Warlock grinned and climbed onto the bar. “And drinks!” he shouted. “Drinks for everyone!” The whole bar cheered.
Warlock laughed into the noise and raised his glass — piss-poor American beer but that was okay, that was college — and tipped it back. Some of it ran down his chin but he got most of it into his mouth. He raised his glass when it was empty, and everyone cheered again.
The place was packed. Warlock climbed — very carefully — down from the bar and fished his Dad’s black Amex out of his pocket. “Another one for me,” he said to the bartender, having to lean over to be heard, “and everything purchased in the next ten minutes goes on this card.”
The bartender took it with a good-natured grin. “You got it,” she said.
Warlock grinned back, but the moment the bartender’s back was turned he pulled out his phone, thumbed it on, and started a ten minute timer. It wasn’t the first time he’d done this, after all.
The guy next to him leaned over. “You’re trying too hard, you know.”
Warlock looked over. “What?”
The guy lifted his beer. “We’re at Harvard, man. Most of the people here can afford their own beer.”
Warlock snorted. “Shows what you know.”
The guy raised his eyebrows.
Warlock shrugged uncomfortably. “It’s just that up to seventy percent of students receive some form of financial aid.”
The guy looked surprised. “Really?” He looked Warlock up and down. “Not you, though.”
“No,” Warlock admitted, “but I would’ve had to if I hadn’t gotten into Harvard.”
The guy frowned. “Why?”
“Oh, you know,” Warlock waved a hand, “my father’s father’s father went here, and if I didn’t get in I’d be disowned.” He took a sip of his beer and looked over. “What about you?” He looked the guy up and down. “You don’t look hard up.”
He didn’t, but he clearly wasn’t from money either. He wore a loose sweater and regular jeans, casual, no logos that Warlock could see, nothing that said style. Still, he was good looking in a regular kind of way, with blond-ish hair that fell almost-but-not-quite into his eyes, decent shoulders, and sturdy-looking hands. They were nice hands. Warlock found himself imagining what he might be able to do with them before he had to stop and look away. Jesus, what the fuck was wrong with him? He couldn’t do shit like that here.
He cleared his throat and took another gulp of beer. “Uh, I mean, what brings you to Harvard?”
The guy opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted when Ed, one of the soccer players, stepped in between them.
“Hey, man!” Ed said, too loudly, slapping Warlock on the shoulder. He raised his glass and swayed a little. “Thanks for the beer!”
“You’re welcome,” Warlock said, suppressing a flash of irritation. He didn’t mind being touched most of the time, but Ed looked grimy. And sticky. Plastering a smile on his face, Warlock reminded himself of the plan. “Good game today.”
“It was wasn’t it?” Ed said, expansively. He grinned and raised his beer, clinking it against Warlock’s. “‘S nice to start the year off on the winning foot.”
Warlock forced himself to smile. “Absolutely.”
“Oh, hey,” Ed said, catching sight of someone over his shoulder and waving them forward. “This is Carl, one of the second-years. You’ve got to meet him.” He turned his head and bellowed. “CARL!”
Warlock winced. Ed turned back to him with a wide grin. “You’ve got to meet Carl, man. He plans the best parties.”
Warlock felt his face relax into a more natural smile. Finally.
“Thanks man,” Warlock said, meaning it this time. “I’d like that.”
Ed waved Carl over. Carl wasn’t as sticky as Ed and seemed like he could hold his liquor better. Either that, or he hadn’t had as much to drink.
“Thanks for the beer, dude,” Carl said.
“Carl, this is Warlock,” Ed said. “Warlock, uhh — ” He swayed a little as he peered into Warlock’s face. “What’s your last name again?”
Warlock grinned, feeling reckless. This was going to work. “Does it matter?”
Ed laughed. “No, man. No. Anyway, Carl, Warlock’s good.”
Carl smiled. “Absolutely. Hey, do you want to come to a rockin' party this weekend?”
Warlock smiled back. “I’d love to. Where and when?”
He got the information, knocked knuckles with Carl again, accepted a back-slap from Ed, and then the two guys walked away. Warlock held his grin until they were gone then turned and slumped, exhausted, against the bar for a second before he remembered where he was.
Back straight, he heard, like the ghost of a memory in his head, Eyes up. How will you command the armies of darkness with poor posture?
Warlock smiled to himself and straightened. To his surprise, the guy from before was still there, and nursing the same pint.
He smiled when he saw Warlock staring. “I don’t drink much,” he said, lifting his beer. He glanced back in the direction Ed had gone.“That looked exhausting, but like it went well?”
“It went alright,” Warlock said. “I scored a party invite, and from a second year, too.” And he’d done it without his last name.
“I heard,” the guy said.
He didn’t look or sound jealous, but Warlock suddenly felt kind of bad. “Uh, are you going?”
The guy snorted. “Hell no.”
Warlock frowned at him. “Why not?”
The guy screwed up his face. “I don’t do well with parties.”
“Ah,” Warlock said, understanding. “Anxiety. I get it.”
The guy peered at him. “Yeah,” he said, after a moment. “I guess you could call it that.” He seemed to hesitate and then put out his hand. “I’m Adam, by the way,” he said. “Adam Young.”
“Warlock.” He clasped his hand, hesitated, but decided to follow through. “Warlock Dowling.”
They both stared at each other.
“Huh,” Warlock said.
“Huh,” Adam said.
They were still shaking hands.
“Are you feeling okay?” Adam asked. “No sudden urge to, um, do anything, right?”
“No,” Warlock said. “How about you? You okay with, um, me?”
“Yeah,” Adam said, confused. “Why wouldn’t I be?”
“Oh, nothing,” Warlock said, and then realized he was still gripping Adam’s hand. He let go, blushing. “My dad’s just kinda famous, that’s all.”
Adam made a face. “Yeah,” he said, turning back to the bar and picking up his beer. “I know what you mean.”
Warlock looked at him. “Your dad, too?”
“Eh,” Adam started. “Kind of.” He started to say more but was cut off by a warble.
“Oh,” Warlock said. “That’s my phone. Give me a second.”
He pulled it out, shut off the alarm, and leaned over the bar. “Hey,” he said to the bartender, signalling to get her attention. “Ten minutes is up.”
“Right-o,” the bartender said. She finished pouring a beer, took the black Amex from the register, and handed it back to him. “Thanks, kid. Made my job easier.”
“No problem,” Warlock said. He pulled a twenty from his pocket and pushed it across the bar. “For your trouble.”
“Thanks,” the bartender said and turned away.
Warlock turned back to Adam. “Sorry about that,” he said. “I get why I didn’t recognize your name, though. It’s cause you're English, right? I mean, your dad.”
Adam made a face. “Sure,” he said.
“How are things over there?” Warlock asked. “I grew up just outside of London, came back here when I was eleven.”
“Oh yeah?” Adam asked, perking up. “I’m from a place just outside of London. You’ve probably never heard of it. Lower Tadfield?”
Warlock frowned. Lower Tadfield. Lower Tadfield. Did that sound familiar? “No,” Warlock said slowly. “I don’t think I have. Why, is it nice?”
Adam grinned. “It’s the best place in the world.”
Warlock couldn’t help but smile back. “Oh yeah? Why’d you come out here, then?”
“Oh,” Adam said, slumping again. “I had to get away.”
Warlock felt like putting a hand on his shoulder but held himself back. “That sucks. Something to do with your dad?”
“Eh,” Adam said, squinting. “I guess I could blame him, but it’s my fault, really. I could make him forget, you see, but I couldn’t forget myself, so nothing really changed.” He frowned. “I had a handle on things when I was younger, but then I hit sixteen, and — ” He put his fingers together and then burst them apart. “Boom.”
Warlock felt a stomach-churning thrill. Did he mean — ?
“You don’t say,” Warlock said, as nonchalantly as he could. “What did you do, snog the wrong girl?” He swallowed. “Or the wrong boy?”
He tensed but Adam didn’t shout or snort or look disgusted or anything. He just looked tired. “More like they snogged me,” he said, “but of course, I’m the one who got in trouble for it.”
Warlock could feel his heart pounding. “Yeah, I hear you. My, uh,” he couldn’t resist a quick look around to see if anyone was nearby before leaning in, “my dad freaked out when he found me kissing Bruce McArthur behind school one day after class.”
“Oh, yeah?” Adam said. He raised an eyebrow. Warlock swallowed, but Adam only smiled. “For me, it was Pepper and Wensleydale, both at once.”
“Dude,” Warlock said, and it was his turn to look impressed. “You got game. But, uh, they kicked you out of the country for that? That doesn’t seem fair.”
Adam sighed and turned back to his beer. “They didn’t kick me out,” he said, sounding depressed again. “I left. It wasn’t their fault. They didn’t even — ” He licked his bottom lip. “It won’t be forever,” he said, as if to himself. “That’s what I told Dog, and I didn’t lie. It’s just for a while. Just until I learn how to control it. Then I’ll go back.”
Warlock looked at Adam. He suddenly seemed very sad. Making a quick decision, he leaned over and knocked their shoulders together. “It’s okay, man,” he said. “We’re at college! This is the time to get out and try new things before we go home. Come on, tell me, why Harvard? What classes are you taking?”
Adam stared at him, but after a moment he smiled back.“Yeah, okay,” he said, “you’re right. Uh,” he screwed up his face. “Environmental stuff mostly, biology and the like, with a few classes in women’s studies and one on theology. You?”
Warlock felt impressed all over again. “That’s quite eclectic,” he said and looked away. “Just plain ol’ politics for me.”
Adam raised his eyebrows. “Yeah? You gonna be president someday?”
King and ruler of all the earth , came the sibilant voice again, only this time there was a rough echo of With kindness and love to all God’s creatures.
Warlock coughed. “Ah, probably not,” he said. “My dad’s in politics, though, so,” he shrugged.
“Ah,” Adam said, “he of the ‘Harvard or Else’ nonsense.”
“Yeah,” Warlock said, laughing. “That’s him.”
Adam smiled back, and then cocked his head. “What do you want to do, though?” His eyes flashed suddenly, like a strobe-light had gone off behind them. “What is it you desire?”
Warlocked blinked hard. “Sorry?” he said. His head felt fuzzy. “What’s that?”
“Shit,” Adam said, and he was just Adam again, without the weird almost-echo in his voice. “Shit, that’s what I mean about controlling it. I’m sorry. Don’t — ”
“Don’t what?” Warlock asked. Adam looked kind of freaked out. “You okay?”
Adam stared at him. “Of course I’m okay. What about you?”
Warlock frowned. “Yeah, I’m fine. Just kind of lightheaded there for a second.”
“Oh,” Adam said. He was staring at Warlock, and then he swallowed and turned back to the bar. “Sorry, yeah, of course. Good.”
Warlock looked at Adam. Was he shaking? “Adam,” he said, reaching out. “Are you — ?”
He got cut off by a sudden noise behind them. There was a shout and them some kind of a squeal, and suddenly a pretty blonde girl was draping herself over Adam, practically falling into his lap. “Hi,” she said, looking breathlessly up at him. “I’m Gloria.”
Warlock felt his eyebrows rise. Wow. Adam was good looking in a way Warlock was trying not to think about, but he didn’t expect —
“Back off, honey,” a deeper voice said. Warlock looked up to see a dark skinned and rakishly handsome man slide between them. He stared at Adam hungrily, leaning against the bar like he was making love to it. “I saw him first.”
“Too late,” Gloria said, wrapping both arms around Adam’s neck. “Finders keepers, losers weepers.”
Warlock glanced at Adam. He wondered idly which of them he’d choose, now that they were very clearly interested.
Except — Adam didn’t look happy. In fact, he looked pissed off and resigned and maybe a little sad.
And then he stood up.
“Well,” he said, and Warlock noticed that his voice had gone flat even as the blonde tumbled off his lap with a squeal. “I guess that was fun while it lasted.”
Warlock stared at him. “What?”
“See ya, Warlock,” Adam said, and turned, his shoulders already hunching as he walked out of the bar.
“Wait,” Warlock said, and it was half to himself and half to Adam, because — What?
He glanced back. The handsome man was staring after Adam with something like longing on his face, but also confusion, and the blonde was picking herself up off the floor and scowling.
Just until I learn how to control it, Adam had said.
Warlock shook his head, finished his beer, and hurried after Adam. He caught up to him a few steps down the road. Adam was easy to see, being the only guy walking away from the campus bar. He had his head down and his hands were stuffed into the pockets of his jeans. His shoulders were so tense they tucked just under his ears.
“Adam!” Warlock called out. “Wait!”
Adam didn’t look back. Warlock had to hurry to match strides with him. “Dude,” he said, putting a hand on Adam’s elbow. “Hold up.”
“What?” Adam snarled, spinning around to face him. “What do you — Oh.” He stopped and stared at Warlock. His face fell. “I’m sorry, Warlock. I don’t want to sleep with you.”
“Whoa, whoa, what?” Warlock said, stepping back. He felt a jab somewhere in the middle of his ribcage, but he ignored it. “Hey man, I know we were chatting and everything, but that’s a little much.”
Adam blinked at him. “What?”
“I wasn’t — I mean, even if you — I mean, you’re like, good looking and everything, but — ”
Adam slowly began to smile. “Oh — I’m sorry! I’m sorry, Warlock, I didn’t mean it like that. Well, I did, I’m just. Sorry. I thought you were —”
“Compelled by a sudden and inexplicable desire to sleep with you?” Warlock asked incredulously.
The smile fell off Adam’s face. “Yeah.” He said. “That.”
Warlock stared at him. Adam didn’t blink.
“You’re serious?” Warlock asked.
Adam sighed and turned away, running a hand through his hair. “Yeah,” he said. “I know, it’s weird, and it doesn’t make sense, and I can’t explain it, but — yeah. Ever since I hit sixteen it’s been building. I usually can’t talk with people for more than a few minutes without them glazing over, and it doesn’t get better. The people I knew the longest, they were the first to get hit, like they were already — already — primed for it, or something. My best friends —” He stopped and stared off into the darkness, his hands clenched into fists at his sides.
“I lost my best friends,” he said, after another minute. “And it sucked, and it didn’t get better, and so I thought I’d take off, go somewhere, to school in America where nobody knew me.”
Warlock stared at him. “So you came to Harvard? ”
Adam turned around with a tired grin. “Yeah,” he said. “Why not?”
Warlock had to laugh. “Okay.” He shook his head. “Dude.”
“I know,” Adam said, wry and tired, “this is weird.” He cocked his head. “You’re, ah, not freaking out as much as I thought you would. I mean, I haven’t told anyone else about this, but I kind of always figured —”
Warlock absolutely did not feel warm and privileged with that information. “Well,” he said, “this is weird, but,” he thought back to Nanny, and the magical gardens of his childhood, and he had to shrug, “but maybe I’m just used to weird stuff, is all.”
“Huh,” Adam said. He was still looking at Warlock. “Thank you.”
Warlock frowned. “For what?”
“I dunno,” Adam said, “for being cool about it, I guess. And for not, you know…”
“Throwing myself at you?” Warlock finished with a grin.
“Yeah,” Adam admitted.
Warlock ignored the twist in his gut. “No problem,” he said. He clapped Adam on the shoulder. “Hey, I know you’re not into parties, but do you want to, I don’t know, hang out sometime?” He hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “I’m staying in residence, over in Mower Hall.”
“Yeah,” Adam said, “that’d be cool. I’m in Straus.”
“Oh,” Warlock said. “Cool. Um, do you got a phone?”
Adam shot him a look. “We do have phones in the U.K., you know.”
Warlock laughed. “Yeah, I know. Here,” he dug his phone out of his pocket, “take mine and program in your number.”
Adam took it with a grin, typed for a second, and handed it back.
Warlock glanced at the contact info. “Adam Young,” he read. “Antichrist.” He cocked an eyebrow. “That, like, a nick-name or something?”
“No,” Adam said, shoving his hands back into his pockets. “I thought you just, ah, deserved to know.”
“Right,” Warlock said. Wow, the first friend he’d made on campus was weird . But cool? Adam was a cool kind of weird. “Thanks, man. I’ll text you back later so you have mine.”
“Great,” Adam said, and he actually sounded like he meant it, too. “I’m gonna — ” he hooked a thumb over his shoulder.
“Yeah,” Warlock said. “Night.”
He turned and walked back to his quad, and resisted a backward glance. A party invitation and a new friend. Not a bad night.
It turned out Adam was a pretty cool guy to hang out with. He was definitely weird, but he had a wicked sense of humour and seemed to come up with the best games. With his help, Warlock arranged a weekend paintball circuit, climbed more than a couple of trees, and pranked the hell out of his stuffy POLSCI101 professor.
Adam never came out to any of the parties, though, and he didn’t seem to have any other friends. Warlock slowly but surely got to know everyone in his program and could list twenty people he’d invite to a party without blinking but Adam kind of only seemed to have him.
It wasn’t Adam’s fault. Warlock saw multiple people go glazed and admiring if they spent too much time with him. The paintball masks seemed to help, and the game was pretty chaotic, but the D&D club they’d tried had been a disaster, and any kind of organized sport seemed right out.
“It’s not fair,” Warlock complained while they sat under a tree outlining papers one afternoon in early October. “You’re a cool guy. More people should be able to know that.”
Adam snorted. “I think they’ll survive without my glorious presence.”
“Yeah, but they shouldn’t have to,” Warlock argued.
Adam looked over and smiled. He seemed to be doing more of that lately. “Yeah? So you admit my presence is glorious?”
Warlock rolled his eyes to cover his blush. “No, you ass,” he said. “I just—” He looked away. He didn’t know why it bothered him so much, more than it did Adam anyway. It was just that he actually knew how cool of a guy Adam was and he wanted other people to be able to appreciate that.
Maybe more than he could. I don’t want to sleep with you still echoed sometimes through his head.
“Forget about it,” Adam said, and handed him the library book. “Prep your paper.”
Warlock squinted at the text. “Why hasn’t all of this been digitized yet?”
Adam smiled. “Don’t let my Uncle Az hear you said that. He’d have a fit.”
Warlock rolled over and looked at him. “Oh yeah?” He’d heard a little about Adam’s Uncle Az and Uncle C. He didn’t know what their real names were, just that Adam called them that, and that they lived together in England not far from Adam’s house. “He’s the one who runs the bookstore, right?”
“Yeah,” Adam said, smiling fondly. He always looked like that when he talked about his uncles. It was a different smile than the I-love-them-but-their-idiots look he got when he was talking about his parents or the still-pained-and-awful one he got when he was talking about his friends.
“Here,” Adam said, lying back next to Warlock and raising his phone. “Hold the book up. I’ll take a picture and send it to them.”
“Oh god,” Warlock said, but he was already lifting the book above his head. The late afternoon sun was behind them, and the cramped words were easy to read. “He’s going to murder me. Are they still coming for Thanksgiving like you said?”
“I think so,” Adam said, his head distractingly close to Warlock’s as he raised his phone. He snapped a pic of Warlock’s hands around the book, and typed below it, Why hasn’t all of this been digitized yet? and hit send with a winking emoji.
Warlock smiled but sat up, putting some distance between them. “I’m dead,” he said. “It’s been nice knowing ya.”
“Oh come on,” Adam grinned, “I took the bullet for you, didn’t I? I didn’t say it was you.”
“Right,” Warlock said, and shook his head. “So, am I still allowed to meet them?”
“Absolutely,” Adam promised. “Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
The number of parties Warlock got invited to continued to rise. He didn’t go to all of them, but he went to quite a few, if only for a couple of hours to talk to people and make the rounds. There was still the plan to think about, to make it at Harvard without using his dad’s name, though somehow that seemed less important now that he had a real friend who didn’t seem to care whose son he was.
But networking was still important, and more than that, it was fun. Nanny had taught him the basics — Keep your back straight and your shoulders confident. Look into their eyes. Smile. That’s all they’ll need to love you — but more often he was actually interested in what people had to say.
And sometimes people seemed interested back.
Mark Warhill seemed interested. He was a freshman doing poly-sci like Warlock. They had two classes together and had taken to sitting side-by-side in both, trading laptop power cables and going over reports. Mark’s dad was also someone famous, if not quite as famous as Warlock’s, so they had that in common too.
Warlock wasn’t in a hurry to get shot down again, and he knew he had an inappropriate crush on his best friend, so he didn’t push things, but one day Mark touched his arm as they were heading from their third class to lunch.
“Hey,” he said. “Are you busy this weekend?”
Something about the way he said it made Warlock’s heart pound inside his chest. “Uh,” he said, stalling for time. Was he busy? “I don’t think so. Why?”
Mark shrugged, shot him a quick glance, and looked away. “I don’t know,” he said. He always said it like that, I don’t know, pronouncing every syllable, so different from Adam’s slurred dunno. Nanny wouldn’t have approved, but Warlock liked Adam’s better. “Thought we might catch a movie.”
Warlock abruptly remembered that he and Adam did have plans, except they were nebulous post-paintball things, and Adam probably wouldn’t mind if he skipped out. Adam had just said he’d bring snacks if they hung out in Warlock’s dorm, which they often did on Saturday’s because Warlock’s roommate went home on weekends. It’d probably be best if Warlock cancelled, anyway. Adam had taken to sitting next to him on the bed while they played video games, and even though Warlock knew he didn’t mean anything by it, it’d been getting harder and harder to remind himself of that.
“A movie sounds great,” Warlock said.
“Awesome,” Mark said. “I’ll text you some options later? We’ll plan for something around maybe seven?”
“Yeah,” Warlock said, and then sucked in his courage. “Maybe we could, uh, catch some dinner or something, after.” In for a penny, in for a pound, after all. Or, as Nanny used to say, Once you catch them, reel them in and feast on their entrails.
Damn he missed her.
Mark shot him a smile. “It’s a date.”
Warlock swallowed, but met his eyes. “Yeah,” he said. “It is.”
“You’re what? ” Adam shouted. His voice was like thunder over the phone, rich and clipped and booming. “You’re ditching me to go on a date?”
Warlock winced. “Yeah, uh, Mark, you know? You’ve met him.”
“Yes, I have,” Adam seethed, and Warlock could hear him breathing over the line, “and he’s a dick.”
“Wow,” Warlock said, frowning now. “That’s harsh. No, he isn’t.”
“Yes, he is, ” Adam said. “All he cares about is making cronies and climbing to the top and pleasing his father.” He paused, and Warlock had just enough precognition to know whatever he was going to say next was going to be mean, was going to hurt. He tried to open his mouth to beat him to it, but Adam steamrolled over him. “I guess I can see why the two of you get along.”
“Dude,” Warlock said, gut-punched even though he’d known it was coming. “What the hell is wrong with you?”
“Nothing,” Adam seethed. “Have fun on your date.” And then he hung up the phone.
“What the hell?” Warlock asked, staring down at his mobile. “Some best friend you are.”
Warlock did his best to forget about Adam’s over-the-top reaction before his date. It wasn’t easy, even though Adam had stopped waiting for him like he usually did after class. And stopped texting him. And ignored him so completely that didn’t hang out together all week. Warlock pulled out his phone a half-dozen times, but he wasn’t about to break the silence first. He thought maybe they could talk about it at paintball, but Adam didn’t show, and Warlock didn’t have nearly as much fun without him.
Still, Saturday afternoon he washed his face and shaved his chin and put on something that might be considered ‘date-clothes’ — not that he’d ever gone on a date before — and told himself it didn’t matter. Adam had a stick up his ass about something, but whatever it was, Warlock didn’t have to care.
I don’t want to sleep with you.
Yeah, Warlock didn’t have to care at all.
Mark met him outside his building, idling on the road in his car. Mark had a last-year’s Audi, a college gift from his dad, and Warlock slid into the passenger seat with only a twinge of discomfort, remembering what Adam had said. But he was wrong because Mark wasn’t like that. He proved it by looking over at Warlock, smiling. “Ready to go?”
Warlock nodded yes, and Mark eased them out, driving slowly through campus and then faster when they hit the open road. They got to the movie in record time, found their seats, and settled in.
It was… nice. Seeing a movie while on a date wasn’t too different from seeing a movie with friends, though Warlock hadn’t done that since highschool. Adam couldn’t sit for the two hours a movie would take without people jumping rows to proposition him, and Warlock hadn’t wanted to go with anyone else.
The movie was okay, enough to generate conversation later when they were seated at the gastropub Warlock had picked. It was nice, close to the theater but far from campus, so they weren’t between a whole bunch of college kids. The pub had a relaxed feel and good food, and, most importantly, Warlock hadn’t been here before with Ad— that is, with anyone else.
It was the perfect place for a first date.
“I don’t know,” Mark said, spearing a deep fried pickle with his fork. “I think the second act was kind of disappointing. They dithered too long before getting to the end. I didn’t care for what’s-her-name, the romantic interest. I just wanted to see the explosions.”
“... Right,” Warlock said. He’d like the woman himself. She’d been interesting. It would have been better if they’d given her more to do though. “They were pretty good explosions.”
“Yeah, they were,” Mark said with a grin, and he was about to say something else when a growling voice came from behind him.
“Get a room!”
Mark stiffened, so tense Warlock thought for a moment he’d been electrocuted. He felt his heart pounding himself, but he forced himself to peer over Mark’s shoulder and see what was going on.
There was a big guy sitting at the bar, thick and wearing a ballcap, and he was gesturing to someone outside.
It was nothing to do with them. Warlock exhaled. Then he glanced out the propped-open windows and froze.
Mark must have seen his expression because he frowned and turned around. “Oh, come on,” he said, his voice derisive. “Honestly.”
Warlock couldn’t look away. Outside on the street, two guys who had been embracing were pulling apart and shuffling along. They still held hands, but they must have heard what the bar-guy said because one of the two shot a dirty look over his shoulder as they left.
“What were they thinking?” Mark asked, turning back to Warlock, shaking his head. “Anyway, you were saying?”
Warlock wet his suddenly dry lips and tried to remember. What had he been saying? And what did Mark mean, what were they thinking? Was he talking about the two guys? Or something else?
He made it through the rest of dinner but waved aside desert and climbed back into Mark’s Audi when it was time to head back.
“Thanks,” Warlock said, stepping out of the car and looking up at his building. “Uh, do you — ?”
He glanced at Mark. He’d gotten out of the car as well, even though the wind had picked up, and he was leaning against the driver’s side door.
He looked really good like that, Warlock noticed. On impulse, he leaned in closer. “Hey, handsome.”
“Whoa!” Mark said suddenly, pushing him away. “What the hell are you doing?”
Warlock went from hot to cold so fast he felt dizzy. “Uh — ”
Mark dropped his hands and looked both ways across campus before stepping in closer. “You ask me to come upstairs, or you invite yourself over to my dorm, but you don’t just try something in the middle of the Quad, man.”
Warlock blinked, trying to make sense of that. “What? Why?”
Mark looked at him like he’d sprouted two heads. “I’m in poly-sci. So you are. Don’t you want to get into politics some day?”
“Well,” Warlock said, still not entirely sure about that himself. Nanny had said — But Nanny had left, and Warlock had other skills. “Maybe.”
“Well I do,” Mark said, “and I don’t want to be one of those guys, you know?”
Warlock felt like the world suddenly turned upside down. He felt lightheaded. “‘Those guys?’”
“Yeah,” Mark said, and made a face. “You know.”
“You told me to invite you up to my room,” Warlock said slowly, “so you’re into me, but you don’t want people to know that?”
“Hey, I’m not gay,” Mark defended, stepping back again. “I just like to fool around. And come on, we had fun tonight, right?” He grinned.
Warlock shook his head. “Not really,” he admitted. He sucked in a breath and then took a step back. “I honestly didn’t enjoy myself that much.”
“Oh,” Mark said. He looked hurt for a moment but then shrugged. “Okay. Well. I guess I’ll see you around?”
“Yeah,” Warlock said, and it came out as flat as he felt. “See ya.”
Mark nodded and got into his car. He closed the door firmly with a click, and drove away.
Warlock watched him go, mostly because he wasn’t sure what else to do. Eventually he turned, fished out his keys, and shuffled up the stairs to his room.
“I just want to say,” Adam said, speaking too fast, twisting his hands together, “that I’m sorry, and that it’s okay.”
Warlock stared at him dumbly. He felt like he’d been doing that a lot today. It was the Monday after his disastrous date with Mark, and while he didn’t feel like he’d gotten his heart broken, he was still getting used to the way his world had shifted. “What?”
“Your thing,” Adam said, still looking massively uncomfortable. He’d accosted Warlock after his first class and had dragged him to their usual tree across the street. “With Mark. He’s a pillock, and I still say you could do better, but that’s fine. I’m sorry I freaked out on you when you called. That wasn’t cool of me, and I feel bad about it.” He ran one hand through his hair while the other kind of flopped until it rested on his hip, and then he squirmed again. Finally he stuck his hand out at Warlock like that first night they’d met. “Friends?”
Warlock smiled. For the first time in days he felt like he knew which way was up. “Yeah, man,” he said, shaking Adam’s hand tightly. “Friends.”
“Cool,” Adam said, and he actually sounded relieved about it. “So, uh,” his eyes darted around again. “How did it go with Mark?”
Warlock heaved out a sigh and collapsed onto the grass. “Oh my god,” he said, “It was terrible. You were totally right about him.”
Adam grinned, wide and brilliant and so bright it was like looking into the sun. “Yeah?”
“Yeah,” Warlock said and punched him in the arm. “Don’t gloat about it.”
“No, no, mate,” Adam said, but he was still smiling. “I would never.”
Life settled back into a sort of pattern after that. Warlock didn’t try to date again, and Adam didn’t freak out on him. They wrote papers and played paintball and made it through Hallowe’en with most of their dignity intact. Slowly but surely they got through the first week of November, even with the stress of exams just starting to settle in. Talk turned to Thanksgiving.
“So you’re not going home?” Adam confirmed for what must have been the fifty-sixth time.
“No, man, I told you,” Warlock said, underlining a concept he had to expand on in his second paragraph. Adam said it was wasteful to print out so much paper, but Warlock did his best editing with a red pen. “My dad’s in Washington and my mom’s visiting her sister. They said I could go with either of them but...” he shrugged.
“You’re gonna slum it instead with me?” Adam asked with a grin, knocking their shoulders together.
“It’s hardly slumming,” Warlock argued. “The cafeteria’s going over the top this weekend, and there’s lots of people staying. Besides,” he said, trying to play it cool, “you mentioned that your uncles were coming.”
“They are,” Adam confirmed. “They haven’t spent much time in America, at least not in the past couple of years. They don’t really get the whole ‘Thanksgiving’ thing. They do know that we have a couple of days off, though, and they want to see Harvard.” He grinned. “I can’t wait for you to meet them. You’ll like them, I’m sure.”
“Oh yeah?” Warlock asked. He felt pretty nervous about it himself. “You sure?”
“Absolutely,” Adam said. “They’re pretty cool guardian an — I mean, uh, people. You’ll see.”
“Okay,” Warlock said. “I’m more worried that they’re not going to like me.”
“Dude!” Adam laughed. “You’re, like, you. Who could not like you, man?”
“Seriously?” Warlock asked, ignoring how warm the complement made him feel. “You’re the guy people can’t seem to get enough of.”
Adam waved that aside. “That’s different, you know that. That’s biology. You’re, like, sociology, man. You’re an expert on people.” He shook his head. “You’re going to make one hell of a politician one day.”
Warlock swallowed and looked away. And they shall be your armies and generals, rang in his head, except he didn’t know what he actually wanted to do with his life. “I don’t know,” he said. “It’s taken a lot of work not to be a bratty ass kid. I was pretty terrible growing up.”
“Eh,” Adam shrugged. “Who isn’t?”
“No, no,” Warlock said. “You know my Nanny I’ve told you about?”
“Well one day she told me I couldn’t have friends over after school because I had homework to do, so I filled her stockings with liverwurst and glued her shoes to the floor.”
“No!” Adam gasped, falling over laughing. “You didn’t!”
“Oh, I did,” Warlock said. “She was pissed.”
“How old were you?” Adam asked.
Warlock looked away. “Ten.”
“Only a year until she left you,” Adam finished quietly. He was getting too good at finishing Warlock’s thoughts. “Hey, man,” he said, bumping their shoulders together. “I’m sure that’s not why she took off.”
“Maybe,” Warlock said, swallowing heavily. He shook his head to clear it. “Anyway, I’m a bad influence, is all I’m saying.”
Adam smirked. “Yeah. Tell me another one.”
Warlock rolled his eyes and turned back to his paper. They were sitting in the library, in one of the many corners, making notations and studying. There were several of other students sitting around them tapping on their laptops or flipping through large books. Warlock heard a commotion and looked up.
Mark was standing across the room.
Warlock blinked. Mark was the first face he’d recognized, but there were actually a few different guys standing around. That their feet was a kid with a rainbow coloured backpack. He was scowling and picking up his things. It was clear that someone had just tripped him. All the guys were pointing at him and laughing.
Warlock felt sick.
“What?” Adam said, looking up. He caught sight of Mark. “Hey, wait. What the hell is he doing?”
Warlock shook his head and looked down. “It doesn’t matter, man. It’s fine. The kid’s fine.”
He was. He was getting to his feet and shooting furious looks over his shoulder, but he was okay.
“That doesn’t matter,” Adam said in an almost unrecognizable tone of voice. “They don’t get to laugh at people. Mark doesn’t get to laugh.”
Warlock looked over him and started. Adam was — Adam was pissed. His face was twisted into an expression Warlock had never seen before and he’d clenched his hands into fists at his sides.
“Hey, man,” Warlock said cautiously. “It’s okay, it’s— ”
“No,” Adam said. His voice was like ice while at the same time it was on fire. He stood up from the couch and then rose onto the balls of his feet, getting taller, and —
Warlock blinked. No. Adam didn’t rise onto the balls of his feet. He’d — lifted off the floor. He was levitating. He was actually hovering off the ground, a good inch or two between his running shoes and the floor, and what the hell? What the fucking Hell?
Adam didn’t looked at him. He was staring across the library glaring, and a brisk wind suddenly blew through the crowded stacks. Warlock looked around, but they were still indoors. No one had opened a window.
Of course they hadn’t. It was November. Which meant Adam was —
“Hypocritical,” Adam was saying, except it was hard to make out his words because he’d clenched his teeth so tightly together his voice sounded more like a growl. “He should pay. ”
“Adam, no, ” Warlock said desperately. He stepped closer. Should he touch him? Was it like a seizure? “Adam, leave them alone.”
“He shouldn’t have touched him,” Adam said. His voice was doing that odd thrum-vibrating thing Warlock had pushed to the back of his mind. “He didn’t have the right. ”
Warlock licked his lips. He had to do something. He couldn’t be afraid because whatever was going on, this was still Adam. This was still his best friend.
“Okay,” Warlock said, getting up and moving until he was standing right in front of Adam to block his view of Mark and his friends. “You’re scaring me. You need to stop.”
Except then Adam looked at him, and Warlock gasped.
Adam’s eyes were — Adam’s eyes were —
Red and glowing, like the pits of Hell, and just as disturbing. Those eyes looked at him like they didn’t know him, and that was the worst thing of all.
“Adam,” Warlock said, and this time it came out a whisper.
Adam’s horrible eyes narrowed, and then he blinked, and — suddenly — he snapped out of it. He sucked in a breath and fell to the floor, staggering a little as he came down with a hard jolt. He shook his head, once and then twice, like the dog he talked about often, the one he’d had to leave behind at home.
The dog he’d said helped him. Did he help him with stuff like this?
Warlock swallowed. “Adam,” he said, and reached out. “Are you okay?”
Adam opened his eyes. They were his eyes again, thank God and everyone, and Warlock could see the moment they filled with regret.
“Shit,” Adam whispered, staring at Warlock. “ Shit, Warlock, I’m so sorry. I — ”
Spinning around, Adam grabbed his laptop and then his bag. Then he did something Warlock had never seen him do before.
He ran away.
Warlock stumbled around for the next two days in a daze. He was lucky the day after it — it — had happened had been a Friday, and then it was the Thanksgiving weekend. He wasn’t sure what had happened in his classes the day before, and for once he didn’t care. He just kept running what had happened over and over again in his mind, coming up blank and freaked the fuck out.
Adam had — And then he’d — And he’d said —
How was Warlock supposed to deal with this?
He finally got some sleep Friday night, and when he woke up he had a better idea of what to do. It wasn’t a great plan, but it was something.
It was also simple: He’d find Adam, and then he’d ask him what that was. And Adam would tell him because Adam was his best friend, and Warlock wasn’t scared of him.
He wasn’t. Adam was — Adam. Warlock liked him more than he knew he should, and that hadn’t changed. Even if Adam could apparently levitate off the floor, turn his eyes into coals, and make wind blow indoors. That was all… weird… but Adam was a good guy, and he would explain.
If Warlock could ever find him.
Adam wasn’t anywhere. Warlock checked all their usual haunts — the bench between the Quads, the tree outside his first class, the other tree outside his second, the library, the Caf. In desperation he even went to Adam’s room, getting another student to buzz him in, but Adam wasn’t there.
Adam wasn’t anywhere. Warlock wandered around the whole campus and finally collapsed back where he’d started on their bench between the Quads. He put his head between his hands and groaned. What was he going to do?
Cursing under his breath, Warlock pulled out his phone. He’d sent twenty-odd text messages to Adam already, and there’d been no response, but hey, maybe sometime in the last thirty seconds Adam had texted back.
Warlocked sighed and moved to put his phone away, and that was when he saw them. Across the lawn, sitting on another bench, not too far away.
Adam, with someone else he didn’t recognize. And — Nanny?
Warlock wasn’t even aware of moving until he felt the half-frozen grass crunch under his feet. It was Nanny, obviously Nanny, except she’d styled her hair differently and was wearing pants. The other guy, the one on Adam’s other side, was itchingly familiar, but it wasn’t until he’d turned around, seen Warlock, and said, “Oh, my goodness,” that Warlock was able to slot him into his mind.
“Brother Francis,” Warlock breathed.
Adam and Nanny had been sitting talking to each other, but at Warlock’s words they flinched. Moving as one, they turned around to stare at him. Adam’s eyes widened. Nanny’s expression froze. “Warlock,” they said together.
Warlock stared at the three of them. He felt like he was being split in two — his past and his future. Adam. Nanny. Brother Francis.
Adam. Nanny. Brother Francis.
Warlock clenched his eyes shut.
“Warlock,” Nanny said, and Brother Francis was there, putting a hand on her shoulder. Holding her back or pushing her forward, Warlock wasn’t sure.
“Warlock,” Adam said. He was still on the bench but Nanny and Brother Francis had moved to step in front of him. To protect him?
“Warlock,” Adam tried again, and voice was a croak.
Except for once Warlock wasn’t looking at Adam because between Nanny and Brother Francis, something shimmered. Something Warlock had always told himself he hadn’t seen or hadn’t properly remembered.
Big, bold, beautiful wings — two sets. One achingly white, the other deepest black.
And standing between them was Adam.
Warlock shook his head. No.
And yet —
Lower Tadfield. The Fields of Megiddo.
That’s one big avocado.
Atlantis, rising from the sea. Giant squids. And then the next day, nothing. Strange sights and portents that no one seemed to remember except him.
He thought he’d had a vivid dream.
Except Adam never talked about the year he turned eleven.
Warlock had been born in Lower Tadfield.
You will rule all the countries of all the Earth, Nanny had hissed, singing him lullabies of destruction. And Brother Francis, always ready with a kind word, urging him to be better, to think of others, to rule well.
Until the day after his eleventh birthday when mother had declared that they were closing up the London house for good, and the staff had all been let go. Except wasn’t it funny? Because Nanny and the gardner had already tendered their resignations so that was one thing she didn’t have to worry about, at least.
Warlock had felt like his heart was breaking. Neither of them had even said goodbye. He was sure it had been his fault.
Warlock stared at his best friend. “You’re the Antichrist.”
Adam looked like he wanted to deny it, but he couldn’t. He met Warlock’s eyes and swallowed. “Yeah,” he said.
Warlock blinked and looked at Nanny and Brother Francis. They’d relaxed slightly and made more room between their bodies for Adam, but Warlock could still see their wings hovering just outside of his perception. He guessed on some level he’d always known they were there, had always know what these two beings were.
“You’re his guardian angel,” Warlock said to Brother Francis. He tried to look at Nanny, but he couldn’t. He looked at her shoes instead. “And you’re his — you’re his demon. You were sent to watch over him.” He swallowed. “And not over me.”
“Warlock,” Brother Francis started. He stepped forward.
Warlock stepped back. He couldn’t look at any of them. His eyes were stinging, and the wind was cold.
“You left me,” he found himself saying. “You both left me for him. And I can’t even blame you because I’d have left me for him too.”
Nanny’s face crumpled. Brother Francis looked like he was about to cry.
Adam — Adam looked gutted.
“Warlock,” he tried again but Warlock had heard enough. He shook his head, ignoring the grass crunching underfoot, and ran away.
Their tree was cold.
Warlock didn’t have many places he could go. His roommate would be in his dorm, the library was closed for the holiday weekend, and he didn’t want to go and sit in the Caf. He’d walked blindly across the campus and found himself at their tree, the one behind his second class where he and Adam hung out sometimes because Adam liked trees and Warlock didn’t have the heart to deny him. It was bitingly cold outside, and the bark was rough against his back, but at least there was no one else around. Warlock should be safe from interlopers here.
Except there was the crunch of grass, and when Warlock looked up, Nanny was lowering herself to the ground beside him.
Warlock swallowed heavily and looked away. He wished he was strong enough to tell her to leave.
“You were such a sweet child,” Nanny said after several minutes of silence. “Except when you were a hellion, of course.”
Warlock licked his lips and looked over, trying to think of something to say. He wanted to, but his eyes caught on her sharp cheekbones and the remembered panes of her face.
“You left me,” he said again. It wasn’t what he’d meant to say.
Nanny turned to him and nodded. She’d never sugar-coated things for him. “I did. We did. Both of us.”
Warlock nodded and hugged his knees to his chest. “You found Adam instead.”
“We… realized that we’d gotten the wrong baby in the confusion. The Antichrist was supposed to have gone to the American ambassador. There was a mix-up. Adam went to Lower Tadfield instead.”
Warlock picked at the frozen grass. “And after?”
Nanny cocked her head. “After?”
Warlock shrugged a shoulder. “I remember that day, the day everyone else seems to forget. I thought it was a dream. Now that I know about the two of you, and about him, well...”
Nanny smiled. “You always were a bright boy.”
“Stop it,” Warlock hissed. He spun around to face her. “Stop it, you lied to me, you left me, you sent me away — !”
“Oh, Warlock, no,” Nanny said.
“Don’t lie to me,” Warlock growled. “My dad’s sudden desire to move back to America? To move to New York? You’re telling me that wasn’t you?”
Nanny’s hand lifted from the cold grass, hovered for a moment, and then settled on her knee. “We wanted you as far away from everything as you could get. Aziraphale argued for Australia, but that would have taken too much time, and your father already wanted to go back to America. I felt New York was a good choice. There was a chance,” she hesitated, “just a chance, but there was a real possibility that you’d be safe there.”
Warlock laughed, deep and bitter. “Yeah? Safe from what?”
“From Adam,” Nanny said seriously.
Warlock felt something catch in his throat. “What were you afraid he was going to do?”
Nanny didn’t look away. “Start a war. Destroy the world. Destroy — everything.”
“And you thought I’d be safe in New York? ”
Nanny sighed. “No,” she admitted. “Not really. But we had to try.”
“Are you sure?” Warlock asked. He glared. “Are you sure you didn’t know this would happen?”
Nanny blinked. He could see it behind her glasses. “What?”
Warlocked looked away.
Nanny put a hand on his arm. “Warlock,” she said, and it was just like how she’d used to say it, like his answer was important. Like he mattered. “What?”
Warlock swallowed. “I’m in love with him.”
Nanny breathed out. “With Adam,” she said. It wasn’t a question.
Warlock couldn’t say anything. He nodded.
Nanny squeezed his arm. Warlock looked over.
She was... smiling. “So it really was you then. The boy he kept texting about, the one who made him laugh, who seemed resistant to his powers. His best friend, who we both knew was more than that.” She was still smiling. “That was you.”
“I dunno,” Warlock said, unwilling to meet her eyes. “Was it?”
“Yes,” Nanny said, ever gentle. “I think it was.”
Warlock sighed and laid back on the grass. It was cold but so what? It felt good to focus on something else. “So what’s Brother Francis’s real name, anyways? What’s yours?”
“Usually?” Nanny said. “I’m called Crowley. He’s Aziraphale.”
“And you’re a demon,” Warlock said. It wasn’t a question.
“A fallen angel,” Nanny — Crowley? — answered. “Yes.”
“So he’s just an angel then.”
Nanny’s nostrils flared. “He’s not just anything.”
Warlock stared up at the sky. So it was like that, then. “The two of you are really together?”
Nanny sighed. “We are,” she said. “Though we weren’t back when we worked for you. For your father, I mean.”
Warlock thought of the glimpses he’d seen, the way Nanny’s mouth would pinch when she looked at the lawn, the way Brother Francis’ eyes would follow her. “You sure about that?”
Surprisingly, Nanny laughed. “No,” she said. “I guess not.”
Warlock nodded. They sat for a moment.
“I’m still really pissed at you,” he finally said.
“I know,” Nanny admitted. “For what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
“For getting stuck with me to begin with? Or for running into me now?”
“For leaving you,” Nanny said sincerely. “We should have come to find you later. We should have checked.”
Warlock swallowed around the lump that was suddenly in his throat. “Sure,” he said. “Okay.”
Nanny sat with him on the grass until he started to shiver, and then Brother Francis — what had Nanny called him? Warlock could only remember ‘Uncle Az’ — hurried over.
“Oh dear, you’ll catch a chill. Look at you, you — ” He snapped his fingers, and suddenly Warlock was warm from the inside out. His clothes were so hot they steamed.
“Come on inside,” Uncle Az said with a flutter. Somehow, it didn’t seem right to think of him as ‘Brother Francis’ without the teeth. “It’s much warmer there.”
“If it’s all the same to you,” Warlock said, stiffly, not really looking at anyone, “I’d like to be alone right now.”
“Yes, right, of course,” Uncle Az said. He wrung his hands together. “I hope you know, dear one, that Crowley and I — that we — I mean to say that — ”
His voice trailed away.
Who knew even angels could get tongue-tied?
“You were both just doing your jobs,” Warlock said flatly. “That’s all.”
“Oh,” Uncle Az said. He sounded heartbroken. “It wasn’t really — ”
Nanny cut him off. “We’ll be here,” she said firmly, catching Warlock’s eyes somehow, even with her dark glasses. She’d always been able to do that. “When and if you’re ready to speak with us again. We’ll be here.”
Warlock swallowed. “What about London?”
“We’ll be here,” Nanny repeated. “Just let us know.” She turned and took Uncle Az’s arm. “Adam has our numbers.” She pulled Uncle Az, and he turned reluctantly. They walked away.
Warlock watched them go, unsure what to feel.
“... um, hey,” Adam said, quietly.
Warlock turned to face him.
Adam looked miserable. His face was drawn and haggard. There were bags under his eyes, like he hadn’t slept. Warlock couldn’t help but stare because he’d never seen Adam look anything but gorgeous.
Even when he was wearing high-tops and a t-shirt, he always looked perfect.
“Hey,” Warlock said. He gestured behind him. “Sorry, for…”
But Adam shook his head violently. “ No,” he said. “I’m the one who’s sorry. I’ve been an ass, and — and I scared you, and I promised myself that I’d never do that, not again, not to you.”
Warlock looked up at him. “Why not?” he asked. “You’re the Antichrist. The world and everyone in it is supposed to love and desire you. I’m just the nobody who got caught in the middle.”
“You’re more than that,” Adam said fiercely.
“I’m not,” Warlock said. “I’m the accident.”
“Then you’re the best damn accident the world has ever seen,” Adam snarled. “You’re the reason the whole thing went the way it did. They thought you were me, don’t you get it? Because of you, they left me alone. And that saved everything.” He stepped forward and took Warlock by the arms. “You’re perfect, just like I’ve always said you were.”
Warlock stared at him. “You don’t mean that. I get it now — I’m the only guy who can stand to be around you, the only one not affected by the, whatever it is, you’ve got. I probably developed an immunity after spending so much time around an angel and a demon. So I know you’re my friend, but beggars can’t be choosers. You’d be friends with anyone who didn’t throw themselves into your arms.”
Adam didn’t let go. “Maybe I’d be relieved to find somebody like that,” he admitted, “but that person wouldn’t be you. They wouldn’t laugh at my stupid jokes. They wouldn’t kick my ass at paintball. They wouldn’t — ” He stopped and swallowed. “They wouldn’t get that hitch in their voice when they laughed or grin with half their face when they’re trying to study.”
Slowly, so slowly, Warlock blinked.
Adam was still staring at him, stricken. “They wouldn’t be you,” he said. “They wouldn’t look at me the way you do, and I wouldn’t want to kiss them to make them stop.”
Warlock had to be dreaming. “What?”
“I’ve been head over heels for you for ages now,” Adam said, quietly, “and I’ve been terrified the entire time.”
Warlock couldn’t believe his ears. “Why?”
“Because I knew that if I kissed you, and you kissed me back, I’d never know if it was because I made you, or because you wanted to all on your own.”
Warlock couldn’t look away. There was no thrum in Adam’s voice, no strobe-like glint in his eye. He was just — Adam. Odd, wonderful Adam. His best friend.
Warlock didn’t have to think about what he was feeling. It was right there, messy and confused and imperfect, nothing that could be created. An illusion wouldn’t be as painful as this.
“If you were making me feel this,” Warlock said evenly, “I’d have the urge to hit you a lot less.”
Adam’s eyes widened. “Really?”
“I want to smack you right in your stupid mouth,” Warlock promised.
“Warlock — ” Adam breathed. He was starting to smile.
“And maybe kick your ass a couple of times,” Warlock continued, “and maybe throw something at you, and— ”
“Hey, hey,” Adam said, but he was laughing now. “What about — ?”
There would never be a less-perfect moment than now. Warlock reached out, grabbed Adam by the jacket, pulled him in, and kissed him.
After a heart-wrenching moment, Adam kissed him back.
And it was — wonderful. It was everything Warlock had hoped and dreamed, except there Adam’s lips were a little too dry, and Warlock had kind of missed his mouth. The imperfections only made it more perfect. Warlock sighed.
Adam’s breath hitched. He pulled back. He was staring at Warlock urgently. “Do you feel okay?”
Warlock thought about it. He felt lightheaded, yet firm on the ground. He was still pissed a whole hell of a lot, but — “I don’t have any wild desire to tear your clothes off.” He swallowed, suddenly brave. “No more than usual, that is.”
Adam smiled hopefully. “Really?”
Warlock nodded but leaned back. “What about you?” he asked. “Are you sure you aren’t just —” He swallowed. “You told me, that night we first met. You told me you didn’t want to sleep with me.”
Adam was grinning. “I lied.”
Warlocked gaped at him. “You — ” He punched him in the arm. “You bastard!”
Adam was laughing now. His eyes were dancing, but he held onto Warlock. He hadn’t let him go. “I did, I totally did. I looked at you and thought, God damn, hat is one boy I wouldn’t mind if he jumped me.” He bit his lip and looked away. “Except I didn’t just want that, you know? And if it was me influencing you, then it wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be fair. It’d be,” he swallowed, “it’d be really bad. I didn’t want that.”
“Oh,” Warlock said and stared at him.
They looked into each other’s eyes.
Warlock was the first to speak. “So,” he said, swallowing. “What now?”
“Now,” Adam said, leaning forward, “I think we do that again.”
Warlock would never admit it to Adam, but during their second kiss, he saw stars.
“Congratulations!” Uncle Az said, beaming. “Your first year of University is complete!”
Nanny was leaning back against the Bently. She had her arms crossed, but she was smiling, and the lines beside her sunglasses were creased. “Good on you, boys.”
“Thanks,” Warlock said with a sheepish smile. He looked down, still not good about making eye contact with her, even with her sunglasses in place.
Nanny and Uncle Az had stayed for the whole second semester. They’d gotten an apartment, Warlock wasn’t quite sure where, and made it quite clear they weren’t going to leave. Warlock had hesitated to reach out to them, still hurt, but wanting to try more for Adam’s sake than his own.
Adam had gone from wanting them to get along to being outraged on Warlock’s behalf. He knew how badly Warlock had been hurt when they’d left, and, of the two of them, he was less inclined to forgive.
Warlock didn’t want to be the person who damaged Adam’s relationship with his uncles, though. He knew how much support they’d give him over the years and it had been easier to forgive them when he’d realized that their leaving meant Adam got to have them. That they were there when he really needed them.
“I didn’t know,” Adam repeated a half dozen times. “Every time you talked about Nanny, and Brother Francis — I didn’t know. I swear to you I didn’t know.”
“I know,” Warlock had told him. “It’s okay.”
It wasn’t easy, but Nanny really seemed to want to make it up to him. She’d sat patient in the same place for lunch every day until Warlock finally gave in and joined her, and they’d eaten together almost every day since then. Now Warlock had both her and Uncle Az’s numbers in his phone, and he even texted first sometimes, not that Uncle Az ever answered his mobile, no matter who called.
“How were your last exams?” Nanny asked, ushering them into the car.
“Awful,” Adam complained. He climbed into the car and collapsed against Warlock’s side. “Mostly multiple choice, but freaking hard.”
Warlock reached over and did up his seatbelt for him. “Mine were mostly essays,” he admitted, leaning down to give Adam a kiss before sitting up again. “They went okay.”
Nanny caught his eyes in the mirror. She was smiling. “I’m sure you did great.”
Uncle Az rubbed his hands together. “Now!” he said excitedly, “we have a very special surprise planned for you both. It, er, took a little doing, but we do think we’ve got all the kinks worked out.”
Warlock frowned and looked down at Adam. “Are you sure?”
“Absolutely!” Uncle Az said. “At least mostly. A good percentage at the very least.”
“Don’t worry,” Adam said, taking Warlock’s hand and twisting their fingers together. “If anything happens, I’ve got you.”
“I heard that,” Nanny said from the driver’s seat. She still sat on the right-hand side, even though they were in Massachusetts. “It’s going to be fine.”
“Yes,” Uncle Az promised. “Probably. Mostly likely it will. Good on you, though, Adam.”
“Angel,” Nanny groaned, “it’s like you don’t even trust me.”
Uncle Az turned to her with a huff. “Crowley, really.”
Nanny caught Warlock’s eyes in the back mirror. She lowered her sunglasses and winked. Warlock didn’t even try to hide his smile.
“Here we go,” Nanny said and touched the stick shift. “Hang on.”
The car started forward, seemed to shimmer for a second, and then jumped.
Warlock blinked and looked out the window. “Oh my god,” he said, awed. “Are we in London?”
Adam lifted his head to peer out the window. “Cool. We’re home!”
Uncle Az was beaming. “Well, chop-chop, Crowley,” he said. “After all, we have reservations at the Ritz.”
“Angel,” Nanny said, looking over at him with a smile, “are you telling me to hurry?”
Uncle Az only smiled. “We have two hungry boys to feed.”
Nanny laughed. “That we do, Angel.” She looked back over his shoulder at Warlock and Adam, and grinned. “That we do.”
~ The End