by Suikazura Amai (吸葛甘い)
Someone was doing magic on their Instagram Story.
Alex was pretty far on the outskirts of the magical community, but that felt like it was so far against the rules that it was bordering on illegal. He only knew about the existence of magic because of his brother, Max, who had once been cursed but was now working off a debt to The Agency after they’d saved his life. Most of what he knew were things he had pieced together himself. Max refused to answer any questions or let him get close to the magical underworld which he classified as “too dangerous”.
Alex was nineteen. Almost twenty really. He could look after himself, but he was always going to be nine in his brother’s mind.
The Agency, as far as Alex knew, were kind of like a magical police force. They mediated and kept order between all the different magical people and made sure that regular people didn’t find out about them. It’s for everyone’s protection, Max had said. Which was all well and good until some idiot on Instagram thought he could become the next big influencer by performing actual magic on camera.
The thing was, Alex kind of knew this guy. They’d hooked up once or twice at a club last year, before Alex realised he was an asshole and ghosted him. The trouble here was that Alex had been the one to tell him that magic was real, and now he was sincerely regretting it because it was bound to be traced back to him and then to Max if this got out. And it wasn’t his brother’s fault. Max had tried to keep him far, far away from any and all of this magical nonsense.
He watched the story again, and no, it hadn’t changed. There was Eric, riding around on the magic carpet he’d somehow summoned from a storybook. Alex weighed his options quickly before realising that, either way, he’d have to call the one person he didn’t want to talk to at all, his brother’s boss, Jeremy Donovan. He’d met Jeremy a few times, but as far as his brother knew they had met just that one time Max had been dying and that was how he had wanted to keep it. In reality, they’d met about a week before then, in a club that Alex frequented exclusively to hook up with tall strangers.
But then, on that fateful day, after Jeremy had kicked their door in, but before he had princess-carried his brother away, he had stopped to introduce himself to Alex like they didn’t already know each other. Handed him a business card as though he didn’t already have his number in his phone. Alex got it, he’d been blanked by people he’d slept with in the past, but for some reason this one hurt. But whatever, the past was the past, he’d get over it. He’d fully intended to never call Jeremy again, but it wasn’t like he could handball this one to Max because he was away for the weekend – and even if he wasn’t, Alex did not want to have to endure the lecture of the century over this one small indiscretion. Calling Jeremy was the only way anything would get sorted out before his brother got home and grounded him even though he was way too old to be grounded.
For a second, Alex didn’t think the line would connect, but then there was a click and a warm, deep voice oozing through the ear-piece. “How can I help you, Alex?”
They’d skipped through all the pleasantries, which implied Jeremy still had his number saved in his phone so he cut straight to the point. “Someone is doing magic on Instagram.”
“Yeah, we saw,” Jeremy confirmed, sounding a little amused.
“The guy on Instagram, he’s a normal guy, how is he doing magic?” Alex asked.
“Do you know him?” Jeremy asked.
“Uh, sort of?” Alex hedged, wishing desperately that he could say no. But he did know Eric, in the same sort of way he knew Jeremy. “We’ve met once or twice.”
“Do you know where The Gingerbread House is?” Jeremy asked.
“The bakery downtown?”
“Yeah, meet me there in twenty minutes.” He ended the call without waiting for an response.
Jeremy was sitting in a booth next to the emergency exit when Alex walked into the bakery. The woman at the counter watched him suspiciously as he crossed the room and slipped into the bench opposite Jeremy. “Hey,” he said, and Jeremy slid him a coffee. It was black, which was not how he took his coffee, but he kind of appreciated it all the same.
“Alex Walker,” he said, smiling, and he was more handsome than Alex had cared to remember. His hair was longer now, tied back into a bun that somehow didn’t look as ridiculous on him as it should have.
The worst thing about Jeremy was that he was the exact type of man Alex usually went for. Tall, broad shoulders, one of those smiles that suggested he might be a real sweetheart. The downside of having a particular type like this was that everyone knew about it. Everyone including his brother, which meant that in this case, Max had forbidden his boss and little brother from ever meeting. Which was awkward, and a little too late for that, Maxie. Honestly, Alex had all but forgotten him. Wouldn’t have ever called him again unless he’d absolutely had to, and unfortunately that day had come. That didn’t mean he didn’t constantly joke about how Jeremy was pretty much his perfect man though, just to rile Max up. Jokes about being his future boss (by marrying his current boss) or riding him like a rodeo bull were not off the table in their house.
“Why are we here?” Alex asked, stirring an extreme amount of sugar into his coffee
“I like this place,” Jeremy said. “Rose makes the best brioche in town. And it’s close to the office. Tell me about your friend on Instagram.”
“He’s not my friend, he’s an asshole,” Alex replied curtly.
“He’s murdering demons,” Jeremy said, with a shrug. “Which I’m not terribly cut up about, but apparently demons provide an important part of the ecosystem, and it’s not up to me to police the shit people do for power.”
“Isn’t that exactly your job?” Alex asked. “As far as I know, you’re the magic police?”
“We don’t stop people from making deals with demons, what they trade their soul for is their business,” Jeremy explained. “But what we do take offense to is when humans make deals with demons and then murder them to skip out on their end of the deal.”
“Is that what Eric’s doing?” Alex asked.
“Yeah, well, as far as we can tell at this stage in the investigation,” Jeremy replied. “So, any help you could be to find him would be great.”
“I’m not sure how much help I can be really,” Alex said. “It’s not like we’re friends. We just…” he trailed off, not really wanting to tell Jeremy how they knew each other. “He’s a wannabe influencer though, so it shouldn’t be hard to track him down.”
“He’s a what?” Jeremy asked.
“He wants to be famous for the sake of being famous,” Alex said. “He has a decent following on Instagram, but he’s not at the level where he has to stop buying followers and pretending to have sponsors. But he’s always posting about where he’s been, or places he’s at right now.”
“Is he doing that right now?” Jeremy asked.
“Uuuuh,” Alex said, pulling his phone out of his pocket. “I mean, not right at this second. But he was at Miller’s Park like an hour ago? There’s a crossroads there, isn’t there?”
“Let’s go,” Jeremy said, standing up.
“Wait, me too?” Alex asked.
“Yeah,” Jeremy said, grinning at him, all perfect white teeth and actual fucking dimples. “Don’t you want to solve a crime?”
He kind of really did, if only to just take Eric “Actually, I only drink Belvedere, and yes, I can taste the difference” Greggson down a few pegs. More than that, he really didn’t want Jeremy to walk away from him again. Or at least, not yet. So he stood up, and followed his brother’s boss out of the bakery, across the road to a car that Alex honestly would have thought about stealing if he knew anything about stealing cars. He’d watched a YouTube video once on how to hotwire a car, but he was pretty sure that Jeremy was not going to stand back and let that happen right in front of him.
“Do you want to drive?” Jeremy asked. “You’re looking at my car like you’d marry it if you could.”
“You’d let me drive?” Alex said.
“Sure, why not?” Jeremy asked. “You have your license, don’t you?”
“I do, but like… this car is expensive, and people cannot drive around here,” Alex replied. “I’ve seen like six accidents on this street alone.”
“Get in the car, Alex,” Jeremy said, shaking his head and tossing him the keys.
Miller’s Park definitely was a crossroads, but by the time they got there the deed was done and they’d already missed Eric.
Alex had only seen a dead body once before, and it was nothing like this but also somehow worse because it had been his dad. His dad had at least been in one piece, unlike this demon who was pieced out across the intersection. Whatever Eric had done to him looked like it hurt, and looked like it was unnecessarily messy. Even if it had been a demon, it hadn’t deserved this. Did demons have families?
Jeremy had made Alex pull into a disabled parking space while he called someone to come deal with the body, then he’d let Alex drive around until he found somewhere to park that didn’t feel like a dick move.
“How did he kill a demon in broad daylight?” Alex asked. Surely someone would have seen, tried to stop them. They had walked back to the crime scene. Alex was hanging back while Jeremy took photos of it, which seemed like a rather grisly thing to have in his camera roll but he supposed Jeremy was the magical police. Maybe his camera roll was full of crime scenes and corpses. Maybe Max’s was too, it wasn’t like he’d let Alex anywhere near his phone or computer since he started working for The Agency.
“Most people don’t see magic until it’s pointed out to them,” Jeremy said. “I mean, there’s a leg hanging off that traffic light and most people are just walking past.” Whatever clean up crew Jeremy had called to deal with the mess definitely had their work cut out for them.
“Is that why I can see stuff?” Alex asked, taking his phone out of his pocket to check for updates. “Because I know about it because of Max?”
“A little of it would be because of Max, but I think both of you are pretty clued into the magical world even if it didn’t become an issue for you both until recently,” Jeremy replied. “It happens sometimes.”
“Not that Max tells me anything,” Alex said, under his breath.
“Has he updated his Instagram? Could you check that please?” Jeremy asked, either not hearing or ignoring Alex’s muttered comments.
Alex had been doing that anyway, he had his phone in his hand and everything. What did Jeremy think he was doing if not trying to find this guy? He scrolled through his stories until he saw Eric’s name and clicked it. Sure enough, he was deep in the heart of the park near the playground, only this time he was holding a magic wand like he was in Harry Potter. It was timestamped about ten minutes before.
“I think he’s still here,” Alex said.
“What?” Jeremy asked.
“Ten minutes ago he was near that big dinosaur playground,” Alex said. “And he has like… the Elder Wand, so he’s probably just fucking around with it?”
“Who is this guy and why is he killing demons for storybook magic tools?” Jeremy asked, staring up at the sky for a second before heading into the park towards the playground. “What’s next, Excalibur?”
“Probably,” Alex said. “Or like… the Holy Grail?”
“That’s just unimaginative,” Jeremy said.
They got over the hill and came face to face with the guy they were looking for. Well, not so much face to face because Eric had climbed up on top of the playground and definitely had the higher ground. He was standing on top of a triceratops head shooting sparks out of the top of what was definitely the Elder Wand. It looked like a prop, like he’d bought it from some Harry Potter exhibition or theme park.
“Shit,” Eric said, and Alex immediately thought about how they probably should have snuck up on him, or at least come prepared with some offensive magic of their own, but he really didn’t think that Jeremy had magic like that. Honestly, he had no idea what Jeremy did for the Agency at all because he had no idea about the internet and had never done any magic that Alex could see.
“Come down here,” Jeremy said, in the exact same tone he would use on a disobedient child. As if Eric was not holding a weapon in his hands and he hadn’t just turned his full attention to them.
“Make me,” Eric replied, like a six-year-old.
“Jesus Christ,” Jeremy muttered under his breath.
“Eric, what are you doing?” Alex called out.
“Oh, hey, Alex,” Eric said. “Turns out you were right about magic being real. It’s wild, right? Thanks for letting me know, man, this is great.”
Jeremy shot Alex a look, one that suggested he was in a bit of trouble, then turned his attention back towards the young man standing on top of the playground. “Can you come down so we can talk, please?” he asked.
“That’s a no from me,” Eric said. He had his phone out and Alex didn’t even need to look at his alerts to know that Eric was live streaming this. What had he even seen in this guy?
“Come on, man,” Alex said. “You’ve had your fun but you’re literally murdering people.”
“They’re not people,” Eric said, shrugging. “They’re literally evil incarnate.”
“I mean, they’re just doing their jobs, right?” Alex said. “From what I’ve heard. You’re the one skimping out on the end bargain here. What did you think was going to happen?”
Eric shrugged and the wand was pointed at them again. It had been a while since Alex had read Harry Potter, it was always more his brother’s thing, but he was pretty sure there was a lot of arm movements and proper pronunciation of Latin that was needed to do any kind of spell. Was it possible all he could do was those sparks?
Alex took a step towards the playground, and then another and was almost at the steps to climb up onto it when Eric shouted something above him that sounded a lot like “Avada Kedavra!” In the millisecond that followed, he was shoved out of the way by someone very tall and then trapped under that someone as they both went down.
“What?” Alex asked, quietly, more to himself. That was before he realised what had pushed him out of the way was Jeremy. Who was now very, very still. Alex pushed Jeremy off him and then leaned over him to tap his face. “Hello?” he said, still a little annoyed about being shoved. “Wake up.”
Jeremy did not wake up. Alex heard footsteps, which was presumably Eric making a run for it. He didn’t bother looking which way Eric went though because he had suddenly become much less of a pressing issue to deal with. Mostly because Jeremy hadn’t woken up, because Jeremy was now very dead.
The first thought Alex had was that his brother was straight-up going to murder him. His second was that, unlike the demon’s, Jeremy’s body was completely visible. Eric had legged it as soon as Jeremy had fallen, so Alex was there alone, with a corpse, and no idea what to do next.
He should call his brother. Or one of Jeremy’s coworkers? Someone higher up maybe, probably? Or the actual police, because surely, this was now a job for them? He’d sunk down into the grass and pulled Jeremy’s body into his lap as these thoughts rapidly entered and exited his mind. He was well aware of the fact he was leaning into a panic attack when, a second later, Jeremy sat straight up and slammed his head into the underside of Alex’s chin.
Then, for what felt like a solid minute, Alex just screamed. It was cathartic; his face hurt and there was a dead alive person in his lap who was now touching his face and saying his name quietly, trying to get him to shut up.
“What the fuck?” he managed, after probably a few more minutes. “What the actual fuck, you were dead. That spell kills, right? It didn’t just knock you out? Did it knock you out? That’s right, yeah?”
“No, I was dead,” Jeremy said, quietly.
Alex shoved him away and stared at him. “You were dead.”
“I was dead,” Jeremy confirmed. “And now, I’m not. It happens.”
“Someone probably called the police,” Alex said, because he had screamed and screamed and screamed because Jeremy had been dead. And even though now Jeremy wasn’t dead, and Alex wasn’t screaming, the police were probably still on their way.
“Let’s go, then,” Jeremy said. He stood up, offered his hand to Alex, and Alex wondered if this was how the zombie apocalypse started. He took the hand anyway and let Jeremy pull him up.
“I need you to explain this to me,” Alex said. He was still holding onto Jeremy’s hand, like he was worried that maybe Jeremy would vanish if he let go. Also because his hand was warm and it was a sign he was alive.
“In the car,” Jeremy said. “I will explain in the car.”
“Is this some Twilight nonsense?” Alex asked, sitting in the passenger seat this time. “Are you a vampire?” That explained literally nothing, but if the answer was yes he would just lean into it.
“I’m not a vampire,” Jeremy said, laughing as if the suggestion was funny. Alex didn’t think it was funny. “I’m a demigod, I suppose that would be the correct designation for myself. When I was much younger, a god fell in love with me and granted me immortality.”
“Where’s this god now?” Alex asked.
Jeremy shrugged. “He got bored and wandered off,” he said. “It happens sometimes. He might come back one day, who could say? Anyway, ever since then I die and just bounce on back to the state I was when I was made immortal. I got a tattoo once, then died a week later and when I came back it was gone so I don’t waste time with that stuff anymore.”
“How long have you been like this?” Alex asked.
“I’ve lost count, honestly, but it’s been a while. Like, more than the rise and fall of one civilisation long,” Jeremy said.
“And it doesn’t bother you?”
“Oh, it does, but there’s nothing I can do about it,” Jeremy said. “The future is cool though. I like cars, I have some other friends who aren’t likely to die, it’s all right. I get myself into a lot of reckless situations though.”
“Like pushing people out of the way of magical spells?” Alex asked.
Jeremy laughed. “That’s it,” he said. “I knew I’d be fine. You, on the other hand, wouldn’t be.”
“Does my brother know about this?” Alex asked, not that he even knew how he was going to begin to explain the day he was having when Max got back from experiencing the outdoors. Maybe he wouldn’t have to. Maybe Jeremy would agree to just never tell him, because Max was definitely going to be angry at him for getting involved. Alex felt that was a little bit Max’s fault, if he had told him about literally anything, maybe he wouldn’t have told Eric about it. It was probably a little unfair to blame this on Max, but that’s what older brother’s were for right?
“He does,” Jeremy said, and didn’t elaborate. There was probably a story there, but as much as he wanted to hear it there were more important things going on.
“What do we do now?” Alex asked.
“We find Eric, and stop him. However we have to, at this point.”
“Alright sure,” Alex said. For a minute there was just the sound of the engine, and he resisted to lean over and turn the car radio on. “While we’re talking about heavy things, I think we need to talk about the elephant in the room here.” He had been trying to sound a lot more unaffected than he felt. He wasn’t looking at Jeremy but saw his hands tighten against the steering wheel as if bracing himself for what was to come.
“About what?” Jeremy asked, apparently choosing to play dumb about the whole situation.
Alex took a deep breath and leapt straight in. “About the fact that I sucked your dick in the back of a shitty bar, you texted me a photo of said dick three days later and then a day after that you came to my house, stole my dying brother away and then never returned my texts,” he said. “And this is excusing the fact that you gave me your business card on your way out, like I didn’t already have your number saved into my phone, and pretended you’d never met me before.”
“Ah, yes, that,” Jeremy said, and had the graciousness to look a little sheepish about it. “Alex, I wanted to call you. But I knew you’d ask questions about Max and he wanted to be the one to talk to you about all that.”
“Well, guess what, he still fucking hasn’t,” Alex said. “And now I’m drawn into this bullshit too.”
“I can take you home?” Jeremy said, like it was a suggestion to make. Like he could walk away from this and go back to his robots and fucking handsome strangers in bars and not think about how magic was real and magical beings walked around him. Like he could somehow put this handsome, god-touched man behind him where he belonged.
“Don’t you fucking dare,” Alex said, sharply. “We have to finish this, and you’ll never find him without me.”
“That’s probably true,” Jeremy said. “Alright, if we’re done having awkward conversations for the time being, we should work out where to go next.” He pulled into a car space outside a 7-Eleven reached behind his seat, coming back with an actual map.
Alex turned to his phone again, checking Instagram and Twitter for whatever Eric had been doing when they had shown up. “He livestreamed killing you,” Alex said, once he found what he was looking for. He watched it without sound, mostly because he hated hearing himself talk on recordings. Luckily for all of them, it looked fake, so very fake. Probably the real police got involved if you murdered a guy for likes on the internet. So far, all of it just looked like prank videos with a decent special effects budget unless you knew it was real.
“He meant to kill you,” Jeremy said. “And from my limited knowledge of the Harry Potter series, you have to really want to kill someone for that spell to work.”
That was unsettling. “I barely know him,” Alex said. “We went on a few dates.”
“And apparently you told him about magic,” Jeremy said, flipping to the next section of his map.
Alex had hoped that all of the drama of Jeremy dying and living again had slipped that fact away from him, but no luck. “Uh, yeah,” Alex said. “Starting to have some regrets about that.”
“I’ll say.” Jeremy looked up and over at Alex. “You’re not in trouble. You’ve caused trouble, but what he did wasn’t your fault.”
“I didn’t know he was a serial killer waiting to happen,” Alex said. “I just wanted to impress him. He was hot and I was bored. I didn’t think he would believe me, my other friend didn’t believe me.”
“How many people have you told?”
“Just those two. And Ruby thought I was having an exam-related breakdown,” Alex said. “Honestly, I didn’t think he believed me. I wouldn’t have believed me if someone came and told me that demons and fairies are real.”
“It’s definitely unbelievable,” Jeremy said.
“I just wanted someone to talk about this all with, and it wasn’t like Max was answering any questions I had,” Alex said. “I was hoping Ruby would believe me and we could investigate or something.”
“Your brother should have talked to you,” Jeremy said. “But you know he just wants to protect you, right? He doesn’t want you getting involved in things that might hurt you.”
“How do you know?” Alex asked.
“He talks about you all the time,” Jeremy said, and wasn’t that a surprise. Most of the time Alex had just felt like a burden to Alex. Someone he’d been stuck with when their parents had died. He had been fourteen and Max had been twenty, and Max had given up a lot to make sure Alex had succeeded. “He’s proud of you for getting into University.”
Alex ducked his head. “I just feel like things have changed with him,” he said.
“That’s part of getting older, I think,” Jeremy said. “Relationships change, even with your siblings. But he does care about you. I’ll talk to him, when he gets back. Make it clear he doesn’t have to keep things secret from you.”
“Thank you,” Alex said, quietly.
“Any time,” Jeremy replied. “Is Eric back online yet?”
“Not as far as I can see,” Alex said. “He hasn’t blocked me though.”
“Maybe he’ll stop,” Jeremy said, but sounded very unconvinced by his own words. “I think I can predict the crossroads, though.”
“Is it Flint and Albert?” Alex asked. “Because if so, I agree. It’s one of the bigger ones in the city, and I think they were some of the first roads they put in, which means it’s more powerful, yeah?” Alex had no real idea how crossroads demons worked, but it made the most sense that the older the roads the more power the demon there had. He’d seen some episodes of Supernatural.
“That is exactly what I was thinking,” Jeremy said. “Come on, maybe we can beat him there.”
The thing about the Flint and Albert intersection was that it was a bit of a mess. As well as being one of the oldest crossroads in the city, it was also one of the busiest and least good to find yourself near in peak hour traffic. The worst of it was one side of Flint in which three lanes turned into two lanes, which turned into one lane and a bus lane – and that was if you were lucky and cars weren’t randomly parked alongside of it.
“Did you hear they wanted to put a bike lane in here?” Alex asked as they stop-started towards the intersection.
“Where exactly do you think they’ll squeeze it in?”
“Probably the bus la– is that a park?” Jeremy switched lanes abruptly to pull into the empty space. Someone honked, which went politely ignored.
“Are we going to end up having a fight in the middle of the road?” Alex asked.
“I don’t think so,” Jeremy replied. “There’s no way to bury anything in this crossroads. There’s no dirt.”
“How is this going to go, then?” Alex asked.
Jeremy pointed at a phonebox that Alex hadn’t noticed before. It looked a little run down, and Alex was pretty sure that all of the phone boxes had been removed from the city once everyone got mobile phones. “Dial a specific number in there and someone will come to you,” Jeremy said.
“That’s very modern,” Alex said. “I didn’t realise demons were so up to date with technology. Though, I guess if they were truly modern there would be an app.”
“That would be horrible,” Jeremy said. “Anyway, there’s an alley around the corner deals usually go down in.”
“So we just wait in the alley and hope for the best?” Alex asked.
“I guess so,” Jeremy said, and got out of the car. Alex followed him down the street and into the back alley behind a pizza place. He’d pulled a box out of his pocket, pressed some buttons and put it up on some bricks out of sight unless you were very tall. “Well, this will stop him getting online at least.”
“Are we sure he’ll come here?” Alex said.
“I’m pretty sure,” Jeremy said. “Logically, it’s the next step up. You’re going to get the most power without venturing into the suburbs or countryside. And he seems like a go big or go home kind of sociopath.”
“I guess,” Alex said.
“Alright, I want you to stay hidden,” Jeremy said. “Let me confront him.”
That seemed like a bad idea, considering Eric had at least one weapon they knew of and Jeremy had no weapons or magic, apart from partial immortality. Which was helpful in a general way, but not in a fighting way.
Alex did what he was told, though, ducking around behind a dumpster and some milk crates. Whatever Jeremy had done had blocked his phone signal too, so he just had to sit there, bored. He’d lost sight of Jeremy when he’d hidden, and his legs were starting to cramp, so hopefully this didn’t take all night. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see how this played out, it was just that detective work seemed to involve a lot of waiting.
Twenty minutes passed, and nobody had come through the alley except someone from the pizza shop ducking out to have a smoke. He hadn’t seen Alex though, which was a good sign that his hiding space was working. The man had just gone back into the shop when Eric and a man with bright orange hair strolled into the alley like they didn’t have a care in the world.
“Are you sure this is what you want?” the demon asked. Sounding a little too amused for someone who had lost a handful of coworkers over the last few days, but then again, Alex supposed demons weren’t known for having a depth of feeling.
Eric pulled the wand out of his sleeve and brandished it at the demon, who took a step backward. “You’ll do what I want and fuck off, or I’ll end you like your friends.”
“Alrighty then,” the orange haired demon said with a shrug. He waved his hand and the hilt of a sword appeared, buried in the wall of the restaurant. “Your funeral.” With that, he vanished before Eric could lunge at him. Eric looked at the sword and then did what Alex predicted he would do, went for his phone to broadcast him pulling Excalibur out of the wall of a pizza shop.
“What the fuck?” Eric cursed, frantically tapping at his screen. He gave up, reached for the sword, and tried to pull it loose, but it didn’t move at all. He cursed again, kicking at the wall, before giving up and pulling the wand out from his sleeve.
Across the alley Jeremy unfolded himself out of the darkness of a doorway and moved to grab Eric by the shoulder. He wasn’t fast enough though, either that or his shadow had actually loomed over Eric clueing him in to the attack. From his vantage point behind the dumpster, Alex didn’t really see what happened next but Eric moved as quick as lightning, turning towards Jeremy and then stepped back. Jeremy sank to his knees, and then dropped backwards onto his back.
“Who the fuck even are you?” he asked, kicking at Jeremy’s stomach. Jeremy was either dead again, or would be soon, and Alex didn’t know what to do. They really should have called for backup at some point, he thought absently. He wished he had a weapon but he had nothing but his own fists and a couple of milk crates. His rational thought gave out, he hadn’t been in a fight since high school, and he’d been handed his ass then, too. Mindlessly, he charged at Eric, shoving him out of the way and snatching the wand from his hand.
“Rude. Whatever, I don’t need that,” Eric said, and suddenly had an honest to God knife in his hands. He slashed at Alex, who barely managed to dodge out of the way.
“What the fuck, dude, why do you want me dead so much?” Alex asked.
“I mean, I started doing it for a laugh, but I really do just hate you,” Eric said. “Did you know that you’re the only person who has ever ghosted me?”
“Am I?” Alex asked, honestly surprised. Eric had a terrible personality and wasn’t that good at sex; logic dictated that people should ghost him all the time. “Fuck, sorry man? But like, that’s a terrible reason to start murdering people. You have to know that, right?”
“The only good thing you ever did was tell me this shit is real,” Eric said, slashing at him again. Alex dodged it, tripped on a crack in the ground and caught himself before he fell.
“And how’s that going for you?” Alex asked. “You’re like six deep into these demons. I’m not sure how they collect what’s owed to them, but I don’t think murdering them will get you out of it.”
“It’s a demon-killing knife, idiot,” Eric slashed at him again, “so I’ll be fine, and once I kill you, I’ll be able to do whatever the hell I want.”
“Again, not sure why I’m topping this list, but you know that’s not true, right?” Alex added, dodging again. “People will avenge me. The Agency knows who you are now.” He still had the wand in his hand but couldn’t remember any spell other than Wingardium Leviosa, which wouldn’t be the most helpful. He probably should have looked up listicle of spells in the car on the way here.
“This guy I keep killing? What is he? Like a wizard cop?” Eric asked. Speaking of Jeremy, surely he should be back up again soon, maybe if he died more than once in a day it took a little more time for him to bounce back? “Fuck the police, man.”
Alex didn’t even feel the knife cut through his skin, just the wetness of his blood. He glanced at the cut, it didn’t look deep and it wasn’t very long. He’d live. Alex kicked out, the tip of his steelcapped boot connected with Eric’s shin, causing him to stumble backwards.
Alex reached out to steady himself and grabbed onto the hilt of the forgotten sword. It slid from the wall like it was made of butter, causing him to lose his balance again for a hot second. Eric paused his attack to stare at him.
“That’s my fucking sword,” he said.
“Apparently it’s mine?” Alex corrected. He didn’t really know how to swordfight, but he’d watched enough Game of Thrones. He knew that the sharp end wasn’t the bit he held onto, and ideally it went into the person he was fighting. What seemed to matter the most was that his sword was longer than the knife that Eric had. Alex swung at him, and Eric took a step back, tripping on an uneven corner of pavement and falling on his ass. The knife flew out of his hand, out of reach.
Alex stood over him with the sword pointed at his neck. “Just give up, man,” he said. He wasn’t sure he had it in him to kill Eric, or even seriously hurt him, but if he had to then he had to.
“I can’t,” Eric said. “The demons will come for me.”
“You murdered a bunch of them, you probably deserve it,” Alex replied.
Behind him, Jeremy groaned. “Didn’t I tell you to stay put?”
“Yeah, but you were dead, so I did what I wanted to do,” Alex said. “It all worked out though, didn’t it? How do we arrest this guy? Do you cuff him? Can I cuff him?”
“He’s ours,” said another voice. Eric’s face twisted into fear and Alex didn’t need to turn around to know that the demon from before had come back. “You have to hand him over, Jeremy. Rules are rules.”
“Please don’t let him take me,” Eric said. He went to sit up, to try to run maybe, but Alex was still holding him at swordpoint.
“I mean, you made a deal?” Jeremy said. “Also, I have zero good will towards you.”
Alex took a step back, figuring it was probably about time to let the adults step in. If Jeremy and this demon counted as adults in this situation. The demon stepped forward and trapped Eric under his shoe. Honestly, he felt a little light headed. Blood loss, probably. Except it didn’t feel like blood loss, and everything was looking sharper.
“Hey, I don’t feel so great,” he said, leaning against the wall.
“What’s wrong?” Jeremy asked, all but abandoning his actual job to come and look intently at Alex.
“Probably the magic kickback,” the demon said. Alex looked at him over Jeremy’s shoulder, and watched as he reached down and picked Eric up. Eric was shouting in protest but it was like Alex was hearing him through sound-proofed walls. It felt like it was too late for him anyway, whatever happened to him was something he probably deserved. “I set this one up to fail, but you were the one to grab the sword, so whatever. I’m sure you’ll be okay.”
Alex felt the complete opposite of okay, but somehow more okay than he had ever been. He let go of the sword and it dropped to the ground, clanging against the concrete. The demon reached down to grab it, as well as the knife and then reached around to grab the wand from Alex as well.
“What did you do to him?” Jeremy asked.
“Put a bit of pep in his step,” the demon said, with a shrug. “Later, Jem.”
Alex blinked, and then suddenly Jeremy was looking at him like he had changed, and maybe he was now. He could feel something, magic he supposed, thrumming under his skin, like the bassline of a very good song. No wonder Eric had started murdering people for power, if this was what it felt like.
Someone was touching him. He shoved them away but they touched him again, said his name once, twice, a third time. He forced himself back into his body instead of examining the lines of magic that held the universe together. “Come back,” Jeremy said, his face haloed by the golden light of the god who had made him invincible. “Come back to me.”
Alex didn’t want to. He wanted to see how deep the magic went, wanted to see what he could do with it and his human body was not going to help him do that. He had to leave everything behind but he would be part of this feeling forever. It wasn’t like he was anything special, but he could be. He could be magnificent if he just let this last bit go.
“Think about Max,” Jeremy said, his fingertips against Alex’s temples. He sounded so close and yet so far away. Alex forced himself to think about his brother, whom he loved very much. He should have called him when this all started. He should have made sure he said goodbye when Max left on Thursday night instead of just putting his headphones on and pretending he was listening to music.
He thought about Max and then it was like he was there with his brother, hiking up some mountain like someone who truly enjoyed being outside. He was standing up on a ledge, overlooking the wonders of nature and for a second Alex was next to him. He could smell the scent of the trees, the wet smell of dirt. Max’s sunglasses were still cracked, and Alex had been planning on buying him new ones for Christmas because he complained so much about them but hadn’t replaced them in months. Max turned towards him, and his eyes narrowed like maybe Alex was really there and then he was gone and the magic was pulsing in his veins again, whispering to him that he could do whatever he wanted to do if he just willed it.
“Come back to me,” Jeremy said, again, his voice barely louder than a whisper. His fingertips brushed against Alex’s eyelids.
Alex forced his eyes open and looked at Jeremy, really looked at him. “You’re made of gold,” he said, his voice sounding like a memory.
“Am I?” Jeremy asked, sounding amused. “Let the magic go, Alex.”
“I don’t want to,” Alex sulked.
“I know,” Jeremy said. “But you have to.”
Even though the magic was singing to him, he exhaled and let it go. More than just feeling it, he saw it leave his body, shimmering out and up and into the air, rendering him a dead weight. Alex fell, and Jeremy caught him, pressing a kiss into Alex’s hair like he was something precious. “You did so good,” he said, words muffled into Alex’s hair. There was still a little magic buzzing under his skin, but it was quieter now. Alex tilted his head up and brushed his lips against Jeremy’s, so very gently, barely even a kiss at all. He shouldn’t have, but he’d almost died, almost let himself fade away, and he wanted to get to kiss the guy – like this had all been a movie and he was finally getting his happy ending.
“Is it over?” Alex asked.
“It is for you,” Jeremy said.
“Okay, but don’t tell Max about this,” Alex barely got the words out before his eyes sewed shut and he slipped into darkness.
Alex woke up in his bed and for a moment thought he’d just had a really vivid dream. Would have happily gone on believing that too, but he was tucked into bed wearing his jeans and someone had bandaged the cut on his arm.
So he got up, changed his shirt – which was now well beyond saving – and went to brush his teeth, because it tasted like something had died in his mouth. Once he’d gotten through that he found himself wandering into the kitchen to find something to drink.
What he didn’t expect to find there was Jeremy, of all people, sitting at his kitchen bench. He was idly playing with Alex’s project. A little robot he’d been working on only yesterday, but somehow it felt like weeks ago. For a moment he just stood there in the doorway, watching the line of Jeremy’s back. There was still a halo of gold around Jeremy, solid enough like maybe he could reach out and take some of it for himself. Steal some of that light back. There was a metal sounding clink, and Jeremy said, “Oops,” quietly to himself.
“Did you break my robot?” Alex asked.
Jeremy jumped, turned around a little to look at him. “A little,” he said. “One of the legs fell off.”
“Oh, that’s fine,” Alex said. “I can fix that easy. How long was I asleep?”
“About nine hours,” Jeremy said.
“And you’ve been here the whole time?” Alex asked. “Just sitting here?”
“Not in this exact chair, no. I wrote up my notes for what happened yesterday,” Jeremy said. “Ordered a pizza. Watched some frankly terrible TV. Took a nap on the couch.”
“It’s a good couch for naps,” Alex agreed. “Why did you stay?”
“I wanted to be here when you woke up.”
“Alright,” Alex said.
“I didn’t want to vanish on you again,” Jeremy said.
“Okay,” Alex said, again.
There was a silence that stretched on a little too long as they stared at each other.
“I wanted you to call me,” Alex breaking the silence. He hated this, hated talking about his feelings, but it was the only way they were going to get anywhere. “We had fun, right? And I wanted you to call me so we could do it again sometime.”
“I wanted to call you,” Jeremy said.
“You didn’t though,” Alex said. “And look, I get it. I am very young and you are very old, but I’ve always been partial to older men. And there’s something between us, right? You feel it, too.”
Jeremy nodded. “I do.”
“Then why don’t we see what it is?” Alex proposed. “If you say no, I’ll back off. We can just be overly flirtatious around my brother, but I really don’t want you to say no.”
“I don’t want to say no either,” Jeremy admitted. “I just know that I should.”
“I’m also very partial to doing things I know that I shouldn’t,” Alex said. “And I’ve had daydreams about your dick, man.”
For a minute they stared at each other, until Jeremy very dramatically swept from his chair and crossed the room to take Alex’s face in his hands, kissing him. Alex deepened it instantly, turning it hard and dirty and full of a hunger that he wanted to satisfy immediately.
Jeremy walked him backwards towards his bedroom and Alex froze and stopped them both in the hallway. “Wait,” he said, hand on Jeremy’s chest, trying to keep him away from seeing into his bedroom. “I… my room is a mess. Though I guess you saw it when you put me in my bed. Fuck, I don’t usually live like this, I promise. I’ve just had a long week and Max is away, and usually my laundry is not everywhere.”
“Good to know?” Jeremy said, looking down at him. He looked so amused, and Alex bet the people he usually slept with were a little more mature than he was. They probably had their lives together. Were older than twenty. Probably didn’t share apartments with their older brothers. “You know I don’t care, right?”
“I just never really bring people back here,” he said. “And, uh, thought I would be cooler about it?”
Jeremy laughed, drawing him in closer to kiss. “Alex,” he said, gently.
“Yes?” Alex said.
“I want to fuck you,” he said. “And that is so much easier on a bed.”
“But have you considered against a wall?” Alex said, because he really had.
“Alex,” Jeremy said again, leaning in to brush the softest kiss against his mouth. “I’m not going to have sex with you against a wall. Not today, and not here in the hallway of the house my assistant lives in. Bed.”
“Okay, but don’t look at anything too closely,” Alex said, and let Jeremy lead him into his bedroom. He kicked some laundry under his desk and shoved his chair in front of it. Jeremy politely pretended to not notice. Which was nice of him seeing as he had already been in here when he’d put Alex in bed hours before.
Jeremy pulled him in closer, one hand behind his head and the other on his hip. “Are you sure you want this?” he asked, gently. And it was sweet, giving Alex an out, but he didn’t need one.
“I am,” Alex said. “Plus, you gave me a rain check. I’m cashing it in, finally.” He flopped down on his bed, moved up against the headboard and wiggled his fingers at Jeremy in the best approximation of a come hither gesture he could manage. Jeremy laughed and went to him.
They traded kisses for a while before Jeremy went for his clothes. Alex unbuttoned Jeremy’s shirt, pushed it off his shoulders but didn’t fully remove it. He had gotten Jeremy’s pants and underwear down, before they’d started kissing again and he got distracted. Alex was completely naked except for a single sock. He had no idea how this had happened, how Jeremy had stripped him down so quickly.
“Take your pants off properly,” Alex said, grabbing at them. “I won’t let you fuck me with your pants on.”
Jeremy drew back to take off his clothes properly. Ever the gentleman he even tugged Alex’s sock off when he moved back to drop his clothes onto the floor. “Shh,” he said, raking his nails down Alex’s chest. He leant up to kiss Alex again, bit his earlobe gently. “Gonna make you feel real good, okay?”
“Are you now?” Alex asked, a little breathlessly, still trying to make jokes.
“I sure am,” Jeremy said, taking Alex’s cock in his hand, thumbing at the underside. “It’s all I want to do.” He kissed his way down Alex’s body, pressing him down into the mattress with his free hand to stop Alex squirming. He dug his thumbs into the divots of Alex’s hips, kissed at his stomach and slid lower, pressing the softest kiss to the top of Alex’s cock. This asshole, he knew exactly what he was doing. Though, Alex supposed, he’d had the years to practice.
“Stop teasing me,” Alex said, but he didn’t want it to stop. Not really. Not at all.
“Mm, no,” Jeremy said, wrapping his lips around the shaft. Alex grabbed at the sheets, dug his fingers into them and twisted, probably would have arched his hips too if Jeremy wasn’t still pressing him down into the bed.
Alex knew that he was making tiny quiet kitten noises, noises he hated making but couldn’t help. Before it got too good, because he had other plans for Jeremy, he fisted a hand into his hair and pulled him off his dick. “I want you to fuck me,” Alex said, hating himself a little for how breathless he sounded.
“Yeah?” Jeremy said, looking up at him. “Why?”
“Because your dick is spectacular and I want you to,” Alex said.
“Well then,” Jeremy said, smiling. He sat up, stretched his back, rocked his jaw back and forth for a second before leaning down to kiss Alex again. “That is definitely something I want to do.”
“There’s lube and condoms in the bedside table,” Alex said.
“How do you like doing this?” Jeremy asked, sitting back to go through Alex’s top drawer. “On your back or on your stomach?”
“On my back,” Alex said. He wanted to see Jeremy’s face, wanted to kiss him. Just in case this was the only time they did this, he wanted to remember it. Have the full experience.
“Alright,” Jeremy said, kneeling in front of him. He pulled him up onto his thighs and poured lube onto his fingers, before leaning back down to kiss Alex again, trapping Alex’s dick between them, as he reached down to slide a finger inside of him.
Alex gasped into Jeremy’s mouth a little. Jeremy fucked him with his finger for a minute before Alex relaxed enough for him to add a second and then third finger inside, crooking them down to graze against his prostate. Jeremy grinned when Alex whined a little and threw his head back.
“That feel good?” he asked, leaning down to press a kiss into the hollow of Alex’s throat, kissing his way back up to his mouth where Alex kissed him hungrily. Jeremy kept fingering him, sliding the condom on with his other hand before taking his fingers away.
A sad, needy noise escaped Alex’s mouth and he turned his head away to try to hide the fact he made it. “Hurry up,” he insisted, trying to mask his embarrassment.
“Bossy,” Jeremy said, leaning down to kiss him again, before lining himself up and slowly, slowly easing himself into Alex. He moved as though he had all the time in the world, stopping whenever Alex clenched around him. He was so hard and so big, and Alex wasn’t sure that he could take it all but he was up for trying. His own dick was rock-hard between them, leaking precome onto his stomach. When Jeremy was finally seated inside of him he stopped moving, Alex leant up to kiss him, and was glad they’d done this face to face, if only for the kissing.
As if he had read his mind, Jeremy leant down and kissed him again. Alex would have happily kissed him all day if he could. “I got you,” Jeremy said. He rolled his hips to get a slightly different angle before he began to fuck him in earnest.
Alex had thrown his arm over his face. It was all a little too much, the feelings and the eye contact. He lost himself in the sensation a little, one arm over his eyes and the other draped around Jeremy’s shoulders so loosely. He clenched his nails into the skin there, and Jeremy laughed.
Jeremy stroked him with every thrust, thumb dragging across the slit of his dick every time he pressed against Alex’s prostate. Jeremy physically moved him a little (and the manhandling was definitely a turn-on) tilting his hips up a little more. Then, Alex was coming all over Jeremy’s hand and clamping down around him, which sent him over the edge too. When they both fell still, Jeremy went to move away from Alex but Alex wrapped his legs around him and held him close, pulled him down to kiss him.
“Oh really?” Jeremy asked, between kisses.
“Yeah,” Alex said, but moved his legs to let go of Jeremy.
Jeremy climbed off of him, went off to deal with the clean up and came back a minute later to lay back down on the bed next to him. Alex, seeing possibly his only chance, snuggled up to him with his head on his chest. He felt so very well-fucked, in a way he hadn’t been in a while. Hollowed out, but in a good way. He had never been one for hanging around after sex, but there was nowhere else he wanted to be right now more than here, spread out with his head on this ridiculously handsome man’s chest.
“Was that worth waiting for?” Jeremy asked, leaning down to kiss the top of Alex’s head.
“Mm, I think we could improve it,” Alex said, leaning up to kiss him properly. “Maybe at your house next time.”
“I could pencil you in,” Jeremy said. “How about tomorrow night?”
There was nothing in the world Alex wanted more than to say yes. Than to spend the rest of his days doing whatever Jeremy asked of him, so long as he was with Jeremy. But he couldn’t, realistically, he had things to do.
“I really have to finish my robotics assignment,” Alex said, hating himself so much for it. “I’m three days behind where I planned to be, it’s worth forty percent of my grade and you snapped his leg off.”
“The offer will stand for when you’re done with your assignment,” Jeremy said.
“You won’t pretend not to know me again the next time we see each other?” Alex asked. He’d meant for it to be a joke but it fell a little flat. His tone betrayed him, he supposed. And the fact he was still a little bit hurt because of it.
“No,” Jeremy said, quietly. “And I’m sorry again, for all of that.”
“I know,” Alex said, and leant up and kissed him. “And I forgive you for it. All right, you should get going. I have homework.”
Jeremy climbed off of the bed. Alex propped himself up on his elbows to watch him get dressed. When he was dressed, Alex pulled his own pants back on and followed him out into the living room to the front door. “I’ll call you,” Jeremy said, and leant down to kiss him, backing him against the wall for a minute. “Or text.”
Alex broke the kiss and side stepped him to look at him properly. “I’ll believe it when I see it,” Alex said, grinning. There was a seed of hope, it wasn’t much but deep inside him he really hoped that Jeremy would call. Even though his brother would probably explode if he found out about it, especially because of that maybe.
“I will,” Jeremy said. “And if you get an A on your assignment I’ll let you drive my car again.”
“Better get an A, then,” Alex said.
Jeremy kissed him again, one hand against his jawline and when he stepped back he leant back in to kiss him gently on the cheek. “I will call you,” he said, so very earnestly, and then he was letting himself out of the apartment.
Without him there, the apartment suddenly felt too big too quiet. Alex could hear himself breathing, could hear the music from the apartment above him and a dog barking two blocks over. He wandered over to the window and looked down at the street, watched Jeremy climb into his car which was somehow parked directly outside.
Even from the seventh floor he heard Jeremy start the car. He left it idling for a second and then drove away. Alex wasn’t sure what he expected to happen, maybe he thought Jeremy would call him from the car.
Well, whatever, he had a mental list going and needed to get through like 80% of it before his brother got home or he would never hear the end of it. So he ate his leftovers, put one of his piles of laundry on and then set about fixing his robot.
“What are you doing?” came a voice directly beside his ear. Alex jumped and sat up from where he’d fallen asleep at the kitchen table. It was the kind of dark it got when it was very late, and Max was standing over him, drinking a glass of water. There was a faint sheen of colour surrounding him, a dark red so very different to the golden light that surrounded Jeremy. Apparently he saw auras now. Hopefully that would go away or he would end up driving himself crazy trying to work out what they meant.
“Hey, you’re home!” Alex said, which came out a little too enthusiastically to seem non-suspicious.
“Good job, detective,” Max said. He put down his glass and picked up the robot. “Is this homework? What’s he meant to do?” He turned it over gently to get a good look at it, and Alex pushed down the urge to snatch it back from him.
“Robot stuff?” Alex replied, shrugging.
“I’m so glad we sent you to university,” Max said, but he was smiling. He handed the robot back to Alex, who set it very gently down on the table. He really didn’t want to have to solder another leg back on.
“How was your trip?” Alex asked, changing the subject. Hopefully he could get out of this conversation without Max asking him what he did, or he could lie convincingly enough to pretend all he had done was homework. This would probably hold up until Max went into work on Monday and was told all about it by Jeremy. Whatever, he’d deal with that whenever it became an issue.
“It was good. Walked up some mountains, walked down some mountains. We saw a lot of nice trees. You should come with next time, it might do you some good to get out in the world.” Alex snorted. “Or you can stay in and be a tiny nerd forever, your choice,” Max concluded, reaching down to run his hand through Alex’s hair, pushing it all the wrong way.
“Hey!” He shoved at his brother, reaching up to fix his hair.
“Hi, hello!” Max laughed as he stepped back to take his glass to the sink, pausing as he passed the oven clock. “Don’t you have class early tomorrow? Shouldn’t you be in bed?”
“What time is it? And don’t Dad me, it’s not like you don’t have work tomorrow,” Alex said.
“It’s like midnight and if I make it in at all tomorrow I will be there before Jeremy, you can count on that.”
Alex tried not to react. It was both too soon and not soon enough to be thinking about Jeremy again. He pressed the button to wake up his phone; it was 00:03 and he had no new texts and no missed calls.
“Did you have anything you wanted to tell me?” Max asked, and Alex froze. Maybe Jeremy had called him. Maybe he’d seen it all online.
“No,” Alex said, unable to keep the uncertainty from his voice.
“Are you sure about that?”
Max seemed to contemplate this answer for a second before making up his mind about something. He clicked and pointed his fingers at Alex. “You didn’t balance your laundry when you put it in the machine and flooded the bathroom. Again.”
“Shit.” Alex said, standing up and throwing himself in the direction of the bathroom. It had been so long since he’d done that. Like, at least three months.
“I already cleaned it up!” Max called after him. “Just remember to balance it properly next time!”
“Why don’t you ever open with that?” Alex complained, dragging himself back to the room to glare at his brother.
“Go to bed, Alex,” Max said, reaching over to ruffle his hair again. Alex stalked across the kitchen to snatch his phone from the table and then did just that.
It took Alex two more days to get his robot where he wanted it for the class presentation. When he wasn’t at school he was in the kitchen, bent over its little corpse, trying to work out its quirks as quickly as possible to make up for the time he had lost over the weekend. If Max knew what had gone on, he didn’t mention it, so maybe Jeremy had kept it quiet.
“Does it beep and boop now?” Max asked, breezing into the kitchen on the second night with a shopping bag in one hand and his jacket in the other. Alex could still see an outline of colour around him, fainter now. Not everyone had it, but it was something he apparently just got to see forever now. The inner magic of people’s souls, or some bullshit. If Jeremy ever called him, maybe he would talk to him about it.
“It does. I also added a light that induces seizures,” he replied. He looked away from his brother, before getting distracted by a component he was trying to solder. “Did you get milk?”
“Perfect, that’s exactly what it needed. And I did. Also, dinner.”
Alex looked up at his brother. “I told you I’m not packing up anything from this table until I’m done.” He was nearly done, probably would be done tonight if he didn’t run out of soldering iron again. Or decide he wanted to make any changes to it.
“Did I ask you to clean up? No, we’re going to eat in front of the TV like civilized people.” Max stood across from him, shaking a takeout bag in his direction. “It’s your favourite.”
Alex sighed, turning off his soldering iron. If there was one thing he knew for certain, Max would not stop hassling him until he had seen Alex eat at least half of his dinner.
“It’s not actually going to be my favourite, is it?” he asked, following his brother to the couch.
“It’s certainly got vegetables in it!” Max smiled, handing him a white box and some plastic cutlery. “Delicious!”
“So, how was work?” Alex asked. It felt like a long time since they sat down to eat together. It felt like even longer since things hadn’t been strange between them. Even since before whatever happened with Max, things had been strange between them. They’d been struggling to find a middle ground where Max wasn’t actually his caretaker anymore because they were both adults now, and the magical nonsense hadn’t helped.
“I definitely went and spent some time there today,” Max said.
“Awful as always.” Max had stopped a spoonful of rice halfway to his mouth and was frowning “Why are you asking me so much about work?”
“You never tell me about your time playing magical cops and robbers, I’m just curious.”
“You never tell me about your robot and it lives in the kitchen,” Max said.
“But the robot’s just school stuff, this is your job and you never tell me anything about it, even when I ask questions,” Alex said. Mostly, he just needed to know if Max knew anything about the apparently very small incident of which he had been a part. He had so many questions still, and Jeremy hadn’t called him so it wasn’t like he could ask him. But he also couldn’t ask Max directly until Max made it clear he knew what had happened that weekend he was climbing mountains.
“Nothing happens at work, Alex, don’t worry about it.” It felt like a lie. Alex knew it was a lie. He gave up entirely, went back to his dinner and let his brother win this time. One day he would get Max to tell him the truth, but he knew he would have to tell his own truths too, and he didn’t really want to do that just yet.
Alex supposed everyone had off days, but the presentation unfolding at the front of the class was the slowest-moving horror show of his life. All he could think about was at least it wasn’t his work that had started an actual fire. It could have been worse though, it could have been an explosion. Somehow, the fire alarm hadn’t gone off yet but that was only a matter of time.
The class had been shuffled outside into the courtyard, and advised that the next day’s class would also be cancelled if it couldn’t be rescheduled to a different lab. They’d get emails, or texts, or something but the rest of the day scheduled for presentations was their own.
The rest of his classmates had dispersed, suddenly finding they had an extra day to make sure their own creations didn’t cause any disasters mid-demonstration. Honestly, Alex had never been more grateful at having to go first for a class presentation. At least he knew he’d passed and didn’t have to stress about not knowing when presentations would be rescheduled to.
Half an hour later and still buzzing with restless energy he found himself inside The Gingerbread House, standing in front of the display cabinet overwhelmed with choice. His phone vibrated in his pocket. He ignored it, probably just Valerie asking if she could borrow-back the ammeter she’d loaned him. It buzzed again. And again. He pulled it out of his pocket, still buzzing with texts. All he wanted was to sit still for a minute and enjoy a snack. What was her fucking problem?
“What?!” He turned on his heel, probably more dramatically than necessary, and then there was Jeremy. Perfect, handsome Jeremy, just standing there, phone in his hand, the smallest smile finding its way into the corner of his mouth.
“Did you get my texts?”
Alex looked from Jeremy to his phone and unlocked it to his unread texts.
Can I make a recommendation?
The doughnuts are good, but only when they’re fresh.
The raspberry danish is the better of the varieties.
A short list of other things that are good:
“Well?” Jeremy prompted.
There was a kick of anger inside him, because it had been several days, but in an instant he let it go. Alex smiled, slipping his phone back into his pocket. Sometimes the universe just gave you a win.
“Are you paying?”