but Soren was no longer here. He must have only grabbed a drink, or perhaps didn’t like the menu or its prices. Augustus tried not to feel disappointed about that.
“Yeeeees?” Olivia asked slowly.
“Oh, no, it’s just—that new professor. Soren. I was hoping for an introduction.”
“Oooh, why. Is he your type?”
“I’m just curious. We haven’t met before.” They hadn’t, had they? “So I was hoping someone would help out there.”
Olivia looked very curious about that for a few moments, then seemed to dismiss it, shrugging. “I can do that later, if you want. I’m free tomorrow afternoon.”
He had office hours in the afternoon. Most of the time, students didn’t show up, though. “I’ll think about it, thank you,” he said.
But talking about time had made his eyes wander to the clock. Augustus downed his drink and rose. “I appreciate it, Olivia. Best of luck … and make sure you lock your office up tight!”
“Jerk,” she said, miming a kick at his ankle that was guaranteed to miss.
Augustus returned to the workroom just in time; the ingredients had formed the perfect consistency, and were only just starting to bubble. He barred his door and jammed a chair under the handle for good measure, then decanted them, his chanting soft, the odd sounds rolling off his tongue.
His voice had just begun to go hoarse when the ritual finished and voidspace filled his room, overlapping on the real world. A darker space in it split and tore, and his husband stepped through, iridescent scales glittering, tall black horns almost scraping the top of the workroom (though they wouldn’t be able to touch the physical space of it even if they did so in here), tail lashing, naked and resplendent, taller than human, hooved and brilliant, surrounded in heatless black flames that wreathed his limbs.
“Babe! Darling! Thou wretched worm who hast hitched his wagon to mine horse,” Enmity, Demon Prince of the Dark Phlogiston said cheerfully. “What the fuck is up? It has been SO long as mortals determine this shit. Or so it hast felt to be apart from thee.”
[What should Augustus do? Comment with details.]
HEY DEMONS IT’S ME YA BOY – young Augustus, probably
Anyway, you should kiss him and tell him you missed him too, admit that this is absolutely because you hadn’t seen him in too long more than any kind of business or research call. Ask him how things have been on his side of the veil! Let him know what’s been going on with you! Catch each other up.
Yeah I mean all this nonsense is interesting enough to just regale him about and get his clearly solid advice, probably while sitting on his wretched lap or something