by Azia C. It
“Caleb! Get out here this instant!”
With a sigh he set down his pen and notebook on his cluttered desk and grabbed a relatively clean tee-shirt off his bed. He gave it a sniff and wrinkled his nose before slipping it on. Relatively clean for helping his sister with chores. He stepped out from his caliginous room and into the brightly lit hall that led to the brightly lit kitchen. The walls were a light yellow, amplifying the sunlight that streamed in through the surprisingly large windows that lined their apartment.
“And poof! I’m here,” he announced as he entered the kitchen.
“And the peasants rejoiced.” She threw a dust rag at him, then wrinkled her nose. “You need to do laundry.”
“How about you move it to the top? Marcus is coming over for dinner and I’d rather not have him repulsed by my half-wit brother.”
“Oh yes, wouldn’t want to disgust the Prince,” he jabbed as he grabbed cleaner from the pile of stuff on the kitchen table and headed to the living room to dust.
“That joke never gets old!”
He ignored his sister as he worked. Marcus Prince had been dating his sister for just over a year and he was expecting “move in with me” or “marry me” or something to be coming soon. He was happy for his sister, he was, but if she moved out then he’d have to find a new place to live–there was no way he could afford the apartment on his own–and he was rather fond of the place, even if he’d done nothing but complain about it when they’d first moved in. It was just annoying to change everything when all was so nice with his life.
…there lived a baker with his sister, a beautiful and modest woman who had caught the attention of a local prince. He had gone about wooing her…
“CALEB! Marcus is here!”
His head hit the desk with a thump. While he had no problem with Marcus or, in fact, having dinner with them, there was something to be said for sitting through a meal while your sister and her beau flirted. Again, he was glad for his sister’s happiness, but did she have to rub it in his face that he’d been single… a really long time? Instead of moping, he gathered himself up and emerged from his room just as Jessica was saying, “What’s wrong, darling?”
“Marian is missing! She went to school this morning and then never appeared afterward! No one knows where she is!”
“What have the police said?”
“They’re looking, but they don’t see any leads,” he sighed, pressing his temples. Caleb watched Jessica rub his back and try to calm him.
“Have they asked the old witch?”
“We told them the trouble she’s been causing, but they think she’s just some old crazy woman and brushed it off!”
“Caleb could go talk to her for you. He’s good at–”
“WAIT. WHAT?” Caleb stormed over. “I am not–”
Marcus looked up with wide eyes, “Would you? Please, it would mean so much to me.”
“Why can’t you just–ouch!” He jumped back to avoid another kick from his sister who was glaring. “What?”
She took him by his ear and dragged him out of the room, leaving him to hop along behind to avoid a very painful twist. When they were far enough away, she glared, “Caleb Swift, how dare you! The Princes have a long history with the witch and they couldn’t talk to her without something horrible happening!”
“Jeez, Jess, you make it sound like you think she’s a real witch.”
“She is! Come on, Cay, you read all those fantasy books, surely you can believe–”
“Yes, I read fantasy; it doesn’t mean I think it’s real. Fairy tales are fairy tales.”
“Well, Marcus’ family is wary of her. If you’re not afraid, then you can go ask her about Marian.”
Caleb opened his mouth then snapped it shut. How had he just gotten conned into this?
One day, the prince’s little sister went missing. The young baker volunteered to ask the wicked witch what she knew…
“I will, at least, be the hero of my own story,” Caleb huffed as he put away his notebook and grabbed his messenger bag off the floor. He’d already packed everything he could need, including some things he couldn’t need (like a towel). He might not believe he was going to face an actual witch, but he wasn’t going unprepared, just in case.
Ready as he could be, he bid his sister farewell and journeyed forth!
Or left on his own since his sister was off with the Princes, comforting them, and he didn’t journey forth so much as wait for the elevator to ping. It was empty when he got on, but few people wanted an apartment on the tenth floor in an apartment complex where the elevator often didn’t work. A little girl got on at five and off at four, probably visiting a friend and Caleb wondered why she couldn’t have walked the stairs except for laziness. The rest of his journey was uneventful.
He’d been given the address of the witch by Marcus–she lived in the upper story of a house and the downstairs was her shop. She sold all-natural herbs and supplements that promised to solve your aches and pains according to the sign. With a jingle of the bell that hung over the door, he entered and was immediately hit with the scent of plant life–not just herbs and spices, but growing plants that lived all along the upper shelves and were scattered among the spare spaces of the products. It was a warm and welcoming aroma and he wondered if it was done on purpose.
“Hello!” a young man popped up from behind the counter he had been crouched behind. “How are you today?”
“I’m good…” He made his way through the makeshift aisles until he was at the counter. “I’m looking for the owner.”
“I am the owner,” the young man said with a brilliantly sunny smile.
“You’re the witch?” Caleb blurted, immediately slapping his hand over his mouth as he turned red.
The young man pinked over the bridge of his nose. “I get that a lot. My grandmother was the witch you’re looking for, and she gave me her shop and knowledge.”
“Oh…” He stood there awkwardly. “Oh.”
“Is there something I could help you with?” the young man offered helpfully with another blinding smile. Caleb wasn’t sure, but he felt like there was a double meaning there, and while the man was rather good looking, his sister would kill him if he got off task.
“This is going to sound weird–”
“It’s okay, I work with weird.”
“–right. So my sister’s boyfriend’s sister is missing and they wanted to ask, uh, the witch if she knew anything,” he did not say ‘blame her for kidnapping,’ “but I don’t know if you’d know anything about it…”
The man raised a dark black brow, “Why didn’t they come themselves?”
“Uh, they said that their family had bad history with, uh, her.”
“Then I’m guessing the Princes must have sent you,” he huffed. “Bad history indeed. They tried to accuse my grandma of witchcraft and have her arrested so they could buy out her shop and have it demolished!”
“Oh,” Caleb said a bit sheepishly.
“Yeah, oh.” He narrowed his eyes at Caleb.
“Well, I understand why you wouldn’t want to help then. Um, sorry for everything.”
“Everything?” The young man brightened again, “Are you to blame for everything?”
“Well, no, I just–well they aren’t going to apologize, so I figured someone should and I don’t know all that they did–”
“Oh my dear, you should be more careful. If you go around apologizing for everything, people are going to think you’re to blame for everything. Words have power you know. So say things as you mean them.”
He reddened further, shifting uncomfortable at being scolded, however gently, by a man his own age. “I just meant I’m sorry that they did such rotten things, is all.”
“Well thank you, your sympathy is touching. So, I think I’ll help you.”
“You’ll help me?”
“Yes. I can do a tracing spell so you can see where Marian has traveled.”
He frowned. “How did you know her name?”
The young man smiled. “I am a witch after all.”
And so, after visiting the witch and receiving the blessing, Caleb composed in his head, the young baker headed to where the princess had last been seen.
He took the bus to Marian’s school, walking around until he found a trail of puffy green smoke that didn’t vanish when he pushed is hand through. This had to be the path that Felix the witch had mentioned. Caleb wasn’t one to believe in spells and such, but it was hard to argue with it when the spell was happening to you and you could see the magic in the air. Literally speaking, not romantically, although he couldn’t deny feeling a little something when Felix had touched him to apply the spell.
The trail led into the school where he couldn’t follow, so instead he circled around until he found another path that he could reasonably guess was Marian leaving for the day. She went off in the opposite direction of the bus stop and when he followed that it guided him between two buildings before stopping by an empty abandoned lot. Then the smoke trail suddenly went up, straight up, into the sky and beyond, vanishing into the clouds above.
Caleb frowned, then considered she must have been picked up by a helicopter and kidnapped that way. Unable to progress any further, he headed to the Princes to report what he knew.
The young baker found that the princess had been carried off by a dragon, so he went to the Prince’s home for help.
He knocked on the door to the Prince residence. It wasn’t a mansion or anything, but compared to the Swift residence, it looked huge. Marcus still lived with his parents while attending college, though who could blame him for never wanting to leave anyway? When Mrs. Prince answered the door, he politely asked for Marcus and then told him, and Jessica, what he’d found. The story about the witch wasn’t questioned, even though he found the whole thing a bit farfetched.
“It has to be the Dragons!”
“Wait, what?” Caleb squeaked. “First witches, now dragons?”
“Not real dragons,” Marcus frowned, shaking his head at Caleb’s ignorance. “The gang the Dragons. They’ve been trying to start business dealings with my family, but we refuse to work with criminals. They must have taken her!”
“So now you can tell that to the police–”
“We can’t tell the police! If work gets out that they’ve been trying to work with us, people will assume the worst! They won’t trust us! Stocks will plummet.”
Caleb thought that excuse was a little flimsy and sounded an awful lot like “We can’t let people know we work with the Dragons.”
“Well, I did what I could, so whether you decide to tell the police is up to you.”
“But you’ve had such luck! Maybe if you went to talk to them about this then–”
“NO. I’ve already…” He hesitated. His sister was giving him a look. “I mean, it’d be better if…” Her eyes narrowed. “I know nothing about negotiations!”
“I know, that’s why they’ll trust you. I just need you to find out if she’s safe!”
If there had been a desk nearby, his head would have thumped on it.
The baker offered to brave the dragons in order to save the princess with promise of reward when he returned. They had offered him the princess’ hand in marriage, but he declined.
“Who marries their daughter off anymore anyway?” he muttered to himself as he stepped out of the chauffeured car that had driven him to “The Dragon’s Den.” It was an office building with some classic Asian flair, but as soon as he entered he felt he was being watched in a not-so-friendly way. At the front desk he was greeted by a smiling Asian woman.
“Yes, um, I’m here to see…” He hesitated, his cheeks coloring, “the Draco.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“Um, no, but I come on behalf of the Prince–”
“What is your business here!” A short man with long black hair and a fitted business suit stepped into view from who-knows-where.
“I’m here about Mari–”
“Well, why did you ask then!”
The man glowered and Caleb reminded himself that he was in the den of the dragon… so to speak… and he should probably be more respectful.
“Is there anyway I may speak with the Draco?”
“He’s busy.” The man’s eyes shifted side to side and Caleb raised a brow.
“Uh, is there someone else I could speak to?”
“I suppose. Follow me.”
For being a short man, the Asian moved at a quick clip and Caleb had to hustle to keep up. They stepped into an elevator and the man punched the top button, using a key to authorize the location.
“Who are you taking me to?”
“The Draco’s brother. He will handle what is needed.”
At the top floor they went down a hall lined with men’s faces and beautiful art work. This area of the building felt more like a home than a business location and Caleb wasn’t sure if it made him feel more or less uncomfortable. Finally they reached a door where his guide knocked.
The man who opened it was gorgeous. Really, really gorgeous. Lean muscles rippled beneath a skin-tight tee-shirt, his short black hair was perfectly mussed, and he was just slightly taller than Caleb, which was impressive for his obvious Asian heritage. Caleb made notes to not drool, not make a fool of himself, and not be turned on. He was hoping he’d at least be able to do one of them.
“Ah, thank you Kim, I will take it from here.”
The guide gave a quick bow and left, while the Draco’s brother stepped back, holding open the door, “Please, come in.”
He stepped tentatively into what was a living room, a lush black couch draped with a red blanket and golden pillows, the hard-wood floors covered with oriental rugs in an almost ironic fashion. There was a giant television, a mini-bar and a hall that most definitely led to a bedroom. “I’m sorry to bother you at your home sir, I just–”
“Call me Sam.”
“Call me Sam,” the Draco’s brother insisted, his hand settling familiarly on Caleb’s shoulder, then stroking down to his lower back. Caleb resisted the urge to jump away or lean into the touch.
“Um, okay, Sam. Thank you for seeing me. I’m here to–”
“Yes, you’re here to inquire about Marian’s disappearance. But you really have no need to worry.” Those deft fingers slipped down over his butt then up his side as Sam stepped around in front of him. “You see, she and my brother are paramours and it wasn’t a kidnapping at all.”
“If that’s true, then she should call Marcus so he doesn’t worry.”
“You assume he doesn’t know,” Sam teased, his fingers stroking over Caleb’s jaw even as he tensed.
“What? But why would he send me searching if he knew where she was?”
“Because, my brother has his tastes and I…” Sam moved closer, crowding Caleb, his hot breath stroking over his skin. “And I have mine.”
The dragon’s fiery breath burned against him, tempting him with the treasures that awaited deeper within the lair.
“Are you saying I went on this whole wild goose chase because you wanted me?”
Sam slithered an arm around his waist with a wide grin. “Yep.”
He was too stunned to move. “You didn’t think of just asking?”
“I wanted to woo you properly.”
He finally jerked away, taking a few hasty step backwards. “How is this ‘properly’? Are you crazy? You can’t just–No!” he cut off Sam’s attempt to approach him again with a swipe of his arm. “You stay away.”
“Caleb, you don’t mean that…” Sam slowly began inching forward with suave grace. “I just wish to give you happiness and pleasure.”
He trembled, his body reacting to the words as if they were touches. “No…”
“You’d never have a care in the world,” he purred, “I would see to your every desire.”
Caleb shook his head, but his jaw wouldn’t follow his command to speak out. His skin was already crawling with the need to be touched and ravaged when Sam’s fingers brushed his neck. He would have fallen to his knees and begged for it if a cool voice hadn’t broken over the quiet panting that filled the room.
“He said no, release him.”
Sam hissed but pulled back, glaring around the room. “Leave it alone you pest,” he hissed, before dropping his voice into a more seductive crawl. “You want to stay here with me, don’t you Caleb?”
When he tried to speak, the word only came out a squeak, and he found he could no longer shake his head.
“See, he wants to stay.”
“He said no, ‘Sam,’ so release him. You can feel the rejection on his tongue.”
“And what would you do if I don’t–” Sam threatened as his hand reached out to stroke Caleb’s cheek.
At first all he saw was a blur of black as something was suddenly between them, pushing Sam away from Caleb. When he stopped, a tight frown on his pale face, Caleb recognized the witch.
“What are you doing here?”
“You’re welcome,” Felix huffed. “There was an evil eye watching you, so I followed to make sure you were okay.”
“What, so you can sweep in and rescue me? Do you have some type of hero complex? What is with you people!”
No longer under Sam’s persuasion, Caleb was able to turn and stalk out of the apartment, down the hall to the elevator and then he slammed the lobby button. He couldn’t believe the manipulation that had gone on. What was with these people? What was with Marcus, pretending his sister was kidnapped? Had Jess known? He was going to have a word with his sister and her boyfriend.
He was still growling when he stalked down the street. The car that had driven him there was gone, which meant he’d have to walk back a few blocks to find a place where cabs would show up. Five steps down the street, a black cat with green eyes pranced along beside him.
“Fine, stay for all I care, just leave me alone!”
The cat demurely obeyed, which should have been an indication that it wasn’t a real cat, but Caleb was too angry to even think about it. He fumed all the way to the major road and was still seething when he finally caught a cab. The cat didn’t follow him into the taxi and he was alone when he arrived at the Princes’. He knocked, and when Marcus opened the door, he nearly wanted to punch him. He did, in fact, want to punch him, but he wasn’t uncivilized.
“What the hell were you thinking?!”
Marcus winced and held open the door, “Come in.”
Caleb stalked by him, still frothing with anger when he turned on his sister. “Did you know?”
“Cay, please, let me explain…”
“Explain what! You set up this whole thing so some guy could seduce me? You sold me out like that?” He nearly spat with disgust. “What. The. Hell.”
“It was for you!”
“Jess! How can you say that? It’s not like my life depends on getting laid!”
“Yes, it does!”
There was an awkward silence during which Marcus herded them into the living room so they could sit down if they wanted. Caleb sat because all his blood was working on making his brain function. “What?”
“Mom didn’t want you to know… but when you were born a spell… a curse was placed upon you. And if you hadn’t… um… gotten laid by your twenty-fifth birthday then you’d go into a coma.”
“What kind of fucked up… was it that damn witch?”
“I don’t know who,” Jess shrugged, “Just that you need to get laid or you’ll be out.”
“And you assume I haven’t had sex yet?”
She looked at him dead on. “Have you?”
His answering blush told enough. “Why didn’t you just say something?”
“Mom didn’t want you to know, and anytime I push a guy at you, you go all resistant. So I figured if you happened to meet a young attractive guy and he happened to seduce you… then you’d be more willing.”
“So the witch was in on it too?”
“The witch? Eww, no. But we needed her to lead you to where Marian was so we could send you to Sam’s.”
“So you paid him to seduce me?”
“No, he seemed pretty eager on his own. So why don’t you give it a shot? Your birthday is two months away and… well… I don’t want to lose you.”
He looked up to his sister’s sad face and sighed, slowly standing. “I need some time to think. I’ll see you later.” He gave a vague wave and let himself out. Instead of taking the bus, he walked the eight miles home.
A black cat followed him silently.
The baker’s run in with the dragon had left him with a curse. In two months he would fall into a deep sleep from which he could never be awakened.
The next morning offered no solutions to yesterday’s problems, just an empty apartment. He assumed his sister had stayed at the Princes’ to give him space and he was glad. He wasn’t sure he wanted to face her just yet. He poured himself a bowl of fruity ring cereal and sat down with a huff. Before he could enjoy his first bite, he heard a meow and a knock on the living room window.
Curious, he went over and pulled up the blinds. There, perched on the edge of the window, was the black cat from the previous day. His apartment had no balcony or railing, and the cat was lucky that their windows even opened. It barely did, worn closed so long, but the cat didn’t instantly enter, just looked up at him for permission.
“Well, go ahead, get in.”
He jumped, landing daintily and licking his paws as if worried about tracking dirt into the apartment. It almost made Caleb smile. Instead he shoved the window shut and turned to face the cat. Seeing him again with his mind not quite as immediately stressed, he realized who this must be. “Felix?”
The cat nodded, then melted upward, lengthening into Felix with his mop of black hair and green eyes, a sheepish smile matched with a pink blush. “Hi.”
Caleb hunched his shoulders, keenly aware that Felix was nicely dressed in jeans and a tee with a black blazer, while he was wearing sweats. Flushing, he grabbed a shirt off the pile of laundry on the couch and pulled it on. “So what are you doing here?”
“I wanted to make sure you were okay after yesterday. Um, I should apologize for eavesdropping too. And… and I just wanted to offer an ear if you needed to talk,” he shrugged, blushing a bit more. “I figured your friends wouldn’t understand if you tried to explain, and I didn’t think you’d want to talk to your sister just yet.”
He motioned for Felix to sit on the free-standing chair, then perched on the arm of the couch, “You didn’t know about any of this?”
There was a moment of hesitation before he shook his head. “I could tell there was magic around you, which is odd in this day and age, but nothing specific.”
“But you know about the curse?”
“I overheard that bit, yes.”
“Do you know who it was? I mean… if it was your grandmother I won’t hold it against you, I just want to know.”
“If she did, she didn’t mention it, but I could–um, with your permission–try to find out…”
“How quickly? I mean, I guess it doesn’t matter, it’s there either way, I dunno, I just…”
“You’ve been thrown into a crazy situation, it’s natural to want to learn as much as possible. And it’s not hard, I just need to touch you and try to seek out the source.”
Felix stood slowly, as if worried a quick movement would spook him, and wrapped his slender fingers around Caleb’s forearm. “Just relax.”
Caleb was expecting a pull, and invasion, something to indicate the magic being used. But there was nothing before Felix’s hand stroked up to Caleb’s upper arm and gripped firmly, holding him still as he leaned in with a jerky motion to kiss him.
The touch left a tingle on his lips as Felix immediately jerked away, releasing Caleb’s arm and pressing his hand to his own lips, “I’m so sorry!”
But Caleb wasn’t sorry. He was struggling with an intense sense of familiarity, of something nagging at him even as Felix babbled at him. “Felix Rantier!” he shouted when he remembered, startling Felix back another step.
“Yes?” He looked almost frightened and Caleb wanted to laugh.
“You used to be called Lex, right? In second grade?”
His brow furrowed, “Yes, how did you know?”
Caleb blushed while grinning impishly, “Because I was the boy who kissed you on the last day of school.”
There was a long silence after that in which neither seemed to know what to say. Felix sat down in his chair again and Caleb watched him without looking at his face. “Sorry, it’s just that… um… reminded me of something, like I’d felt it before,” his heart fluttered and his face heated embarrassingly. “Maybe you could explain why…” When Felix didn’t answer, he continued on. “Um, why you kissed me? I mean, that’s what that was, right? Please don’t tell me that–”
“It was. I just.” He cleared his throat. “I can’t tell who put the spell on you, but it was like there was a note there, just for me and I had to kiss you.”
“Oh. Okay. Well. Then.” And then he stopped because he couldn’t think of anything to say after that. Just more magic interfering with his life. Another long silence lulled. He could hear the clock ticking, moving so much slower than his heartbeat. He hadn’t thought about that kiss in over fifteen years–he was surprised he even remembered it. He’d had a crush, or whatever it is second graders get, on Lex. And he’d seen his mother and father kiss to show they cared. It had made sense to him then.
“So that was you? Back then?”
He nodded numbly.
“You never came back to school.”
“They sent me to a school for gifted children,” he admitted with a slight mumble. He’d never been especially proud of that. It had never gotten him friends before, though he didn’t think Felix would care. They were both old enough to be over that specific childishness.
“Oh.” Another lull and Caleb wished Felix would just excuse himself rather than follow this excruciating line of dialogue. He finally seemed to get the vibe when he stood and stiffly walked out the door. Even though it was years ago, he still winced when the front door clicked closed. It was years ago, after all, he shouldn’t care. And that fumbling kiss was just as stupid as the one he’d given Lex back then. But his eyes still burned a little.
A knock on the door startled him, and he quickly wiped his face, clearing his throat and trying to do all those things to make it look like he hadn’t been crying. Especially if it was his sister or Marcus. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door.
Felix didn’t give him a chance to ask why, he just stepped up, snuck a hand around the back of his head, and pulled him down to kiss him. And when Caleb didn’t pull away, couldn’t pull away even with Felix’ soft grasp, tongue was added, gently stroking along the crease of his lips until they opened for him. They stood kissing in the doorway until one of them, and Caleb would never be sure who, moved them into the apartment, mouths still awkwardly trying to touch skin as they worked their way into the living room and onto the couch.
Squirming against one another, shirts were pushed up so fingers could skate across expanses of skin, warm and goosebumped. Caleb wasn’t sure what motivated them, but he wanted nothing but to feel more of Felix against him, old emotions transforming into new ones as hands brushed over his stomach and began unbuckling. They spoke in gasps and groans as pants were undone and hands delved into the heat between them. He nearly lost control when Felix touched him, grasping him almost too loosely. It had been so long since someone else had jerked him off and for a moment his hand fumbled as he arched into the touch, his eyes rolling back as he tried to gasp Felix’s name.
Instead only a squeak escaped and he gulped enough oxygen to realize Felix was hard in his hand. He started stroking until they fell into a rhythm of strokes, pants and kisses that ended as they both grew closer to climax and their motions grew urgent. Urgent. Urgent. He whimpered when he came, the sensation so good it almost hurt. A little death. Felix wasn’t far behind him and collapsed half beside him, half on him, warm and sweaty. Felix grabbed Caleb’s shirt to clean up their mess, then settled back down against him.
“I’d been trying to find you,” he admitted into the crook of flesh. “Since we were kids. Grammy wouldn’t help, didn’t want to encourage that behavior. I didn’t even know your name.” He sighed, shifting to run his hand up Caleb’s chest and gently stroke his neck. “You believe in magic, right?”
“Kinda hard not to when you see it with your own eyes.”
“And love. Love at first kiss?”
“I don’t know. I felt… something. But if you’ve been looking for me so long, you have expectations that I can’t–”
Felix kissed him and Caleb gratefully rubbed his back as they slowly moved their lips against the other. They didn’t rush out of it, just slowed until they were only sharing air. “No expectations.”
“None?” Caleb smiled, hugging Felix against him.
“Yes?” he grinned, kissing Felix’s jaw.
“Yes. You better not be in a coma in two months.”
Caleb laughed, the rush of giddiness bubbling out over his lips. “I’ll see what we can do.”
And they lived happily ever after.