Bodhi felt his breath catch in his throat as he caught sight of him—Kaye, the village witch. Bodhi had seen Kaye a few times before, and one thing was for sure—he wasn’t getting any less beautiful. Bodhi watched as Kaye crossed the expanse of the market, probably heading for his favorite herbalist. Kaye seemed to have a circuit that he walked when he came to the market, and Bodhi could see most of it from the corral that his family rented once a week to show their horses at. The witch needed herbs, spices, a variety of crystals and glass wear, and—occasionally—some strange odds and ends from the butchers. Bodhi watched as the man moved, feeling his hair tug at his scalp as he moved his head. He’d let one of the little girls who’d come with her mother to inspect cart horses braid his hair instead of the horses’ manes, telling her he was safer than the horses with their great hooves and their restless legs from being penned all morning. The little girl made a small warning sound from her perch on the fence next to Bodhi, and he stopped turning his head, following the witch with his eyes instead.
“Bodhi!” Bodhi heard his older sister Saaj call. “Keep your eyes on the horses!”
Bodhi jerked his head back to the corral. The girl sighed angrily and Bodhi felt her undo the last section of his braid. He mumbled a nervous apology to her and then cast his eyes over the corral, searching for what his older sister wanted him to pay attention to. The girl’s mother was still perusing cart horses. She inspected teeth and hooves with the skilled eye of a woman who knew what she was looking for. The horses seemed restless, but didn’t seem to mind her prodding. Some other customers milled around the corral, marveling at the swift mount horses his younger two sisters Tajvir and Haneet were running for them.
Everything seemed in order.
Slowly, Bodhi’s eyes slipped back to the witch. He had moved on from the herbalist and was now deep in conversation with one of the baker, of all people. It didn’t seem to be going well. Maybe they were arguing over price? Bodhi couldn’t imagine what a witch needed a baker for. Couldn’t he just magic up his bread from raw materials if he wanted? Finally, the witch and the baker seemed to reach some sort of compromise. Kaye put some bread in his basket, handed over his money, and then crossed the lane to the butcher’s stall. Bodhi turned his head to follow him. The girl on the fence growled frustratedly, and yanked on Bodhi’s hair. Bodhi let out a yelp and reeled backwards. The girl let out a scream and tumbled backwards.
That’s when it happened.
Bodhi stopped falling as fast. The world around him slowed. The girl stopped on her downward tumble, and all sound ceased. Bodhi opened the eyes he had squeezed shut for impact after he hit the ground with a small pat. Everything around him had stopped. The girl was in midair. Her mother’s mouth was open and her hand extended as she cried out and tried to rush to her daughter’s aid. The horses were frozen, just rearing or eyes going wide with nervous energy at the woman’s sudden outburst.
Bodhi got up and dusted himself off, then put his hands on his hips. Okay, what needed fixing?
He went to the mother and moved her away from the horses. The horses were spooking, but they would calm once the noise stopped. They were penned off, so as long as he got the mother out of the way, they should be fine.
The girl was next. He needed to be there to catch her. Mother out of the way, girl caught, Bodhi settled in to wait.
This had happened a few times—usually when something went wrong. He’d stopped time only once before, but he’d slowed it consistently when he was nervous. Once, he’d even teleported away from a bar fight his older sister had started. That had been one he didn’t care to repeat. The walk home from the forest had been abysmal, and it had started raining. He’d been drenched by the time he made it home, and to this day his sister still thought he’d been dragged off and nearly drowned by the people Saaj had picked a fight with. Things seemed to even out eventually, though. He just needed to wait it out.
Bodhi looked around the market, trying to find something to occupy him while he waited to catch the girl. That’s when he saw it: Kaye’s eyes resting directly on his own.
Bodhi gulped. There was no way the witch could have done that before time froze, was there?
The witch’s eyes moved again, and suddenly time fell back into place.
Bodhi’s breath went out of him as he caught the little girl. Her pale blonde hair spilled over the dark brown skin of his arm as he caught her, and her cry of alarm was cut off by the jolt. She looked up into his eyes and smiled. The mother blinked like she wasn’t sure how she had gotten near the fence. The horses settled. The girl tied off Bodhi’s loose braid, and he gave her back to her mother with an apology, recommending the best and most gently tempered cart horse they had to her.
Then he let himself look for the witch.
He found the man with Saaj, pointing at Bodhi and glaring.
Bodhi’s heart skipped a beat. What was Kaye saying?
Finally, Saaj seemed to give in. She saw Bodhi staring and jerked her head, the beads hanging from her ornate nose ring flicking with the movement of her head. Bodhi swallowed and walked over to them with jilted steps.
“Brother, do you care trying to explain the nonsense our esteemed witch is telling me?” Saaj asked.
Bodhi swallowed again and licked his lips nervously as he looked over to Kaye. He was even more beautiful up close. “W-what is he saying?” Bodhi asked.
“You,” Kaye said, pointing a finger into Bodhi’s face. “Just endangered everyone here and yourself with that bit of time magic.”
Bodhi froze like a deer caught eating from the garden. His heart beat fast, telling him to run or hide. This was simultaneously the best and worst day of his life. Kaye was talking to him—but Kaye was also yelling at him; and about magic, no less.
Saaj sighed. “Bodhi, tell this fool that the only magic you’ve got running through you is the kind you can work in the kitchen with normal ingredients.” She laughed. “He’s good with the horses too, but that’s more a family taught thing.” She tossed her head, preening. “Comes with being some of the best providers of equines in the kingdom and all.”
Kaye raised an unimpressed eyebrow and directed his gaze back to Saaj. Bodhi swallowed as Kaye drew himself up to his full height, towering despite only having maybe an inch on Bodhi’s sister. “You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
Saaj’s face turned stormy. “Listen here, witch. I know my brother. And my brother would never endanger anyone, magically or not.”
“He’s right!” Bodhi cried.
Saaj whipped her eyes to Bodhi, looking shocked. “What?”
Bodhi rung his hands. “Listen, it’s been happening for a while. I can’t control it. Whenever things get tense, I just…”
“Teleport, slow time, stop time, meddle with the quantum abilities of things,” Kaye listed.
Bodhi raised his eyes to Kaye’s. The man’s eyes weren’t soft or compassionate—but neither were they fiery and righteous as they had been a moment before. Bodhi nodded.
Kaye turned back to Saaj. “You have many in your family who can work with the horses. This man stays with me. He’s a danger to himself and others like this, and there’s no telling when he might accidentally cause an incident that he can’t deal with.”
“You can’t just—!” Saaj protested.
Kaye raised a hand, cutting her off. “I can, and I will. He will be well cared for as my apprentice, and he will learn to control his magic.” He lowered his chin, giving Saaj a calculating look. “Don’t you want what’s best for him?”
Saaj opened and closed her mouth a few times, looking stunned. “Of course I want what’s best for him.” Her eyes darted to the corral, where Bodhi’s other two sisters looked on. Saaj put a hand to her forehead and grimace. “Give me a moment to consult with my sisters.” She pushed past Kaye and slid through the slats of the corral fence.
Kaye turned to Bodhi when she was gone, and took Bodhi’s hand in his.
Bodhi flushed, not daring to move as the other man turned his hand this way and that between his own. Bodhi was fascinated by the different shades of brown as their skin touched. “Wh-what are you doing?” he finally asked as Kaye’s examination continued.
“Checking to make sure you haven’t damaged yourself or accidentally woven any quantum energy into your own body.” Kaye nodded and released Bodhi. “It seems your fine.” He fixed Bodhi with a stern gaze. “I won’t have to convince you that you need to come and stay with me, will I?”
Bodhi shook his head fiercely. “No. Not at all. Th-thank you. I…appreciate you being willing to take me in.”
Kaye shrugged. “It’s less of a willingness and more of a duty. The village is expanding, I can’t care for them all on my own, and I can have you wrecking the closest market simply because you don’t know how to control your magic.”
Bodhi deflated a bit. So Kaye was only taking him because he had to. That…soured things a bit.
“Still,” Kaye said, shifting and crossing his arms. “It will be nice to have someone else around the place, if only so I don’t have to do everything myself.”
Bodhi’s heart lightened. Maybe he could show Kaye he had been worth taking in.
Saaj slipped back through the slats of the fence, her sisters following behind her. “Alright,” she said, standing to her full height and slamming Kaye with a piercing glare. “My sisters and I have conferred…” Bodhi held his breath. Please let them say he could go. “And we have decided that Bodhi should go with you.” Bodhi smiled brilliantly. What happy news. “But!” Saaj whipped her finger up into Kaye’s face, and now she was the one who was towering, despite her one inch difference. “If we hear of any misuse, any discomfort, or even the slightest peep of chaffed hands from doing all your washing or whatever your witchly chores are…” She made a fist and clapped it into her other fist threatening. “I don’t have to explain what my family will do you, but you won’t like it.”
Kaye blinked, obviously unaffected by the threat. “What a good big sister,” he said sarcastically. He turned to Bodhi before Saaj’s surprise dissipated. “Well, if that’s settled, I’ll expect you this evening.” He nodded at Bodhi and swished away, his robes trailing behind him and his shopping bag hanging from his shoulder.
Bodhi’s sisters converged on him as Kaye left, asking questions, petting his hair, soothing him as they would one of their horses. He smiled and reassured and held them. Then they finished their day at the market, and returned home. Saaj broke the news to their parents. Tajvir and Haneet helped Bodhi pack. The whole family saw him off and insisted on him taking his personal mount with him, along with plenty of food for both himself and the horse. A few gifts for the witch were also placed in his saddle bags—but Bohdi noticed Saaj didn’t give anything. Just before he left, Saaj appeared at his side and took his hand from where it sat on the saddle horn of his mount. “I’ve seen the way you look at him,” Saaj murmured. “I know this is what’s best for you, little brother, but I worry. Please be careful, and make your decisions wisely. But… Should you decide that they way you look at him should become something more…” She pressed an ornate nose pin into his hand.
Bodhi gasped in shock. “This is a marital nose pin,” he hissed. He tried to hand it back. “Saaj, I can’t take this!”
Saaj shook her head and pushed Bodhi’s hand back to his saddle. “We all know I’m married to my work anyway. Any woman who’ll run with me has to run with the horses too, and you know how hard that is for people outside the family to do. It looks like you have a shot at this kind of happiness, and I’d be a poor older sister if I didn’t make it easier for you, little brother.” She brushed her cheek against the back of Bodhi’s hand, and then slapped his horse on the rear, making his mare jolt forward with a whiney of surprise. Saaj waved as his mare cantered away, and Bodhi watched as she faded into the amber light of dusk. When she was gone, lost to the ambers and golds of dusk, he clutched the nose pin to his chest, then tucked it away in his breast pocket.
He really had the best family. At least if this didn’t work out, he’d still have them to go back to.
He arrived at Kaye’s home an hour after the sun had set, when it was just becoming too dark to go along the road any further without a torch. Thankfully, the horses knew the way to the village well, and the witch’s home was well known to all. When he arrived, he knocked but received no answer. He knocked again, and heard a clatter from indoors.
Kaye opened the door, his expression flat and unamused. “Oh,” he said bluntly. “It’s you.” He moved out of the doorway and gestured when Bodhi didn’t move. “Well, come in. You’re letting the warm air from the fire out.”
“Oh! Um…” Bodhi reached up and stroked his horse’s neck. “Where should I put Swiftwind?”
Kaye’s eyes moved to the great horse. Swiftwind snorted at him. Kaye blinked as if both offended and impressed. “What a lovely creature,” he said. He stepped out of the house, closing the door behind him, and raised a hand. A small ball of light appeared in the palm of his hand, emanating a soft light around them. “I’ve never kept horses before, but I’m sure we can put together a suitable arrangement.” Bodhi followed the man and went around the side of the house with him.
A small shed revealed itself as they moved closer to the woods. Kaye passed his orb of light to Bodhi. Bodhi fumbled it, but steadied himself after a moment. The orb was warm, but floated harmlessly above his palm. “Don’t drop it,” Kaye said. “I’ll need the light to see what I’m doing.” He raised his hands and shook his sleeves down his arms, then fixed his eyes on the side of the shed and started chanting. Bodhi watched in amazement as the side of the shed began to sprout beams of its own, as if the wood had forgotten it was dead and were trying to grow new branches. The wood sprouted leaves and flowers, flowing and weaving into a manger. When Kaye was done, an overhang to keep Swiftwind out of the weather, decorated with flowers and a plush gathering of leaves for the roof. The area was large enough for Swiftwind to stand or lay comfortably, but the lack of walls made Bodhi nervous.
He bit his lip, then spoke up. Nervous as he was, Swiftwind’s safety was more important than not troubling his new host. “The walls…” he said. “She won’t be out of the wind, and…”
“No need to worry yourself, I’ve magicked them.” Kaye pulled his sleeves back down his arms and took the orb of light back from Bodhi. “Hostile things won’t be able to get at her, she’ll be able to leave so long as she has no intention of wandering off when she’s no good reason, and it will keep the wind and the wet out. He smirked a little and quirked a brow at Bodhi. “Good enough for your noble steed?”
Bodhi swallowed and nodded quickly. “Thank you. I’ll just get her settled.”
Kaye nodded and handed the light back over. “I’ll finish fixing supper. Come in when you’re ready.”
Bodhi took the orb and watched, enraptured, as Kaye walked away. “What do you think, girl?” he asked, stroking Swiftwind’s mane. “Do you think I’ll ever be able to do magic like that one day?”
Swiftwind nickered and pushed at him gently with her nose, then pulled his shirtsleeve into her mouth and chewed impatiently. Bodhi laughed and scratched under her forelock. “Yes alright, dinner for you.” He led Swiftwind into her new stable and placed the light on a small dais that seemed like it might have been made for that purpose. Then he stored her gear, and brushed her before laying out some of the sweet hay and oats he had brought for her. He made a mental note to ask Kaye if there was someone they could buy hay from later—he’d only brought enough for a few nights. Then again, perhaps Kaye knew a spell for that instead. A thrill went through Bodhi’s stomach as he thought about the magic he’d just seen. He’d never thought that his powers might be something he could use differently. The longer his episodes had gone on, the more Bodhi had felt trapped by them. Now… Well, now Kaye had given him hope.
Bodhi felt his cheeks flush a little, and he felt for the nose pin in his shirt pocket.
He shouldn’t get his hopes up…
He clenched his fingers around the pin and held it to his chest just over his heart.
He shouldn’t get his hopes up—but what was the harm in dreaming?
He slipped the pin back into his shirt pocket, grabbed the saddle bags with his belongings, and headed inside—the ball of Kaye’s magical light floating in the palm of his hand. He juggled things to open the door, and finally stepped into his new home.
Kaye was sitting at a table near an inviting hearth, paging through a volume of something. Two bowls and two cups sat on the table, a spoon and napkin near each. A large pot bubbled over the fire, and the most delightful smell of soup rose to Bodhi’s nostrils. Herbs dried in corners and in bundles from the ceiling. Large glass jars full of powders, dried plants, and preserved things lined the walls. Large books were interspersed between the jars, perhaps lists or spells or some sort of cook book. Books were not the rarity they once were, but seeing them so abundant in a witch’s home gave people faith in their magic. Seeing something as worthy enough of recording in a book seemed to add to the interpreted value—even though the results of a witch’s work were plenty in Bodhi’s mind. This bottom floor and large entry way must serve as the room where Kaye conducted most of his business.
“Are you going to stand there gawking all night, or are you going to sit down and eat?” Kaye asked, turning a page.
Bodhi jumped and fumbled the ball of light in his hand. “Yes! Of course, thank you. Um, what should I…?” Bodhi help up the orb questioningly.
Kaye raised a hand and gave a swish of his fingers. The orb broke into a thousand shards of light, danced around Bodhi for a moment, and then dissipated. Bodhi stood, mouth slightly agape, gazing around him with a look of wonder. “That was beautiful,” he murmured.
Kaye’s blunt demeanor seemed to soften, and he laid down his book. “You’ll be able to do it too, with training.” He gestured to the table. “Now sit. I’ll serve the stew.”
Kaye took their bowls to the hearth and Bodhi sat politely at the table. “Why don’t you just use magic to have the stew serve itself,” he asked.
Kaye flicked an eye back to Bodhi as he ladled soup into their bowls. “And why don’t you run everywhere? Or spend all of your money at once? Or only take as many pairs of underclothes as you think you’ll need for a trip to visit your family?”
Bodhi blushed. “This was a stupid question?”
Kaye shook his head, setting Bodhi’s bowl down in front of him. “No. Not stupid. There are no stupid questions—especially where magic is involved.” He sat and took up his spoon. “I simply respond with questions you know the answers to so you can see the idiocy of using magic for things you can do perfectly well without it. There’s no sense using up something you might have need of later.” He gestured to the soup. “Speaking of which, you had best eat. Trying to do magic on an empty stomach or with too little rest is a recipe for disaster.”
Bodhi breath caught in his throat and he nearly choked on his stew. “We’re going to do magic tonight?”
Kaye shrugged. “I’m going to do magic. You’re going to watch, and take notes, and not break anything.”
Bodhi nodded enthusiastically. Any excuse to be near Kaye was a good one in his opinion—but the opportunity to finally watch what the man did with all the things he picked up at the market was a welcome one. It was almost intimate in a way. How many people could say they’d seen a witch brewing their potions or throwing shards of light around in the air? Bodhi took another mouthful of stew and sighed happily through his nose.
Kaye’s flicked to Bodhi and then to the stew. “It can’t be that good,” Kaye commented. He raised his spoon to his nose and sniffed. “I’m not much of a cook.”
Bodhi swallowed and lifted another bite. He also sniffed. “Well, a few spices could go a long way, but the base dish is sturdy enough.” He smiled at Kaye and then tucked the bite into his mouth. “Would you…like me to spice it up for you?”
Kaye blinked, then pushed his bowl towards Bodhi with a shrug. “Your sister did mention something about your cooking abilities, didn’t she?”
Bodhi rose happily with a small nod and went to his saddle bags. He removed a small vial of cayenne pepper and then returned to the table. He patted a small amount of the potent red pepper into his palm, and then gave Kaye a discerning look. “You’re not…allergic to pepper are you?”
Kaye shook his head. “No. And I don’t dislike spicy things. Pepper away. Worst you can do is make it a different kind of unsatisfyingly edible.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say that about your stew,” Bodhi said kindly. He sprinkled the pepper into Kaye’s bowl and stirred. “There, try that.”
Kaye drew the bowl to him and took a bite. His eyebrows rose and he chewed enthusiastically. “That was actually rather good,” he said after he swallowed—another bite already halfway to his mouth.
Bodhi smiled and settled across from the witch again, stirring his stew. “I’m glad I can repay you in some small way for the kindness you’ve shown me,” he murmured.
Kaye rolled his eyes and pushed his empty bowl away. “Please. I needed the help. If anything, I’m doing the world a mercy by showing you how to control your powers. It’s hardly kindness. Now.” He clapped his hands together and rose. “Finish your stew, and let’s get started.”
Bodhi finished his stew. Kaye showed Bodhi where they washed up their dishes, then showed him around the rest of the house. “These are the stairs to the upper level,” Kaye said, drawing aside a curtain. Bodhi blinked. He hadn’t even seen the curtain until Bodhi had touched it. Kaye smirked. “I keep it magicked so no one who doesn’t know it’s there can find it,” he explained. Bodhi followed Kaye up the stairs. “On the upper level we have the bedrooms and the workshop.”
“Bedrooms?” Bodhi asked. He hadn’t expected the witch to have space for him.
“I assumed you would want a space that was your own,” Kaye said. “I may have had to open a pocket dimension in the storage closet to clean out the room for you, but I assume it will be worth it.”
“You have another workshop too?”
Kaye grimaced. “After a child singed his eyebrows off meddling with an unfinished potion, I’ve found it less aggravating to keep the more dangerous and delicate parts of my craft separate from my storefront.”
Kaye reached the top of the stairs and opened a door. “This is your room.” He pointed to the other three doors in the hall in quick succession. “The one next to you is the privy, then my room opposite, and at the end of the hall is the workshop. Come join me once you’ve settled in.”
Bodhi nodded and smiled. “Thank you,” he said. “I’ll be quick.”
Kaye nodded and went down the hall. Bodhi walked into his room and let himself take it in. It was small, but cozy. A small cot rested in the corner, with a convenient bedside table next to it. A window along the far side of the room let light spill over the majority of the bed. Bodhi was used to rising early to tend for the horses, but it would be nice to have the extra light added to his mornings. A small chest of drawers and a comfortable looking chair took up the other two parts of the room. Bodhi placed his pack on the bed, tested out the chair, and then pulled the nose pin from his shirt pocket again.
Today had already been so wonderful. It was selfish to hope for more. He should mail this back to his sister, but…
Bodhi rose and opened the drawer of his bedside table, then wrapped the pin in a handkerchief and placed it safely inside. His sister was a wise woman. It would be better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Besides, a boy could dream.
Kaye’s voice came from down the hall. “Are you coming or not?”
Bodhi grinned excitedly and hurried from his room. “Yes!”
The magic lessons engulfed Bodhi like a whirlwind. Kaye started by having him watch. He talked Bodhi through his actions, explained what each ingredient did, what each step entailed, why everything was important, and which mis-measurements could lead to disaster. Bodhi soaked it up, watching, listening, and learning. Bodhi helped out in the shop as well. At first, Kaye’s customers seemed skittish, often asking for Kaye himself—but after the third time Kaye came out, stormy eyes flashing, to ask why the customer had needed him when Bodhi was perfectly capable of helping them, customers warmed to Bodhi’s unassuming and helpful nature. Bodhi also started cooking breakfast, and helping Kaye with dinner. Kaye’s grumpy morning moods were easy to mollify with his family’s thick, dark coffee and a little sugar and fruit added to his porridge. Eggs, pancakes, fat strips of bacon, and the occasional bit of fried dough stuff with cheese and herbs seemed to do the trick as well. The small additions and spice blends Bodhi helped Kaye develop for their evening meals seemed to please Kaye as well, and Bodhi caught Kaye simply sitting with a satisfied smile at the table after Bodhi had cleared their dishes.
The new habits became old, and then became comfortable routine. Days passed, and new tasks were added to Bodhi’s magical abilities. New foods were made for breakfast. New smiles sat on Kaye’s lips a the end of the day. Each night, Bodhi rolled his nose pin over in his fingers, thinking that it would be impossible to be happier than he was with his new life. He didn’t need more. This was enough.
Then, one day, when Bodhi went up to meet Kaye in the workshop after cleaning up from breakfast, Kaye changed the routine.
“Bodhi, you’ve seen me do this spell a few times now,” Kaye said.
“Mhmm,” Bodhi nodded, hovering over Kaye’s shoulder, eyes intently fixed on the vials in Kaye’s hands.
Kaye paused and pursed his lips. “Why not give it a try yourself this time?”
Bodhi froze for a moment. “I’m sorry, I thought you said…”
Kaye nodded, his eyes still fixed on the vials in his hands. “I did. Don’t make me repeat myself.”
Bodhi swallowed, both nervous and excited. This was the first time Kaye had asked him to take on an entire procedure. Up until now, it had always been little things—preparing ingredients or doing part of an incantation. Never the whole thing. It made his heart swell to know that Kaye trusted him enough to handle an entire spell on his own.
Bodhi bit his lip and raised a hand for the first vial. Kaye passed them over and then stepped back.
“I’ll be here for support, but unless I see you actively making a mistake, I won’t be interfering,” Kaye said. Bodhi nodded his understanding and then turned back to the work table, vials in hand.
This was a good luck potion for the Kingdom’s port, to have the wind favor their sails. A small magic circle sat upon the work table, and the ingredients had to be mixed over it while Bodhi recited an incantation. Then the potion had to be bottled and sealed specifically so the luck wouldn’t evaporate out of the mixture until it was ready to spread over the sails. All in all, it wasn’t a very dangerous potion, but it was still one that could backfire and leave a nasty curse on the poor fool who had botched the job. Nothing they couldn’t deal with, thanks to Kaye’s background in counter curses (seemed the kingdom officials were always getting themselves cursed one way or another, even with their progressive ways), but Bodhi didn’t want to mess up. He’d watched Kaye do this particular spell plenty of time—the kingdom had many ships, after all, and required more supply every few days. Bodhi could practically do this incantation and mix these measurements in his sleep. But it all felt different now that he was doing it by himself in front of Kaye.
Bodhi wanted to impress Kaye.
Quietly, Bodhi took a deep breath. Then he raised the vials over the magic circle and began to speak his incantation. The words flowed over his tongue like the sprightly spray of ocean water over the bow of a speeding ship. The consonants punctuated the flow like the cries of sea gulls riding currents of next to full sails in an open, clear blue sky. Bodhi tipped the green vial of powder into the vial of blue liquid, swirling the liquid as he poured to coax the powder to dissolve. He felt the mixture begin to heat under the words of the spell and over the power sealed in the circle drawn below. The energy of it was electrifying—power drawn and sealed into one place, right there in his hands. Bodhi’s shoulders relaxed as he mixed the potion. The feeling was so natural, so intoxicating. It was like he was born to do it—like now that the knew how, it was as easy and simple as breathing.
He finished mixing the potion, and reached for a cork for the potion—then halted. He should probably make sure his sealing herbs were prepped before he corked it.
“It’s been treated,” Kaye murmured from behind Bodhi. Kaye’s voice was soft, less cutting and commanding than usual. Bodhi felt himself warm under the sound of it, reassured and pleased that Kaye used such a soft tone with him.
He reached for the cork again, this time more confidently. He rubbed the rim of the vial with the cork, smearing the herb treated poultice inside the edges of the rim to be sure no liquid could slip through once he pushed the cork home. Then he plugged the vial, and set it in the middle of the circle of power to finish sealing.
Bodhi smiled, pleased with himself. He did it!
“Very well done,” Kaye said. Bodhi heard Kaye step up next to him, and then froze when Kaye set a hand on his shoulder.
Suddenly, the earth stood still. The birds that had been singing outside went silent. All the little motions of Kaye went still. The bubbling of the vial as the potion set under the confines of its seal froze as if caught in ice. The only thing Bodhi could tell was still moving was his heart—and it was thudding in his ears.
Oh no. Oh no oh no no no. Not again.
Bodhi reeled back from Kaye, and watched in horror as Kaye’s hand, facial expression, and posture didn’t change at all.
Bodhi clutched at the sides of his face. He’d stopped time again! But why? Nothing had been wrong! He hadn’t been in danger! Nothing terrible had been about to happen!
The lines around Kaye’s figure went fuzzy, and then the witch stumbled forward with a huff. He stooped for a moment, a hand to his chest, his breathing ragged and hard—like a horse that had been run too hard for too long. “What…” he gasped. “What in the names of the gods triggered this?”
Bodhi felt his heart race faster, panicking. He didn’t have an explanation. Kaye stood and caught sight of Bodhi’s nervous posture. His eyes went wide as he looked Bodhi over, and his stormy expression and scowl seemed to melt away.
“Bodhi,” he said apprehensively. “Take a breath. You’re alright.”
Bodhi shook his head. “There was nothing alright about this,” he whispered. “You said I could hurt people. I thought it would only happen when I was scared or in danger or something was wrong, but nothing’s wrong! Everything is perfect! And then you touched me, and I—”
“Hang on a tic,” Kaye interrupted. He lowered his hand marginally, like he was settling a thought. “Is that what triggers these episodes? Touch?”
Bodhi blinked. “What?”
“Your time episodes. That little girl at the choral was on your shoulder. You mentioned teleporting during that bar fight. If touch is the common denominator, that will be good for us to—”
“No!” Bodhi interrupted. Kaye gave him a shocked look. Bodhi cover his mouth with his hand. He hadn’t expected that to come out so loudly. “No,” he said again more softly. “This only ever happens when something bad is about to happen.”
Kaye’s look changed into something melancholy—almost hurt. “I apologize, then. I won’t touch you again.”
It felt like the breath in Bodhi’s throat had frozen. He didn’t know what to say to explain.
Kaye turned away. “But that still leaves us with the problem of resolving this episode. Last time it seemed like you snapped out of it by yourself, but this time it seems like it’s sticking.” Kaye turned back. “How do you usually get deal with them?”
Bodhi swallowed. Kaye had brushed past what Bodhi wanted to talk about. Did he go back even though he didn’t know what to say without revealing his feelings? Or did he press on?
In the end, it all came back to Kaye anyway.
“I usually…” Bodhi swallowed again, and cleared his throat. “I usually have to fix whatever’s wrong before I can get time to go back to normal.” He clenched his hands and screwed up his eyes. “But nothing’s wrong this time.”
Kaye sighed and leaned against the worktable. “Obviously something’s wrong, or we wouldn’t be here, Bodhi. Now, out with it. You’re tired of making deliveries on Swiftwind? You don’t want to eat any more of my bland cooking? You’ve realized you hate all this magic stuff and you want me to find you another mentor closer to your beloved horses and family?”
The cold terror that spread through Bodhi chilled him to the bone. “What?” he whispered.
Kaye blinked. “You mean, it isn’t one of those things?”
“Why would it be any of those things?!” Bodhi squeaked.
Kaye raised his hands in a frustrated gesture. “Because placing my hand on your shoulder led to you stopping time with some sort of magical defense mechanism!” Kaye sighed and placed a hand over his eyes. “I thought we were getting…close. You know, comfortable with one another. I didn’t realize it…that I would upset you.”
Bodhi surged forward and took Kaye’s hand. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!” He bit his lip, took a deep breath, and then held Kaye’s open hand against his cheek. “You didn’t upset me.” He blushed as Kaye’s warm brown eyes blinked at him. “I’m just…nervous.”
“Oh,” Kaye said, rather matter-of-factly. Then he blinked again and his eyebrows rose. “Oh,” he said again. Then his eyes flicked between Bodhi’s blush and his own hand pressed against Bodhi’s face. He blushed himself and then coughed somewhat nervously. “Yes, well then, that’s all in order.” He rubbed his thumb across Bodhi’s cheek and seemed to calm down. “I’m…glad I didn’t upset you.”
“Me too,” Bodhi murmured.
“So how do we get out of this, then? If you usually get out by fixing whatever is wrong?”
“Well, um…” Bodhi’s mind went blank, and every stupid fairytale he’d ever heard in his life about breaking spells with a kiss came running eagerly to mind. “We could…we could try a kiss?”
Kaye sniggered, obviously amused by the idea, but moved closer into Bodhi’s space, dropping his hand to Bodhi’s waist. Bodhi’s eyelids drooped as Kaye’s hip grazed against his own. He’d never dreamed he would have the witch so close to him that Bodhi could smell the clove and spices of their soap on Kaye’s skin.
“I suppose it’s worth a try, since the episode was brought on due to nervousness pertaining to romantic feelings,” Kaye said. He tilted his head, angling his lips over Bodhi’s. “I do feel it necessary to mention that kisses have no inherently magical qualities, however…”
Bodhi grinned and raised his head to match the angle of Kaye’s. “Agree to disagree.”
Kaye rolled his eyes as Bodhi leaned in. “Only if this works,” he whispered.
Their first brush of lips was clumsy, awkward, and shy. Bodhi had only kissed a few people in his time. Each had been different. He liked the glancing way that he and Kaye felt out their dynamic, like the tender brushing of hands, slowly becoming more tactile and bold as each new advance was met with similar enthusiasm. Kaye’s lips were plush and soft. Bodhi instantly blamed the ointment Kaye spelled for the farmers to keep their cows’ utters from chapping in the blustery autumn wind. Bodhi would have kissed him even if his lips had been the most chapped in the kingdom’s. It was like releasing a long-held breath—finally getting to let go and wrap himself in the warmth of the person he’d admired from a far for so long.
Kaye’s hand carded questioning into the hair around Bodhi’s hair fastenings. Bodhi nodded quickly and hummed an assent through their kisses. Kaye lifted his other hand from Bodhi’s waist and used both to untie Bodhi’s hair. The long dark locks Bodhi usually kept bound out of the way fell around his shoulders. Bodhi preened under Kaye’s touch as the other man stroked them. He’d never had another person play with his hair like this before—like a lover. As Kaye’s hand encircled his waist again, Bodhi deepened their kiss, letting his tongue slip gently against the other man’s longingly. Even as close as they were, he still wanted more. He placed his hand on the warm skin of Kaye’s neck, drunk on the smell and the feel of it.
He thought back to all the times he’d cursed his powers, how desperately he’d wished them away when the first episodes began. Now, he was thankful. Everything had brought him to this moment, necking with the man of his dreams in a home where they studied and did magic together.
The soft sound of birdsong brought Bodhi’s lips and hands to a halt. He pulled away from Kaye, and looked out the window. A blue bird flew by, its shadow flickering over the floor as it went. Bodhi looked to the worktable. The potion sat there, bubbling once more.
Kaye squeezed Bodhi’s waist and smiled warmly at him. “Looks like you did it.”
Bodhi grinned sheepishly and scratched at Kaye’s roguish stubble. “With some charming help from my mentor and the magic of kissing.”
Kaye smirked and pushed Bodhi away playfully. “Right, yes, kisses may sometimes be magical. Happy? Now go deliver this potion so I can think up some stupidly bland dish to try and celebrate that you can then make better with your family’s spices.”
Bodhi feigned a bow, grabbing the bottle and backing out of the room. His good mood carried him through saddling Swiftwind and his journey to the port. He was still cheery as he walked in the door when he came back home, but his heart jumped when he saw Kaye at the foot of the stairs with the wedding nose pin Bodhi’s sister had given him in his hands.
“Bodhi, I went looking for your spices myself, and I found this in your bedside table,” Kaye said. He looked up, his eyes scheming and curious. “It’s a wedding piece amongst your people, isn’t it?”
“Well, um, I—” Bodhi stuttered.
Kaye rose and approached him. Bodhi stood stock-still. Kaye raised the pin next to Bodhi’s nose and seemed to regard it, like a man trying to decide if the coloration suited his tastes or not. Then he smiled and tucked it into Bodhi’s breast pocket. “Let me know when you’re ready to use it.” He hesitated for a moment, then added, “Darling.”
Bodhi’s heart did another back flip, and suddenly, everything began to slow. Then it all stood still.
Bodhi blinked, then smirked. Time stopping twice in one day. Kaye would have to get used to calling kisses magical at this rate—and perhaps calling a few other things that too.
Bodhi put down his riding gear, and leaned against the shop counter, trying to look as alluring as possible for when Kaye inevitably joined him in the frozen moment.
He also made a mental note to write to his sister.
She had been right about him needing that nose pin.