It was depressingly telling that informing his parents he was going to study at Cambridge had been Warlock’s most effective rebellion yet.
His father had been absolutely set on Yale, and his mother had been so worried he would go to Harvard- neither of them had even considered that he might blindside them so entirely. England? He might as well have said Saudi Arabia. All of his friends (read: all of their friends’ children) were going to Yale, or Stanford, or heaven forbid Duke or Brown. Warlock knew no one in England- he hadn’t been once since his childhood return to the States.
It was a good university, though, he had argued, and besides he had never submitted his application anywhere else. Cambridge or bust.
The summer had not been enjoyable, but no matter. He had gotten away with it in the end- and, more importantly, gotten away altogether. The half-hour wait he’d had to endure on the shitty airport shuttle upon arrival had been the highlight of his year: sitting in silence staring out of the window and knowing everyone he knew was across the Atlantic.
For all of his melodrama, he had some qualms about the whole thing. For one, the weather in England was terrible, and he really found the accent quite annoying. He also didn’t like standing out as so irrevocably American, not least because the English all assumed he was a moron for it. Everything was also small and old and inconvenient, and there was no AC or functioning heating. And, of course, despite his best efforts, he would miss home somewhat- he had a friend or two he actually liked, and his parents weren’t entirely terrible all the time, so there were some moments in which he thought he might’ve just gone to Harvard with much the same effect.
Still, though, as he clambered out of the Uber with his suitcase in tow, staring up at the sandy stone gate of Pembroke College, he thought this had been the right move. Students were milling about with parents in tow, lugging boxes and juggling keys, and no one here would clap him on the back and say Dowling, my man! and invite him to some Young Republican affair.
He collected his keys from the Porters’ Lodge, where he couldn’t help but quirk a brow at the fact that there were still people called Porters in existence and that they wore bowties, then set off through the college. He had no idea where he was going, but he hadn’t wanted to ask, and he thought following the students in blue jumpers around was probably a safe bet.
Pembroke had not been his college of choice. He had considered Saint John’s out of reflex, then realised that the whole point was getting away from people who knew his father by name, and finally applied to King’s on a whim, figuring that it would at least be entertaining to tell his parents he’d gotten into the Commie college. Then he had interviewed, and the next thing he knew he had gotten in through the pool, an offer to Pembroke.
It was a nice college, Warlock thought, gazing at what he assumed was the library as he strolled past. Smaller than Johns or Kings, but then maybe that was a good thing. He’d googled it after accepting his offer, and it didn’t have much of a reputation, beyond being generally chill and having good food. A blank slate.
Avoiding more than one helpful looking Freshers Rep, he found himself facing the building he’d seen on his lease document- New Court, he thought. His rooms were in O staircase. He had considered just balloting blindly, but then there was no point living in squalor when he had the money to go someplace nice- and it was strategically a good move for making friends, in the early days, to be able to host parties. He hadn’t thought there were double rooms available for first years, but he’d taken it anyways. Gift horse in the mouth, and all that.
Lugging his suitcase up three flight of stairs was somewhat annoying, but once he pushed his door open he relaxed, pleased. The space was roomy- two big windows overlooking the lawn, a desk positioned in front of them, and then a couch, a wardrobe, and a bed, slanted against the wall nearest to him. He took this in, then frowned. If this was a double-
The door to his right pushed open, and suddenly he was staring at a girl- short, dark-skinned, wearing a bright yellow skirt and a turtleneck. She gazed at him with something like disbelief, not quite surprise.
What the fuck, Warlock thought, and retraced his steps mentally, but no- the key had worked on the door; this was his room. Aloud he said: “And you are?”
Instead of answering, the girl shot him a dark look and retreated into the room. “Adam!”
This was rude, Warlock thought, but didn’t let off, rolling his suitcase stubbornly further and walking over to the door, where the girl was still standing. He hadn’t yet stopped when two more people appeared behind her, both tall, one with the chest of a footballer and one built like a beanpole. The beanpole blinked, eyes owlish behind glasses; the footballer merely raised one brow, then the other.
Hasn’t anyone ever told you it’s rude to stare? Warlock almost asked, but then someone else was pushing through them, the group parting automatically, and Warlock was looking into bright blue eyes- or rather the blue eyes were looking into him, with such abnormal ease that he took a step back.
“Oh,” presumably Adam said. “Hello.”
They stared at each other a moment longer, Warlock abruptly feeling rather clammy and on edge, until he finally remembered himself and shook himself awake.
“Is anyone going to tell me what the fuck you’re doing in my room?”
“Our room,” Adam corrected, easily. “We’re roommates, it seems.”
He said this very convincingly, so that Warlock felt it was true- and it had to be, or else why were they there?- and yet, stubbornly, he resisted.
“Cambridge doesn’t do roommates.”
This much was true. He hadn’t wanted a roommate- it was one of the things he’d liked about Oxbridge both. And yet the group only looked at Adam, and Adam looked at him, still appraising, still unfazed.
“I guess they do now,” Adam said. The girl groaned.
Warlock shook his head, feeling groggy. “Look, I don’t know what- I signed a lease, okay, it was for a set of rooms.”
“This is a set of rooms,” the footballer pointed out. He looked amused now, in a resigned sort of way. His accent- and Adam’s, actually- was different than Warlock had expected, gruffer somehow. “Did you check if you were leasing both?”
“Jesus,” Warlock said. This made all four of them exchange looks, which was worrying in the sense that Warlock fundamentally could not live with conservative Christian nutjobs. Then he looked around, considering his options. “And you’re okay with that?”
Adam inclined his head. He hadn’t stopped looking at Warlock once; it was distinctly uncomfortable. “I’d quite like a roommate.”
For some reason this made the girl snort, still unamused, and the beanpole pushed his glasses up long-sufferingly. They were fucking weirdos, Warlock thought, resigned now. He shrugged.
“Then fine, I guess. They better not be charging us double.”
“We can go and check in with Becky,” the girl said, eyeing Adam. “But I doubt it.”
“Sure,” Adam said, and smiled, or did something which felt like a smile. “Well, nice to meet you, roomie.”
They looked as if they were about to retreat, and Warlock suddenly realised they still hadn’t introduced themselves- he’d been going with probably Adam and the rest of them. “Hey- I didn’t catch your names.”
“Oh, sure,” Adam said. “I’m Adam.”
He didn’t offer a hand to shake, so Warlock hesitated, but he kept his hands to himself and squared his shoulders. “Warlock.”
This gained him the usual reaction, though not much from Adam, whose eyes glittered.
“Your name is Warlock?” the girl asked, rather scathingly, which he would resented more if he hadn’t gotten the strange impression she was directing her ire towards Adam.
“All right, Pippin Galadriel Moonchild,” the footballer said, and failed to dodge the blow she sent his way entirely. He was still wheezing when the girl deigned meet Warlock’s eyes.
“I’m Pepper. That’s Brian.”
“Wensleydale,” the glasses boy piped up, because of course he was. “I mean, Jeremy. But no one calls me that.”
“What do your parents call you?” Warlock inquired, raising a brow.
“Youngster,” Wensleydale said, somewhat mournfully. And that was that.
He half-expected them to start asking questions then- you’re American? Where are you from? Where are your parents? but they seemed otherwise occupied; it befell Adam to essentially banish him to his own room with a nod.
“See you in a bit, then.”
“Sure,” Warlock echoed, and watched the door shut, and wondered what the fuck he’d gotten himself into.
He had absolutely no idea what to make of their initial encounter, and Freshers Week (really a laughable three days) was filled to the brim with meetings and tours and painful Equality and Diversity workshops, so by the time he’d stopped by the office and gotten confirmation that by some blip in the system he had indeed landed himself the only two-person set of rooms in Cambridge, he still couldn’t place how he felt about his roommate or his friends.
He’d met Adam’s parents very briefly on move-in day, both extraordinarily British and normal, and had seen brief flashes of the group since, but they went everywhere in a closed pack, and if Adam was in alone Warlock didn’t see him. It was very weird, he thought, that their rooms were laid out the way they were- it would have made more sense for the office to be both of their office rooms, and the bedroom both their bedrooms, because as it was Adam needed to pass through Warlock’s to get to his own, which couldn’t possibly be the best arrangement and was sure to become awkward at some point in the year. On the other hand, it meant Warlock didn’t have to share a bedroom, so he supposed he could deal with it.
Term started on a Thursday, for some nonsensical traditional reason, by which time Warlock had done the following:
a) Purchased and worn a gown, which made him feel like a younger and less sallow Alan Rickman;
b) Met his tutor, his Director of Studies, and his fellow PhysNatScis;
c) Incidentally learned that the natural scientists with a speciality in physics referred to themselves as PhysNatScis;
d) Gone to a pub crawl and gotten quite drunk but not very hungover;
e) Bought a potted plant; and
f) Failed to exchange a single word with his roommate.
This final point was somewhat anxiety inducing, though less than it might have been. He didn’t like that they hadn’t properly met yet; he had no idea who he was dealing with, and he never liked going into things blind. Knowing your enemy was the most important step in taking them down, as his nanny had taught him. Quite confusingly, he also vaguely remembered being taught that to know someone was to befriend them, but the point stood.
On Friday he resolved that he would make an effort to catch his roommate at home somehow, at the very least to add him on Facebook or something. He’d tried the latter already, but he hadn’t found Adam on there, even though he’d tracked down his surname on the Matriculation photograph. He had a better chance of catching him in the apartment after lectures, despite his elusive tendencies.
Thus far he had found his lectures enjoyable. It wasn’t that physics were his life’s passion- he wasn’t entirely sure he had one of those- but he had wanted to do something at least somewhat interesting before he inevitably did an international relations post-grad, and he had always been damnably good at maths. Studying pure maths seemed slightly nightmarish, though- he could only imagine the sort of people he’d have to spend time with. The NatScis were a more relaxed bunch, and there were quite a lot of them at Pembroke. He had ample opportunity to make friends.
He made a detour through John Lewis on his way back to college. He had packed barely anything to take with him on the assurance that he would simply buy everything he needed once he crossed the sea, and he was tired of living out of a suitcase. He spent an hour or so buying clothes, then moved onto furniture, self-indulgently purchasing a nice coffee-maker, a record-player, a nicer lamp.
He was difficultly juggling all of these things upstairs when his phone rang, and he just about had the time to unload them onto his bed to pick up, wondering who on earth still called in this day and age.
Oh, of course. “Hey, mom.”
His mother launched into an abstract tirade of questions, mostly frivolous, though he was embarrassingly taken aback by the odd spots of genuine affection that shone through. It wasn’t that his mother didn’t love him- even his father probably did- and she had her moments, but she loved him at an arm’s length, always seeming exhausted by his repeated attempts to draw more out of her. He didn’t think she was fully aware that she’d left him so emotionally starved- she genuinely didn’t seem to have the capacity for more.
Maybe absence really did make the heart grow fonder, he thought, distantly, as she went into a tangent about Brexit and whether he was bothered by it at all. The thought sat poorly with him. People leaving him had never made him love them more, nor less; certainly those who left never seemed to care.
“…and Dad says do go talk to him, he’s a wonderful boy, you know, his father used to work with him at the office in Paris, I think the two of you will get along.”
“What was the nearest town called, where we used to live? I forgot the name.”
“Oh, gosh, Warlock- I’m not quite sure. Near Oxford, though. Sleepy little place- we were usually in London, or the estate. I think it was Burford? They have such silly names. Why’d you ask?”
“Dunno. Just wondering.” He hesitated; usually he’d have moved on, but for a moment he felt almost like he could talk to her. “I guess I was thinking about my tutors and stuff. Where they’d be living.”
“Oh, Mr, uh- Henry, and-“
“Harrison and Cortese,” Warlock corrected, through a sigh. “Yeah. Anyways, I have to go, mom. My roommate’s calling.”
“You have a-?”
It wasn’t true; Adam was nowhere to be seen, as per. Warlock’s mood had soured somewhere between lectures and the present day, a natural consequence of interacting with his family. He hadn’t wanted to be reminded that even here there were plenty of diplobrats and their ilk just itching to ruin his self-imposed exile, and his mother’s concerns about his friendships had reminded him forcefully that although it was early days yet, he had been in Cambridge for a week without having anyone to eat dinner with. Not even his own damn roommate.
He wondered abruptly if Adam was avoiding him on purpose. Maybe he’d taken a dislike to him, or he wasn’t interested in making new friends, or he knew who he was somehow.
He was scowling as he unpacked his things, thoroughly on edge now, and he moved to open the window once he’d hung all of his clothes up, seeking fresh air. Of course, because his life was a cosmic tragicomedy of things never going the way they were supposed to, the previously sunny skies had gone dark, and it was raining so hard he had to drag the window shut.
Other thing Warlock hadn’t done yet: purchased an umbrella. He groaned irately and dragged a hand across his face.
There was a sound at the door, and then Adam was elbowing his way in, Sainsburys’ bag hanging loosely off his arm. There was something moving behind him, which distracted Warlock from the fact Adam was frowning, an expression he had not yet seen him sport. It was-
“Come on, Dog,” Adam muttered absently, the dog traipsing in after him, and then looked up at Warlock, brow relaxing slightly. “Oh, hey.”
“What the fuck is that?” Warlock asked, more shrilly than he wanted to, even though it was very obviously a dog. He had goosebumps, and his limbs had gone stiff.
“Dog,” Adam answered, his eyes narrowed. “He’s mine.”
“You’re not allowed animals in college,” Warlock snapped. Nanny had always said that the best defence was offence- more specifically, spite and cruelty. “Unless he’s a service dog, which would explain some things.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Adam asked, raising two brows; his tone had gone flat. The dog growled lowly, and Warlock had to fight not to jump back. He hated dogs- on a deep, psychological level.
“Oh, figure it out for yourself, unless you need your cult following to do it for you,” Warlock muttered, snide, before managing to shake his head. “No fucking dogs in the room.”
“He’s going to mine, not yours.”
“Shared living space,” Warlock retorted. He could feel the dog devour him mentally. “That thing does not strike me as capable of understanding the difference- and anyway it’s not allowed in college, so why am I wasting my breath?”
Adam considered him; his eyes were dark now, gaze cool in a way that made Warlock flush defensively, like he was being judged and found lacking. “Good question.”
“The dog goes,” Warlock grit out. Then he shouldered past Adam and stormed off, barely resisting the urge to kick at the thing on his way out.
He returned two hours later soaked to the bone and shivering mutinously. The storm had not eased.
Quite possibly as a result of the fiasco with Adam and the dog, which thankfully had not made itself known since, Warlock found himself biting the bullet and heading over to the next CUCA social. It was probably depressing in some way that the Cambridge University Conservative Association was so like every Republican kow-tow he’d attended during high school, but it was almost comforting to find himself lounging in a chaise listening to people debate politics and casually flex their summer holidays in the Seychelles.
He could sense that his appearance had excited them; of the new intake, he was by far the most interesting- an American, for one, but also more generally possessing independent thought and not so easily led to participating in the stale banter of the group. His year’s pickings consisted of two nearly identical brunettes who made a point of calling themselves fiscal conservatives, one nervy pasty guy who seemed somewhat ashamed of his presence, a lanky guy from Eton who kept talking to him about red pills and soy, and a set of twins who reminded Warlock forcibly of the twins in the Facebook movie, except more inclined to ‘play devil’s advocate’ in every conversation they joined. There were others, but they hadn’t been invited up to the lounge, and ridiculously there had been a second lounge, where Warlock finally found himself surrounded by what had to be the CUCA inner circle.
There were ten of them total: the twins, Warlock, and then seven older students. There was exactly one black guy in all of CUCA, and he was in the room, sat by the door scrolling on his phone; he didn’t speak once in Warlock’s presence, to the extend that Warlock wondered if they paid him to be there. The other six were all more typical. Peters and Johnson were the leaders of the group, President and VP respectively; both were smarmy and clever, Eton friends with a title to land and a share in a Fortune 500 company each. Their treasurer was a Northern guy with glasses, deadpan and condescending; then there was the class clown, ‘the Aubster’, a snide third-generation Indian guy implausibly named Kenneth, and the very bored looking Charlie, who ran their Twitter account.
In short, they were all raging assholes. Warlock had intended to go, remember how terrible this crowd was, and never return, but he had forgotten how engaging awful people were, and despite himself by the second half of the hour he had forgotten himself and snorted at some insightful observation on Kenneth’s behalf.
“You disagree, Dowling?” Kenneth demanded, raising a brow. “You think we should have a gender neutral Father Christmas?”
Fuck’s sake, Warlock thought, feeling the attention of the room switch gamely over to them. He was being baited.
“I didn’t say that.”
“No,” Kenneth said, smelling blood. “But you don’t like me saying it’s liberal bullshit?”
“I just can’t imagine caring about the supposed gender of a kid’s story,” Warlock corrected, giving in to the temptation. “Or does it upset you that Santa’s not real, too?”
This won him a few chuckles; Kenneth’s eyes narrowed. “I just don’t like it being part of the PC agenda.”
Warlock shrugged, enjoying the preemptive thrill of a closing argument. “Sure, I guess. I always thought the whole Santa myth was kind of soft. Getting kids to believe some mystical guy will give them gifts all the time- seems very welfare state to me.”
Kenneth blanched; Warlock smoothed the smugness out of his expression and downed his drink. Oh, fine, he’d missed this- for people who touted the term incessantly, conservatives sure tended to be easily triggered. His own political views were inconsistent; he’d mainly spent time with the Young Republicans because none of the Young Democrats liked him. He was always happy to run circles around someone else in a debate, though. It was one of his few distinguishing skills- left over from his childhood Nanny, he suspected. She’d taught him just how to prod holes incessantly.
“Say, Dowling,” Johnson was saying. “How’d you like to come to a party next week?”
“Sure,” Warlock said, and stood. “Text me the address.”
He divided his time for the next two weeks between studies and CUCA socials, which were, if nothing else, somewhere between easy and entertaining. Adam he didn’t see once. The weather had eased up somewhat over the past weekend, to his relief- now that he was out and about, the rain would have been far more annoying.
Wednesday evening, he returned to his room to find the door to Adam’s propped open and the bright sounds of conversation drifting through. He hesitated in the doorway and seriously considered turning on his heel and finding some other way to kill time, but that felt too humiliating. So his roommate and he didn’t get along, fine. He wasn’t going to start living elsewhere every time Adam made an appearance.
He resolutely threw his bag down and began noisily moving to his desk, just to avoid any doubt as to his presence; the noise stopped abruptly, and when he twitched he saw three sets of eyes tracking him through the room, which was disturbing at best.
“Hey, Warlock,” Brian said, chorused by Wensleydale. Warlock suspected he had said it simply for the pleasure of saying his name out loud, given the smile that accompanied it, but he spared him a curt nod, trying not to look at Adam. They were all settled around someone’s laptop, pizza spread on the floor between them; for a moment he was incredibly jealous of them.
For some reason, Pepper set her mouth and rocked back on her heels, gesturing him closer, which he obeyed despite himself. “Come in, sit.”
“I’m good,” Warlock said, hovering in the doorframe. He was intrigued by her change of heart.
“You’re a PhysNatSci, right?” Pepper asked, in the tone of someone who already knew this. “We were just saying we barely know anything about you.”
Warlock doubted this, but he nodded. “Yeah. Do you three all go to Cambridge too?”
“No,” Pepper answered. So she was speaking for the group. “Adam does, obviously. I’m at Downing- I study law. Wensleydale does Economics at Queens, but he’s really biding his time to do a Masters in Accountancy at the Judge Business School. Brian’s at Anglia Ruskin.”
This made Warlock raise a brow, but it didn’t seem to faze Brian that of the four of them he was the only one not to attend the prestigious university. “Studying?”
“Sociology,” Brian said. “But really I’m just here to hang out. I’ve got an apprenticeship lined up for after.”
“You all know each other from school?” Warlock asked. He was naturally curious, though he usually tried to avoid coming across as such. If this was his one opportunity to figure them out, he was going to take it.
“Childhood, actually,” Adam answered. It was the first time he’d spoken. “We come from the same town. Tadfield.”
Warlock raised a shoulder. “Don’t know where that is.”
“Near Oxford,” Wensleydale supplied. “It’s quite small, but surprisingly eventful.”
“Sure,” Warlock shrugged, thinking about the odds that three childhood friends from the middle of nowhere all got into Cambridge at the same time. “I used to live near Oxford too.”
“You don’t sound it,” Brian said, scrunching his nose.
“He has a bit of an inflexion,” Wensleydale argued. “On the rs and all that.”
“Why’d you move?” Adam asked, cutting through the chatter. Warlock met his eyes and felt himself twitch.
“My dad’s work.” Like pulling teeth: “He’s a diplomat.”
“Oh, cool,” Brian said. “Get to travel a lot?”
“I guess,” Warlock said, warily. He had the abrupt sensation this whole friendly interrogation had been planned. “It’s not as interesting as it sounds.”
“That’s true of a lot of things,” Adam agreed, seriously. His hair was falling into his eyes a little, which made Warlock strangely aware that his own hair was growing long again.
“Adam said you met Dog,” Pepper said, and resisted Warlock’s sharp look entirely. Then she looked at Adam.
“Yeah,” Warlock answered, slowly. This felt like a test, but he refused to be socially pressured into apologising for the whole outburst, although it had been embarrassing on his part. He didn’t want to risk having the dog return. “I did.”
There was a tense beat, then Adam hummed. “I wanted to say- sorry about that. I didn’t know you were scared of dogs.”
“I’m not scared of-“ Warlock started, then wondered how the hell Adam knew this, anyways. They were looking each other in the eye again and he’d sort of lost his train of thought.
“Dog’s not aggressive at all, though,” Adam continued. “And he’s very clever. So I’d quite like to have him around sometimes. But you won’t see him if it bothers you.”
This was a weird way to put it; Warlock hesitated. “If it stays out of my way-“
“Well,” Warlock said, and contemplated refusing, for a moment, just to be contrary, because really- refusing to accommodate his roommate’s insane request to have a dog in their shared dorm wasn’t even being particularly difficult, and he didn’t like to back down from things where he didn’t feel he was in the wrong (or even when he did). They could have an absolutely hellish time co-existing, which he would perversely enjoy in the same way he perversely enjoyed CUCA meetings.
He deflated; a voice in his head was telling him to always be kind where possible, and especially when kindness was unexpected.
“Yeah, fine,” Warlock said. “I’m going to the shops.”
The night was crisp but not cold; the stars twinkled dazzlingly at him like he hadn’t seen in years.
After the whole dog confrontation, things shifted perceptibly in their rooms. The other three were often far more regularly, as was Adam himself, though rarely alone; they greeted Warlock around town, and sometimes drifted over to eat with him at trough, or gestured for him to sit near them if he ran into them in lectures. The latter only applied to Adam, a fact which bemused Warlock considering he was relatively sure Adam had no business attending physics lectures.
He still had no idea what Adam studied. He had let himself stoop to peering into his room once to covertly observe his bookcase, but this was resolutely useless- there were as many textbooks on things like Ancient Religious Studies as there were on Modern Astrophysics. It often dawned upon him to ask, but the question slipped his mind.
Adam, obviously, was the most notable change. The other three were friendly enough, but generally orbited one another (or, really, Adam) with the attitude of people not particularly interested in adding anyone to their little circle. Not for the first time, Warlock had to suppress flashes of jealousy at the thought. He had never known anyone who anchored him in such a way, nor would he ever anchor anyone himself.
In any event, having Adam suddenly present in a way he hadn’t been previously only served to make Warlock ten times more intrigued by him, despite his best efforts not to be. He didn’t consider himself easily interested or impressed; after an upbringing like his, it was sort of a point of pride to regard the world with distant cool. And yet, Adam- there was something intensely magnetic about him; he found it hard to resist even when he was aware of it.
It wasn’t only him, at least. He watched them go sometimes- things simply worked for Adam, and people noticed him wherever he went, just for a moment. When he said things they made sense somehow; when he looked at people they looked back.
There was almost a tension to their interactions as a result, though Warlock wasn’t actively trying to be make it this way, and he didn’t think Adam was either. He wasn’t sure how one-sided the whole thing even was.
For the first while into their uneasy truce, he had half expected them to uphold their silence, considering the only conversation they’d had without the others present had been an argument. Then Adam had emerged from his room one night, brandishing gin.
“Do you drink this?”
Warlock had started and almost fallen off his chair, scrambled to regain purchase, and finally gazed at the offered beverage with mounting suspicion. “I do.”
“Oh, good,” Adam said, and promptly handed him the bottle. “I find it too bitter.”
“Uh,” Warlock had managed, torn between innate suspicion and the feeling that he might as well accept the gift. “Well, thanks.”
Adam had hummed thoughtfully, making his way around Warlock’s room with curiosity and stopping at his plant.
“Well, yeah,” Warlock said, somewhat slighted. “I don’t like plastic plants.”
“Just- kind of counterintuitive, isn’t it?” Warlock replied, defensively. “The whole thing with plants is that they’re- you know, grown.”
“Right,” Adam said, stroking a leaf pensively. “Oh, it’s quite healthy.”
He said this with mild surprise, which made Warlock bristle sort of resignedly. His fern, like every other plant he’d ever grown, was in perfect health, and never looked it. It was some sort of curse, he was sure, to be able to grow prime specimens that always looked like shit.
“Look, man, did you want something-?”
Adam paused, shook his head, walked over to take a seat on the edge of Warlock’s bed, which made him tense up. “I wanted to talk to you.”
“You,” Adam clarified, eyes large and dark. He had an interesting face- between encounters Warlock struggled to remember what he looked like, but up close he was always quite a ways from ordinary, handsome in a rare way. His hair was a default light brown, but whenever he moved it shone golden. His eyes were pale blue, and seemed able to turn any colour at will. His lips were always very red. “I don’t know much about you yet.”
“Didn’t we have this conversation already?” Warlock asked, fighting the urge to cross his arms. “American, diplomat, NatSci-“
“That doesn’t tell me anything,” Adam said, dismissively. Instinctively Warlock bristled.
“What do you know, then?”
Adam frowned, scrutinising him. Warlock sat very still. “You drink gin. You’re scared of dogs. And you take care of your plant.”
For some reason, this made Warlock feel horribly exposed; he cleared his throat and forced his gaze away. “Sure. And you don’t like gin, and you’re not scared of dogs, and you crash lectures you’re not supposed to be attending.”
For half a second Adam actually looked taken aback, a novel expression; he tilted his head to the side. “True.”
“Listen, what do you study, any-“
“Pepper says you’re in CUCA?”
Warlock sighed. “Guess so.”
“I’m not particularly politically inclined,” Adam said, conversational. “I tend to steer clear of positions of power and all that. But I’m not very fond of the Tories.”
“Uh huh,” Warlock said. “Well, I’m not a Tory.”
“You just hang out with Tories.”
“Ding ding, we have a winner,” Warlock said, with a mirthless smile. If this was some kind of intervention, he was not partaking in it willingly. “You’d be surprised, you know, they’re decent company.”
“I doubt that,” Adam replied, matter-of-factly. “So what do you do at CUCA meetings?”
“Oh, you know. Ritually slaughter trade unionists. Try to summon the demon previously known as Margaret Thatcher. The usual.”
“Margaret Thatcher wasn’t a demon,” Adam interjected. “Though they have been happy to claim her various doings as theirs.”
“Right,” Warlock said. Maybe Adam and co weren’t Christian weirdos, then. Maybe they were occultists.
“So,” Adam said, thoughtful. “Likes gin. Scared of dogs. Plant owner. Not a Tory, but not not a Tory.”
“Did I pass?” Warlock asked, raising a wry brow, then felt embarrassed for asking. On anyone else he would have dismissed the whole inquiry from the get-go.
“I don’t know yet,” Adam decided, simply, and stood. “I guess we’ll have to talk more.”
He was by the door by the time Warlock whirled his chair around and shot him a put-off glare. “Don’t I get a say in that?”
Adam blinked. “You don’t want to talk?”
“I still don’t even know what you study,” Warlock muttered mutinously.
“Classics,” Adam said, and smiled. “Most of the time.”
Unsurprisingly, this moment marked the start of a great increase in communication between the two of them. Adam made regular appearances in Warlock’s room regardless of whether or not he’d been invited, though he seemed to have a sort of sixth sense for when Warlock was itching for a distraction or some company, because he rarely invited himself in when Warlock was cramming calculations. Mostly he just waltzed in and started asking questions, or else started discussing some topic that had caught his interest; almost invariably Warlock found himself participating far more actively than he’d intended in whatever conversation occurred.
He found it extremely difficult to place the tone of their discussions, just as he found it almost impossible to define Adam’s personality. He was startlingly direct, often serious, and simultaneously sort of mischievous and carefree in a childlike way, never concerned with social niceties. Above all he exuded confidence, but the genuine variety, nothing like the arrogant posturing Warlock was used to from his peers.
They disagreed on a great many subjects, from the serious to the petty, which seemed to oddly please Adam, who always got a sly spark in his eye when he was arguing with someone. Mostly, though, Warlock had the inappropriate feeling of being a child at a sleepover when it was just the two of them; like it was easy to talk about everything, but also like, without parental supervision, they were up to no good.
Adam was, disturbingly, impossible to keep at a distance. If he was interested in something, he wouldn’t be put off pursuing it; for however long it would last, he was curious about Warlock, and as such managed to knock down his defences without fail as it suited him. Warlock wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about this.
November approached rapidly, newfound friendships cementing themselves; by Halloween night, Warlock had promised to make an appearance at Bop after attending the CUCA dinner. He had sarcastically extended invitation to Adam and the others; his CUCA membership was a sore point with Pepper especially, though Brian and Wensleydale seemed to have decided that it was a part of his general assholery and mostly ignored it.
In truth he didn’t see the CUCA gang nearly as much as Adam and the others believed him to- they were, after all, extremely annoying, and the regular in-fighting got on his nerves. He simply found it helpful to have distinct spheres of activity in his life, as he had always had- the CUCA snide sniping and the Tadfield gang’s fond bickering; his study partners and his drinking group. It allowed him to exist as himself most comfortably, in a way- as a sneering bastard and an socially awkward foreigner all in one.
Still, if nothing else, they put on a good show. Never since boarding school had he so regularly been offered cocaine.
He spent Halloween evening butting heads with the Winkelvii (now known as such throughout the group thanks to Warlock) and then getting involved in some ridiculous drinking game which resulted in him and Johnson matching each other shot for shot off one of the busty waitresses’ chest. He was relatively sure Johnson had won that one, but that was largely irrelevant- they were all hideously drunk by then, the room filled with cigar smoke and the tang of alcohol. In any event he had secured his spot in the group again- they’d been very sore about the fact he’d missed out on three of their open forums, but the nice thing with the CUCA types was that they generally placed having a good time over pesky things like morals or decency.
“You know,” Peters drawled, tying his bowtie sloppily around Johnson’s neck and nudging Warlock’s thigh with his foot, “You made me good money, Dowling; the others didn’t think you’d hold your drink, on account of being a Yank an’ the- the drinking age, and all that.”
Warlock toasted him sloppily, licking the residue taste of whiskey off his lips. “What’s more American than money?”
“Quite,” Johnson exclaimed, grinning toothily. “Yank bastard.”
There were retching noises; the Aubster heaved for a moment, then kicked the champagne bucket away, grin painting itself on his face. “All right, lads!”
“All right,” Johnson snickered back. His head bumped into Warlock’s when he leant back. “Fuckin’ wanker. Clinton is such an unoriginal costume.”
“At least ’t wasn’t Obama,” Warlock muttered, earning him a snort from Peters. He was uncomfortably hot, and wished for a moment they’d just gone clubbing, so that he might have vanished off to a dark corner and gotten some action, or at least outside to some fresh air. He fumbled for his lighter, exhaling gratefully when Johnson twisted to pass him his cigarette.
For one reason or another, he had an implicit position of honour amongst the top dogs in the group; maybe by virtue of his lack of caring about their inner dramas. It was nice, to be able to sprawl around with the leadership and make fun of the others. He had no doubt they mocked him behind his back, too, but they almost always left him a seat open, a courtesy which they did not extend to the group.
“You know what I like about you, Downin’ street?” Peters asked, bending over to ruffle his hair patronisingly. “You just look like you cannot stand a single person you spend time with.”
“Speakin’ of,” Johnson chimed in, jerking upright somewhat and upending his drink on Peters’ lap, who swore profusely at him. “Heard you’ve been hanging around some colourful characters of late.”
“Hartley,” Peters supplied. Warlock blinked at him slowly, trying to keep his face in order and racking his brain for names. “Pippin Galadriel.”
“What a name,” Johnson snickered, head rolling back on the couch. “Hippies.”
Warlock didn’t mention that his own parents were hardly hippy folk and they’d named him after a D&D race; he was trying to decide how to react to the conversation, tongue heavy in his mouth.
“Yeah, I know her. Why? Want me to ‘range a date?”
“You’re so funny,” Peters said, over Johnson’s mocking laughter. “I didn’t realise you were so keen on discussin’ intersectional feminism in the Labour party.”
“We don’t talk politics,” Warlock said, flatly. “And she’s friends with my roommate.”
“Roommate?” Johnson exclaimed, loudly enough that the Winkelvii glanced their way. “Got confused with Durham, there, mate? We don’t do those.”
“Yeah, well. I have one.”
“This is what happens when you don’t go to Johns,” Winkelvii 1 said, mock sympathetic. Warlock flicked him off absently and considered his glass, which was empty. Abruptly he felt he couldn’t spend a second longer in their company. He had no desire whatsoever to discuss Adam and the others with them.
“Speaking of, boys, I have a hot date with the Communist Manifesto, so. Happy Halloween and all that.”
He stumbled his way back to Pembroke, ignoring the mocking calls of the town locals as he passed Wetherspoons in his suit and finally staggering his way into the common room through the back entrance, foregoing the watchful eyes of the college committee, who would have snatched his cigarette away and refused him entry on account of his inebriation.
He had barely set foot into the room, lost in the throng of dancing bodies, when someone’s hand was on his shoulder, and he turned somewhat sloppily to find Adam behind him, eyebrows raised faintly.
“Hey,” Warlock said, unable to control his lopsided grin at the coincidental sight. “Was just about to look for you.”
“I know,” Adam said. He didn’t sound at all drunk. Warlock wasn’t sure if he drank. “What are you dressed as, then?”
“Hm, ah- CUCA member?” Warlock tried, taking a drag off his cigarette. His hand-eye coordination was somewhat lacking; he just barely avoided spilling ashes over his shirt. “Never been big on Halloween.”
“Not even as a kid?” Adam inquired, skeptical. He was dressed up, but Warlock couldn’t figure out what his costume was; he kind of looked like a biker, except he had skull makeup on, too, slightly smudged around his mouth. Maybe the guy from that Nicolas Cage movie.
“All right, sure,” Warlock conceded, exhaling smoke. Adam wrinkled his nose, not necessarily like he was grossed out but more like he was evaluating the smell. He was finding it difficult to stay upright, the music pounding behind him. “But that was mostly ‘cause my nanny was really into it.”
“Your nanny,” Adam repeated, his lips quirking up. Warlock grinned back, loosely. “Of course.”
“Whatever you’re picturing, you’re wrong. Nanny was-“ He stopped, shook his head. Even hideously drunk he wasn’t about to let that all slip. “…Unique.”
“I’ll bet,” Adam said, and then: “You seem very drunk.”
“That’s because I am,” Warlock agreed, complacently. He got more agreeable when he was drunk, as a general rule, which was why he generally avoided getting in such a state. “Hey, where’s your posse gone?”
“Around,” Adam replied, unconcerned. He was eyeing the cigarette now. “Do you smoke a lot?”
“Socially,” Warlock said, closing his eyes. “’m guessing you don’t.”
“Never wanted to,” Adam said. Warlock opened his eyes a fraction, clumsily trying to decipher his expression, and then, emboldened by the alcohol, he shrugged, took the cigarette out of his mouth, and stuck it out in Adam’s general direction.
He might have been leaning too heavily, because Adam gave him an odd look, but abruptly he pursed his lips and accepted the cigarette, and Warlock watched with the sort of vague fascination he watched Discovery Channel with as he gently placed it in his mouth and frowned.
“Just-“ He gestured an inhale. “And try not to choke.”
Adam did; and exhaled quite graciously, for a first timer. The smoke burnt his eyes; he wondered how it hadn’t seemed to bother Adam earlier.
“Tastes funny,” Adam decided, around a mouthful of smoke. He passed it back to Warlock, who took a final drag and crushed it mindlessly under his heel.
“Might prefer weed, then.”
“Maybe,” Adam agreed. “I think you’re too drunk to stay here.”
“Yeah,” Warlock sighed. “I only came to fulfil my social obligation to you lot, ’nyways.”
”Consider it fulfilled. Bed?”
“I can manage,” Warlock protested, when it became apparent Adam intended to chaperone him back, although he wasn’t all that opposed, considering he’d nearly concussed himself on the walk to Pembroke in the first place and only avoided serious brain damage because the lamppost had been conveniently bent right where his head had gone. “Your friends’ll wonder where you went.”
“No, they won’t.”
Warlock only sighed, allowing Adam to grab him by the elbow and steer him out of the parlour. His eyes kept slipping shut, so the walk back wasn’t exactly smooth, his head and shoulders bumping into Adam as he dragged him along.
“Why’re you so drunk, anyways? Was this some sort of CUCA hazing thing?”
“Drinking game. Very consensual and all that, don’t you worry.”
“I wasn’t,” Adam said. “I don’t see the appeal, I s’pose.”
“You wouldn’t,” Warlock snorted. They paused in their ascent; he squinted up at Adam and found him haloed by the upstairs lights, gaze questioning. “Least you avoid the hangovers.”
“I always figured people were exaggerating those.”
“Tell that to me when I’m puking my guts out on the floor tomorrow morning.”
“That sounds gross.”
“Yeah, man. Feels gross too.”
He blanked the rest of their conversation, though he did faintly recall being sort of shoved into his bed and maybe making half-joking and hideously embarrassing requests for a bedtime story; in any event, he spent the next morning nursing a surprisingly mild headache and not entirely sure whether he had imagined the presence of the dog in his room or not.
He was about thirteen percent sure it had licked his hand.
After Halloween, things shifted again. In part, this was due to Warlock scrolling Instagram the next day to find himself tagged in a CUCA post with a witty Reagan quote as a caption, which engendered several notable consequences, these being that:
a) His mother liked the post and texted him that she was happy to see him with friends, reminding him forcibly that he’d only even attended that first meeting on her advice in a moment of weakness;
b) Pepper and her FemSoc friends tore into said post relentlessly while he was seated at their table in the library, reminding him that he was part of two groups who very vociferously didn’t like each other;
c) Being that he was on Instagram, he came across the Tadfield gang’s Halloween photos on Pepper’s account, which featured no Reagan quotes but instead a witty inside joke that Warlock had actually sort of been privy to, and remembered that of said two groups, he overall found the Tadfield group far more tolerable.
As a result, Warlock came to the somewhat belated conclusion that there was really no need for him to be spending so much time with a group of people he found insufferable, and that he might as well go to his fellow NatScis when he next wanted to get drunk, considering they were all vaguely unhinged anyways. Besides, he needed some time to focus on his studies- he’d been neglecting physics for being less interesting than maths.
Most importantly, however, things with Adam had changed. Adam seemed to have decided that they were past the point of cautious camaraderie and were now genuine friends, for whatever reason; Warlock suspected that sometime into embarrassing himself he’d accidentally shown himself to be an actual person, or something, or maybe Adam had noticed his reduced CUCA attendance and taken it as a point in his favour.
Being friends with Adam was a whole different story from being friendly with Adam; they saw each other near constantly, and Adam’s dog, which Warlock now saw regularly traipsing around Adam’s room, had taken to wagging its tail contentedly upon spotting Warlock entering the room. They did actual things together instead of just running into each other, or more accurately Adam would decide they were doing something and Warlock would somehow find himself going along with it. They went to the Fitzwilliam, loitering in the basement halls, where Adam pointed out every statute to him and told him their entire mythological significance, and attended service in King’s Chapel, Warlock muttering various fun facts about the angels and demons decorating the room that he couldn’t remember ever learning. At first, Warlock staunchly refused going on bike rides through town, mainly because he hadn’t ridden a bike in years and was unwilling to face this humiliating fact, but somehow Adam talked him into it anyways, and it was easy after all- they started taking long meandering rides through the outskirts of town whenever the weather permitted it, which it almost always did.
Mostly it was their conversations which shifted. Warlock had made a grievous error in letting slip that he’d had a nanny, because Adam pounced on this fact when his defences were down, and starting drawing further childhood anecdotes out of him whenever the mood struck him. Saying them out loud made Warlock wonder not for the first time where the fuck his parents had dug up the absolute nut jobs who raised him, but Adam seemed relatively unfazed by it all, more interested in understanding his various idiosyncrasies than in his parent’s dubious choices.
“Did your nanny have a green thumb? Is that where you got it from?”
“No,” Warlock snorted. “She didn’t have much time for anything like that. I saw her glowering at our rose bush all the time when the gardener wasn’t looking.”
“Oh, the gardener then.”
“Maybe,” Warlock mused. “But he wasn’t- I mean, the gardens were always immaculate, but he never seemed particularly competent. He was more interested in the wildlife and all that.”
“A passion for animals you didn’t inherit,” Adam said, glancing over at Dog, who sat obediently at the edge of his own room. Warlock shrugged.
“No. He did try, though. As did Nanny, actually. I think she tried to get me over my whole phobia of dogs, but it kind of backfired when she brought in the Rottweilers.”
Adam smiled at that, and shifted to cross his legs, contemplative. He always sat on Warlock’s bed when he was in the room, or on his floor, never any of the chairs. Warlock didn’t mind, especially because his covers always seemed slightly warmer afterwards. Their heating was faulty at best, but he only seemed to feel it when Adam was out.
“Anyways, enough with the victimising here. Don’t you have any bizarre childhood stories I can exploit?”
“I don’t exploit your bizarre childhood stories,” Adam said, gravely, though his eyes twinkled. “And my own upbringing was very normal, for the most part.”
This much Warlock knew was true; Adam’s parents were almost overwhelmingly ordinary, to the point that Warlock couldn’t fathom that they’d somehow created Adam of all people. At the very least, they seemed equally bemused by him. Adam was obviously fond of them, but they didn’t speak that often, something which Warlock appreciated, even though he had no right to. It made him feel less exposed.
“That ‘mostly’ leaves so much room for interpretation,” Warlock retorted, now, leaning out of the window to exhale a mouthful of smoke. He didn’t smoke inside often, but he was stress-smoking, or had been until Adam had appeared in his room. Adam didn’t seem to mind. “You could have murdered several people and your upbringing would still be mostly normal.”
“Never murder,” Adam said, in that half-mocking serious tone he used on Warlock more than anyone else, and which Warlock was never entirely sure how to respond to. “Pepper, Wensleydale, Brian and me had a rival gang even then, if that’s the sort of thing you want to hear. It was a very serious rivalry. And our town has a witch.”
“Of course it does,” Warlock snorted, putting his cigarette out and wafting the smoke away. Cambridge accommodation was extremely paranoid about fire hazards. “I assume you weren’t scared of her at all.”
“I’m not easily scared,” Adam agreed, mildly. “And she isn’t very scary.”
“Isn’t? She’s still in town?”
“Her and her boyfriend. They’re quite lovely people. You should come visit, sometime, maybe.”
His gaze was searching; Warlock looked away, fiddling with his sleeves. “Sure. Tadfield holiday.”
“What are your plans for Christmas, anyways?”
“Back to the States,” Warlock said, and controlled his grimace quite neatly. “The weather will be better, at least.”
“It’s warmer in DC?”
“No, it-“ Warlock paused, decided he could let this one out. “I’d miss the snow. I kind of forgot how miserable Christmas is without snow.”
Probably it wasn’t the snow that had made his Christmases so miserable. It had been the only time they’d been alone just the three of them, all the staff sent home for the holidays, and he could only remember sitting in silence at the table, staring outside at the grey wet countryside. Once they’d moved back, though, he’d at least had the snow as an excuse to be out of the house, and he’d spent countless hours making snow angels and sledding down hills alone.
“We don’t get white Christmases a lot,” Adam nodded, pensive. “Global warming, I guess.”
“You could always come to DC,” Warlock suggested, wryly. He could no more imagine Adam interacting with his parents than he could imagine himself in some cozy cottage in Tadfield. “Pursue the snow.”
“My parents would miss me,” Adam said, apologetic like he’d considered it, which was-
A knock on the door, loud and impatient; Warlock started, and Adam sighed and reached to open it.
“I’ve been knocking for five minutes,” Pepper said, pointedly.
“Sorry,” Warlock said, with a confused glance towards Adam. “I didn’t hear anything.”
“Oh, of course not,” Pepper grumbled, unwrapping her scarf. “I was talking to Adam.”
“Didn’t hear anything either,” Adam said, smoothly, and got up to take her coat. “See you, Warlock.”
They vanished into Adam’s room, door shutting behind them, leaving Warlock to stare after them, then catch himself and turn to his desk.
So, fine. He hadn’t been entirely honest with himself. If he had to chronicle the changes in his life since the whole Halloween incident, the most important one was probably the fact he had found himself quite disastrously into Adam.
Really, it wasn’t much of a surprise. Warlock had very low standards when it came to people he’d take home (male, somewhat attractive, maybe not a complete moron), and Adam exceeded those expectations entirely, which catapulted him into dangerous sentimental territory. He was good looking in a distracting way, and he was clever; charismatic like no one Warlock had ever met, possessing an innate pull that affected everyone around him, unconsciously. Most damningly, he was kind, or chose to be with Warlock, at least. Not in a saccharine way- Warlock thought he was a bit of a bastard, sometimes- but quietly, interested in his feelings and prone to remembering things he’d said. Warlock’s most easily exploitable weakness was people being nice to him- Adam was a catastrophe.
Still, Warlock was making the best of his experience in repression to ensure this whole crush situation was never made known to anyone but himself, and he thought he was succeeding, overall. Adam had him on the wrong footing more often than not, but this could be explained away by Warlock’s lack of experience in having real friends. As for the rest, he stamped down heavily on any urges to stare longingly or engage in any flirtatious behaviour, despite how easy Adam sometimes made it to try. There was no chance in hell that this was a reciprocal situation, and he refused to put himself through the torment of rejection and potentially sabotage the best relationship he had going.
He had considered the whole reciprocity thing carefully, but the results were conclusive. Adam did such unfair things as reserving particular smiles for him or telling him he looked nice unprompted, but this was very in-keeping with him as a person; he did the same sort of thing for his friends. When it came to any potential chemistry, he was completely unaffected; while Warlock regularly found himself dry-mouthed and unsure, Adam was unfazed. He didn’t strike Warlock as the type to even feel attraction, considering the way he had moments of almost forgetting people were real in the same way he was. And even then, statistics said he would be into girls- Warlock was already suspicious of his relationship with Pepper.
The whole affair was very inconvenient; Warlock had never been prone to falling so easily for anyone, and he was ill-equipped to handle it. He had conflicting urges to lean into it and to crush it entirely, uncomfortable with the effect it had on him. Love, or whatever it was, was very destabilising, and he was beginning to worry that he was losing his grip on reality, because at times it felt like the world around him was reflecting his own pining. Some days when he spotted Adam he swore the sun started shining through the clouds; he could at times appear as if summoned, and sometimes as they talked Warlock felt as though he had to strain to make out the bustle of the outside world. Once they’d gone punting, pressed together under the blanket in the dismal November drizzle, and when Warlock had stopped laughing at Adam’s dry review of the back of Trinity, he’d looked up to find the falling leaves twirling gently around them.
It was enough to make him question his sanity at times, but then movies and television did make it seem like this was to be expected where love was involved. He’d been imaginative enough as a child, though he’d certainly lost that across the years.
He was sort of relieved the holidays were approaching, in a way. It would give him some reprieve from walking on eggshells. Not so much around Adam, even, but the other three, who were always watchful and potentially able to communicate psychically. He still wasn’t entirely sure whether they liked him or just put up with him for Adam’s sake.
The excruciatingly-named Bridgemas rolled around, bringing much-needed distraction from the final weeks of term. More than once Warlock had found himself cramming essays past midnight with Pepper in their Law Library, nevermind that he wasn’t a lawyer and she didn’t go to their college; Wensleydale’s caffeine dependancy had increased tenfold, and even Adam had taken to grumpily perching over his textbooks once in a while. Only Brian seemed unaffected by his academic obligations, which made him the smartest of them all for eluding the Cambridge trap, Warlock thought.
Bridgemas bop was just as lame as he had expected it to be, but he didn’t feel like he was missing out. He had gone with his fellow NatScis, and thus witnessed some truly stirring renditions of Mariah Carey’s Christmas album, and there was something infectiously entertaining about seeing everyone dressed in hideous jumpers, wearing tinsel and getting drunk. By half-way through the event he had found himself perched near the bar with the Tadfield gang, carefully nursing his mulled wine and watching Adam, Wensleydale and Pepper argue fiercely about economics, Brian laughing by his side. Warlock was barely tipsy himself, having actively avoided getting very drunk within Adam’s company since the Halloween incident, but he was smiling into his drink anyways, feeling festive despite it being a month until Christmas.
“Hey,” Brian said, abruptly, pulling Warlock’s attention away from the curl of hair hanging over Adam’s eyes. He himself was rather further along than Warlock, on his fifth beer and counting. “Can I ask you something?”
“You’re into guys, right?” Brian asked, quieter now, though in a casual way. Warlock felt himself stiffen and counted backwards from ten, forcing his posture to relax.
The query was most likely asked in good faith- they were all very involved in LGBT shit, though whether as allies or involved members he had never asked. After he’d realised this, he’d stopped trying to be discreet about his random hook-ups, so it was sort of an open secret. Still-
“Pretty much, yeah.”
“Right,” Brian said, nodding, and then his eyes slid to Adam, and when he looked back there was something sharp in his gaze. “So-“
Warlock’s pulse thundered; before he could think twice he was reaching into his repertoire and pushing all of the command he could into his throat. “Don’t ask that.”
For a moment Brian’s gaze held, then something wavered in his eyes, expression slackening. Warlock’s relieved exhale caught in his throat as he watched him blink and frown at his drink.
“Sorry, I- what were we saying?”
“Economics,” Warlock managed, and dug his nails into his palm, getting his breathing under control. When he looked back at the group he found Adam staring at him so intently that the hair on the back of his neck stood up.
“I’m gonna- fresh air,” Warlock said, and stood, pushing through the crowd until he got to the door and stumbled outside, throwing himself into the nearest bench once he reached the smoking area. His heart was still racing, more from adrenaline than anything else now.
He let his head fall back and exhaled, breath clouding in the cold but hard to see in the dark. Pulling the command stunt always had him feeling like he’d run a marathon.
He couldn’t explain how it worked, but he had always shied away from thinking too hard about it, because it felt a tad mystic. A trick his Nanny had taught him, amidst speeches on how to psychologically destroy anyone who stood in his way- if you concentrated very hard and spoke things a certain, darkly motivated way, you could get people to do things. Warlock had never been very good at it, to Nanny’s apparent irritation, though he had tried very hard to follow her lead, very interested in getting people to do his bidding at will. At most he usually succeeded in getting people to stop doing things.
He’d learnt to do the opposite too, to equally paltry success- persuade. This he couldn’t remember Nanny teaching him; maybe the old gardener had. Yes, it had been him- he’d taught him to do it with animals, as he recalled. It had been more like encouragement than anything else, but he remembered getting the birds to follow him to his room once.
God, why had he only recently begun thinking about how fucking weird those people had been? Not that his tutors had been any better- Mr Harrison and Mr Cortese had followed very unorthodox teaching curriculums- but at least they’d never tried to teach him how to summon bugs or make his father’s boss dance a jig.
He hadn’t tried to use either in a while, mostly because they made him feel shaky and weird afterwards, like he was using something not meant for him. But Brian- it had been instinctual. Shit, if Brian suspected, then Pepper and Wensleydale probably did too- definitely Pepper. He would have to avoid them until the holidays. Whatever conversation they were trying to have was not one he was interested in pursuing.
Somewhere behind him he heard the parlour door push open. He turned to squint against the sudden burst of light and sound to find Adam silhouetted against it, and they looked at each other for a moment before Adam stepped out and shut the door behind him, the silence abrupt.
“Hey,” Warlock said, aiming for casual. He itched for a cigarette.
Adam mutely made his way over to him, sat on the bench across from him, and though it was dark and Adam’s expression was hard to see he had the momentary notion that Adam knew, somehow, that he was here to condemn him. He pulled himself straighter, tried to focus his mind, to map escape routes. He had the dark suspicion that trying anything on Adam would fail.
“Aren’t you cold?” Adam asked, finally, just before Warlock could give up and say something politically risqué to distract him.
“Uh,” Warlock said. “Yeah.”
“Then why are you outside?”
He knew, Warlock thought again. Somehow he knew. But no- he couldn’t. “Needed some air. It’s very stifling in there.”
More silence; Warlock felt as though nailed to the spot, like something was raking him over the coals, and then suddenly the feeling stopped. He exhaled shakily. Across him, Adam’s posture had relaxed.
“I s’pose it can be.”
Warlock nodded uncomfortably, hands clenching reflexively at the phantom feeling of unease. From the library they heard the clock strike midnight, and he glanced distractedly at the parlour as muffled cheers reached them, students inside celebrating.
“Merry Bridgemas,” Warlock said, vaguely.
“Merry Bridgemas,” Adam echoed, then glanced upwards. Warlock followed, then started.
From the dark skies above, snow had begun to fall.
Adam is very hard to write because I try to keep a healthy balance between the fact he's a demonic entity with the face of an angel and the fact he's a university student who primarily lives off Asda deliveries and making fun of Love Island competitors. Warlock never stood a chance. It's also very fun writing the Them as a cohort- I imagine dealing with them would be very confusing.
Probably my favourite part of this chapter was the dialogue- all the characters have such a distinct way of saying (and not saying) things, and Warlock is a very entertaining character to write through.
Also, I've based this quite firmly on both book and series canon; Warlock did indeed develop a phobia of dogs as a result of Crowley trying to make him bond with a demonic dog, and Aziraphale was a perfect gardener without ever doing any gardening, both of which I enjoy immensely.
R&R if you please !
Chapter 2: Lent
Warlock returns to the 'Bridge for a lot of reveals and a lot of misunderstandings.
Thanks for the support on the last chapter- I'm glad everyone enjoys Warlock as much as I enjoy writing him!
This chapter deals with a lot of avoidable drama, as second acts tends to be, which I will blame squarely on the fact that Warlock and Adam invited it upon themselves. They had terrible influences. Still, given their personalities, I suppose it's a minor miracle they don't spend all of their time together caught up in some fit of bad temper and supposed ill-intentions. Good thing they have some reasonable friends and all that.
I feel like all fics with Warlock in them need to tackle the Antichrist mishap in some way- the crux of this fic was the idea that Warlock would indeed get suspicious and upset if he heard about it, but that his original assumptions would be completely off base. I enjoy characters applying themselves to reach the wrong conclusion, evidently- hence Adam also succumbing to the same evil later on in this chapter.
Anyways, I hope you enjoy the read- I had a lot of fun with this chapter.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The Christmas holidays were an uneventful slog. Warlock spent most of it bored at parties and holed up doing coursework, with some brief interludes of seeing his school friends. Mostly he was passed around to regale people with tales of Cambridge university life and sit through uninteresting stories about the English.
“Maybe we should have sent you to boarding school there,” his mother commented once, after recounting for the umpteenth time that Warlock had in fact started his education in Oxford of all places. “You would have a British accent and everything.”
“Maybe,” Warlock acquiesced faux-pleasantly, musing that sending him to boarding school abroad had been the only cliché psychological trauma his parents had forgotten to inflict upon him. “I like my accent, though.”
“Oh, for sure,” his father added, shaking his head profusely. “Can you imagine? My son prancing around like the Queen of England. No thanks.”
“How ghastly,” Warlock said, in his most mangled impression of the dame herself. This did not appear to entertain his father.
He mostly avoided telling his parents much about anything he’d been up to, namely steering clear of revealing anything about Adam and the others beyond their names and courses, which wasn’t so hard, considering that his mother had failed to remember that he even had roommate until a week into the break.
In fairness, his parents were relatively well-behaved over Christmas. Their Christmas dinner was actually kind of nice- they hadn’t heard from Warlock in long enough that he got to speak for most of it, and his mother’s attention still hadn’t wavered by the time they got to desert. Undoubtedly she was getting her fill of tidbits to share amongst her friends, but it was still unusual, and at certain moments her comments were almost pertinent, like she’d remembered their previous calls. On one momentous occasion his father deigned to comment that he found Warlock’s proposed thesis quite interesting ‘for that sort of thing’.
Cambridge holidays were preposterously long, and tentatively okay discussions or not the thought of spending a month at home with no distraction in sight was unbearable, so he lied to them about early exams and fucked off to England as soon as the new year had rolled in, face pressed against the window as he watched the sea unfurl in the distance.
The university was almost as empty as home had been, but in a far more palatable way. Warlock amused himself by clubbing with the locals, browsing different libraries and attending weird film sessions at the Picturehouse, which had event evenings where you were encouraged to bring wine (which he did) or sing along (which he did not).
The week passed rapidly enough. By the time the start of term had dawned, he had recovered from his holiday fatigue enough to start looking forward to the return of his friends- and, of course, his roommate. Adam had written to inform him they were visiting his godparents in London before they came up to Cambridge, but he was due in Sunday. Warlock would deny any claims that he spent most of Saturday afternoon in a state of total distraction.
He had planned on getting up early on Sunday so as to avoid the whole group emerging into his bedroom while he was out cold, but when he opened his eyes on Sunday morning he found himself staring at Dog, who barked enthusiastically at his awakening.
Warlock seized up in surprise and scuttled upright, finding Adam with suitcases in hand by the door, cheeks red from the cold and gaze faintly reproachful as he surveyed Dog.
“I did tell him to let you sleep.”
“What time is it?” Warlock asked, still taken aback; when he glanced at the window he found the light pale (and when had he drawn his curtains, anyways?).
“Early,” Adam answered pushing his suitcase in and setting down his backpack. Then he looked over and smiled. “Hi, by the way.”
“Hi,” Warlock responded, fighting the unbidden urge to blush. There was something deplorably domestic about the situation. “Holidays go well?”
“Yeah, thanks. Yours?” Adam asked, Dog bouncing obediently over to him as he wheeled over to his room. Warlock shrugged, then realised he couldn’t see him, and pulled himself upright so that he could peer past the doorframe.
“Yeah, fine. How were your godparents?”
At this Adam made a non-committal, faintly positive noise. “Good, overall. There’s always something happening with those two.”
“Conjugal drama,” Warlock assumed, nodding. “Classic.”
“More like trouble at work,” Adam corrected, with an amused quirk of his lips. “They sorted the conjugal drama out when I was eleven.”
“D’you see them often?”
“Usually yes,” Adam said, contemplative. “They’ve been abroad a lot this year- only got back to London around New Years. I expect I’ll be hearing from them a lot more now they’re back. They might even come visit.”
He looked back over at Warlock and tilted his head consideringly. “You should meet them. I’d like to see what you make of each other.”
“I test really well with relatives,” Warlock drawled, sarcastic. He was actually pretty curious about the mystical godparents- Adam and his friends mentioned them relatively often, but he’d never seen them, probably due to the whole year abroad thing, and found it hard to picture them. He got caught somewhere between the bookstore and the leather and the fact that a pair of weirdo Londoners with worse names than Warlock’s were friends of the Youngs.
“I don’t,” Adam sighed, sounding irked. “Except at some point parents sort of get resigned to my existence and stop interfering.”
“But you’re so unobjectionable,” Warlock protested, half-sincere, which earned him an eyeroll. He felt significantly more awake. “Brunch?”
“D’you know, I quite missed Cambridge,” Adam said, pensive, as Warlock hid a smile and ran a hand through his overgrown hair. “Ten minutes.”
By Sunday evening, Warlock was in such good spirits that he risked gingerly patting the top of Dog’s head.
Of course, because he lead a cursed existence, Warlock barely lasted a week before everything went horribly wrong.
The week itself had gone quite well. On Monday, Warlock had given into temptation and accidentally been recruited into the rowing team (read: cult), which he would definitely regret at some point when the repeat early mornings did him in, but rowing was something he was good at, and he enjoyed the physicality of it. On Wednesday he’d managed to turn his lab report in on time, courtesy of his extra week back at university. On Thursday, he’d belatedly realised how miraculous it was that his potted plant had survived throughout the holiday without any care. By Friday he had been in high enough spirits to accept a call from his mother, albeit while doing his groceries, so that he would have an excuse to hang up.
Evidently, he should have known better than to do so. His mother was thrilled to hear he had joined the rowing team, though Warlock had told her no such thing and taken pains not to add his teammates anywhere visible, and she launched into a spiel about Yale and his father’s rowing days which made Warlock want to march down to the Cam and resign immediately.
He managed to fend her off and head home, but his mood had fallen significantly by the time he got back, mind swimming in thoughts of heritage and the futility of choice. Still, it was nothing a good night’s sleep wouldn’t have fixed, had the rest of his night not gone to shit entirely.
He was distracted by the time he got to the apartment, AirPods blaring Childish Gambino, and as such when he spotted Adam’s door uncharacteristically shut the thought that it was shut for a reason eluded him entirely. Instead, he absently shoved it open, one AirPod between his fingers as he prepared to ask Adam whether he still had any change for laundry.
The words died in his throat.
“Warlock?” Adam said, in unusually unsettled tones; around him, the other three were staring wide-eyed in his direction. Warlock didn’t look at him. His eyes were fixed on the screen of his laptop, where they had landed as he opened the door.
“Warlock?” one of the men on-screen echoed, in tones of utter disbelief.
If he’d seen them on the street he might not have recognised them, but side by side like this… The crisp cut of a dark suit, the glasses, the stern angle of the nose; he saw Nanny before he saw anything else. By her- his- side stood a man in muted creams with the curls of a cherub; Warlock saw Mr Cortese first, then Brother Francis. His lungs restricted so forcefully that for a second he thought he was having a stroke, hand flying out to brace him against the doorframe and AirPod sent tumbling to the floor.
“What the fuck,” Warlock managed, head spinning with overlaid memories and naked shock, so out of it that for one interminable moment his vision went hazy with it, and he swore he saw wings and haloes and Dog stretched to a hulking beast of a thing, Adam’s eyes a burning red in his field of vision.
He exhaled forcefully, a rasp of a sound, and in the space between moments concentrated every iota of his being into getting a grip, making sense of it, saving face. By the time he’d blinked the room had righted itself, and Mr Cortese- Brother Francis- the man in white seemed about to speak, but the seed of a thought had planted itself in his chest somewhere between his ribs, and he felt it grow with unstoppable acrid force, hand spasming against the door with the strength of it. Them- and Adam, and-
“You should-“ Adam started, voice like a lulling pull inwards, but Warlock shook its grasp almost physically, releasing a snarl of a laugh.
Them and Adam and Warlock.
“Oh, of course.”
“Of course what?”
“How could I not have seen this coming?” Warlock said almost cheerily, mouth twisting into a spiteful grin as his breaths went ragged. “Roommates? In Cambridge? Sure let that one go easily. How much do my parents pay you, then?”
Adam’s brow furrowed violently, but for once Warlock ripped his gaze away from him easily, landing with scathing purpose on the men on screen, who were still trying for befuddled. Looking at them hurt like he didn’t think he could still feel hurt; he felt a slightly hysterical laugh die in his throat.
“As for you two, I mean. Congratulations on the pension fund. I suppose you’re the famed godparents? Good one, that.”
His heart was pounding a painful tattoo in his chest, unendingly consistent, and it was hard not to scream. What a fucking idiot he’d been to buy into this all- to think he could elude heritage, to think his choices had ever mattered, to think there might be someplace in the world where he had some agency. His victory had been illusory after all- Adam no more than an extension of his parents’ will, keeping Warlock safely within control. And Warlock had lapped it all up so easily, the idea that someone could naturally be so damn great for him, hadn’t even suspected that Adam’s supernatural capacity to understand him could have been the result of being supremely well-informed by the people who best knew him.
How could he have been so stupid? Adam, already all moved into his suite, Adam with seemingly no subject to study, Adam tailing Warlock to classes, Adam knowing things without being told- his parents being so civil over the holidays, his mother’s knowing phone calls.
As for the tutors, well. He was almost impressed at the coordination of it all, recalled his first call home, wondered if the idea to put Adam in touch had originated from there. Undoubtedly their original departure, too, had been part of some freakish stunt of his parents. Maybe he’d gotten too attached for their tastes. He recalled the way he’d sobbed once Nanny had walked out of the door, felt a misdirected hatred so black he couldn’t express it.
“Warlock, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Adam was saying, grave and uncannily urgent, Dog whining lowly near him as the others exchanged looks. His friends looked so bewildered he felt they couldn’t have known the truth; the same could not be said of his tutors. “Your parents have nothing to do with this.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Warlock snapped, only just restraining the urge to lose his shit entirely and pummel him. “The gig is up, asshole. It’s obvious enough, in retrospect. I guess it’s a good thing this was just a job, because I have got to say, ‘Adam’? Adam is barely a fucking person. If that’s who you are in your own life then I pity the people who know you.”
“You watch your mouth,” Pepper exclaimed, half-rising, but Warlock was past caring, vindictiveness pounding in his chest.
“You must think you’re so above me, keeping all these secrets. But what kind of person lies so easily and completely, huh? You act like you’re the god of your little cult- what d’you think they’d say if they could see what you’re really like?” Hurt, he thought, conjuring ancient lessons, and pushed, hard as he could, into the soft core that couldn’t have been entirely faked. “Everything you get from people you plant there, and it means nothing.”
There was a sharp cracking noise, like thunder, like the earth splitting, and Adam’s face made of stone. He felt the sick satisfaction of vindication unfurl in his chest, dragged his eyes back to the screen, the man who had been Nanny regarding him expressionlessly, and wiped his own face of feeling as best he could.
“As for you two,” Warlock said, softly, and added nothing. It said enough.
Then he turned on his heel and started walking, and did not stop until he was down the corridor, until he was down the stairs, until he was streets away in the howling rain and he could hear himself breathe again.
He booked a room at the Hilton with his father’s membership, using their minibar to get so blackout drunk he almost didn’t make it back to his bed. Thank every deity it was the weekend; he slept through most of it, and only left mid-Sunday to retrieve some of his belongings from his room. He was half surprised to find Adam hadn’t moved out yet, considering.
By Monday, he had put himself together enough to attend his afternoon lectures, wearing sunglasses and a Versace bathrobe. This earned him exasperated stares from all sides, which he thrived on. If there was no escaping destiny, he might as well embrace it- no more pointless acts of hubris, defying the ineffable plan.
In keeping with his newfound mantra, he threw himself into both rowing and CUCA with gusto, which cemented him as possibly the biggest asshole in Cambridge by sheer virtue of this alignment.
Achieving this was harder than it seemed. Fate seemed to be testing his new resolve: for two weeks his rowing sessions were abysmal courtesy of the disgusting weather they were saddled with, his team sat clenching their teeth and shivering from the wet cold as they rowed through the early morning darkness, and at CUCA, some kind of drama involving Kenneth’s girlfriend, diverging opinions on the Queen, a takedown of Charlie’s Twitter account and an outdated meme had left the atmosphere icy and paranoid, making his reemergence far more difficult than it had any right to be.
No matter- no challenge was too big for Warlock’s newfound motivation of resentful resignation. He delved into the depths of his sad diplobrat soul to push through the godawful rowing sessions, which left him dead on his feet for quite some time. The physical toll wasn’t the worst part, though he hadn’t missed the gross physicality of the aftermath- rubbing ointment into his blistered hands and clipping off his dead skin. He’d rowed enough in high school that after the initial adjustment period his body proved resilient enough. The real struggle was keeping his barrage of complaints to a minimum or risk getting booted off the team for lowering morale.
On the CUCA front, he had to endure the excruciating experience that was actually paying attention to the doings of his companions to try and avoid setting any of them off. Trouble within CUCA created a Red Scare-esque atmosphere of suspicion and accusations, and as the only true Commie-fearing red-blooded American in the group, he had been over it as soon as it had started. So he listened, and god forbid, interacted, and slowly weaved a strategic map of things to say and things to do to steer them all back into a more passive state of douchebaggery. All of those youth leadership conferences had paid off, though- by week two he had redirected the wrath of their bruised egos enough that his conveniently timed distraction (the newest Greta Thurnberg call to activism) finally united them in their mockery once more.
Three weeks into term, Warlock had reinvented himself with slightly depressing success, become friendly with the Hilton cleaning staff, smoked his way through an alarming number of cigarettes, regrown the skin on his palms, and scrupulously ignored any attempts to contact him on behalf of either his parents or the Tadfield foursome, who he’d all blocked as thoroughly as he could.
He wasn’t exactly happy, but he wasn’t miserable- or if he was he keeping himself distracted. So his parents had fucked him over once again, the guy he’d been enamoured with had turned out to be a remorseless fake, and the only people he’d trusted as a child had betrayed him for money. Shit happened. He didn't have the energy to wallow in his misery.
He was dragging himself back from a harrowing rowing session one morning when Adam reappeared into his life in his characteristically subtle fashion, which was to say that he found him standing by reception in the Hilton, half-way into convincing the receptionist to give him Warlock’s room number.
He saw Warlock before Warlock could decide how to react, stomach in knots, and dropped his argument, striding rapidly towards him.
“Hi. Don’t run away.”
“The old man say I was here?” Warlock demanded, clutching his rowing gear protectively. “You can tell him to go fuck himself.”
“No, I followed you home,” Adam said, which was such a disturbing thing to confess that Warlock believed him. “I’ve been trying to talk to you for ages, but I didn’t want to resort to…”
“Cyber-stalking?” Warlock asked, finding it within himself to be cold. “Strange place to draw the line.”
“You’ve got it all wrong,” Adam said, firmly, his eyes blue like the sea, Warlock’s grip on his bag slackening in response. “I’ve got nothing to do with your parents.”
Part of him wanted desperately for this to be true; it was this part which kept him from simply scoffing and shoving past him, mixed with a dose of practicality that told him doing so would only result in Adam following him upstairs anyways.
“Right. Colour me convinced.”
“I will, if you’ll let me speak,” Adam pushed. “It’s a long story.”
Warlock wavered, considered his odds, and sagged a little. “Fine. Five minutes.”
They set off for his room in silence, Warlock with his jaw set and firmly not making eye contact. He was trying to remember the state of his room as he’d left it before rowing, and suspected it was a tip.
He barely had the time to verify this assessment (correct) before Adam was within his line of vision again, expectant, and he sat down heavily on his bed, sweat be damned.
“I’m the Antichrist,” Adam started, which Warlock could quite honestly say he had not fucking expected, and caused him to whip his head up so fast he hurt his neck. “And you’re not.”
“What,” Warlock managed, too thrown to muster outrage. He was rationally almost entirely sure he was being toyed with, but Adam’s speech was so matter of fact he couldn’t quite register it.
“It’s sort of complicated,” Adam said, with a little annoyed quirk of his mouth. “I would have come to you sooner, but I needed to get the facts straight for myself first, and Aziraphale and Crowley were very cagey.”
“This isn’t fucking funny,” Warlock began, feeling the coil of hot unhappiness rise in him once again. Before he could get another word out, Adam’s eyes flashed red like blood, and his words died in his throat.
“Non-believer, I forgot,” Adam said. His eyes were still red, and Warlock had gone stiff. “It’s true, though. I’m not sure how to prove it to you. Last time this all came out, it was pretty obvious to everyone involved what I was.”
“What the fuck,” was Warlock’s answer. Adam gazed around, then back at him, and leant in, pressing one hot palm against his chest. When he removed it Warlock glanced down instinctively- his whole body had gone clean and dry, like he’d stepped out of a shower. His eyes snapped back up to Adam’s- still red- and he felt his mouth fall open.
“My powers are usually more dramatic,” Adam continued, a little carelessly, brushing a golden curl out of his eyes. “But when I was eleven I swore to my friends that I would try to curtail any apocalyptic happenings as a result of my satanic lineage, and I’ve stuck to that for the most part.”
“Your father,” Warlock repeated dully, “Is the devil?”
“My dad is my dad,” Adam retorted, though without real heat. “My unfortunate DNA donor, though, yeah- the big red guy himself.”
This was insane, Warlock thought, and briefly entertained the thought of making a run for it. This was insane, but he was still dry and Adam’s eyes were still red and maybe he’d been raised slightly more open to the mystical than your average child of the twenty first century, so when his mounting hysteria simmered down to manageable levels he just sat there and waited.
“Anyways,” Adam pressed on, nonchalantly. “When I was eleven I was supposed to cause the apocalypse- d’you remember that summer around my- well, your- birthday, when there was all kinds of funny things going on-“
“Yeah,” Warlock said, throat gone dry, remembering standing in a desert facing a strange slit-eyed man who smelled like shit. Abruptly none of this felt so much like a hoax. “I remember.”
“That was me,” Adam confessed, rather unrepentantly. “Long story short, I was kind of a dick to the gang, and once that had clicked I realised that even though the world is shitty the apocalypse is not really a great solution for that, so I cancelled it. That was when I met Aziraphale and Crowley.”
Warlock considered him mutely, feeling wan, and Adam’s tempo faltered, something sympathetic in his expression.
“That’s- you know, my godparents. Aziraphale’s an angel and Crowley’s a demon. They really are my godparents now, only originally their whole plan was to try and thwart the end of times by cancelling out my heavenly and hellish impulses as I grew older.”
“Jesus Christ,” Warlock exhaled, almost understanding. “Nanny and Brother Francis.”
“Yeah, wrong baby,” Adam finished, and his eyes were blue again when Warlock spared him a distraught look. “Heaven and hell are surprisingly incompetent.”
“Jesus Christ,” Warlock repeated, feeling dizzy. “This is insane.”
Adam did not acknowledge these mutterings, instead flitting around to the window to open the blinds. “The point being that none of this was about your parents spying on you. I suppose Crowley and Aziraphale did actually work for them at a time, but they quit because they’d found the real Antichrist, not because of some elaborate scheme.”
“You- what, you knew all of this from-“ Warlock started, trying to make sense of it all.
“I didn’t know you were involved at all,” Adam said, final. “Remember how I said they only got back to London recently? Mystical business. Only once they got back did I get to ask them about you- and none of us had connected the dots yet.”
“Why were you asking about me, then?”
“Because I thought you might be a witch or something,” Adam shrugged, like this was a perfectly natural thing to assume. “You can see Dog all the time unless I hide him on purpose, and you can do a bit of magic sometimes, like that trick you pulled on Brian. I wasn’t going to be nosy about it, because Pepper told me to respect boundaries and stuff, but with all that’s been happening this year I figured I’d be safe and ask.”
“Oh, all kinds,” Adam dismissed. “Demon attack. Ominous prophecy. And my witch friend foresaw an alarming uptick in my reality warping abilities this year, which usually means some kind of fight. Hence the concern.”
“Reality warping,” Warlock said. He felt suspended between belief and denial, head screaming for the latter, heart firmly convinced. It wasn’t sentimental- something instinctual in him simply said this was all true, and how could it not be? Nanny had taught him hypnosis, and Brother Francis had spoken to animals, and that summer in the desert-
Reality warping, he thought. Straight out of sci-fi, that was. It was just too absurd to be true- Warlock had always been a deplorable realist. But he thought of his dry clothes, and he felt his throat work around tentative realisation.
“The weather,” he said, wavering only a little. “Was that you?”
Adam blinked at him, eyes dark pools. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” Warlock pushed, finally finding his footing, teetering towards belief. “I mean the way the weather has been acting up all year, whenever- like, the past couple of weeks, the freak rain. Or the- snow, on Bridgemas, like I’d… Sometimes the sun feels like it’s trailing me.”
Adam’s expression shifted. He had been perfectly confident and calm this whole time, albeit more patient than usual, but there was a strangeness to his face, like it didn’t know what to display. He said nothing for long enough that Warlock, emboldened, stopped picking at his hands.
“That has to have been you. If this is all real.”
“That’s the sort of thing my powers affect,” Adam said, finally, still strange. “But they don’t usually- it’s usually less personal.”
“Personal?” Warlock asked, his breath violently caught in his lungs. He didn’t manage to control his expression in time, and Adam’s expression settled, suddenly unflappable and on the dangerous edge of teasing.
“I had to figure that one out, too. It’s you.”
There was a crystallising pause, then Adam raised one brow, then the other, and Warlock felt the blood drain from his face.
“It’s because you like me,” Adam said, with cruel casualty. “I’m not used to people liking me so much like that- the warps are accidental, responsive.”
This wasn’t happening, Warlock thought distantly, trying to regain his breathing. He felt as though he had been slapped; his mouth worked silently before he managed to force something out.
Something flashed in Adam’s eyes, impatient; Warlock knew with deep certainty that it had been years since anyone truly refused him anything, and he wasn’t enjoying how difficult this had become. Tough fucking shit. His stomach was burning with mortification.
“I’m not trying to-“
“I don’t believe you,” Warlock snapped, getting to his feet; it had the desired effect of cutting Adam short- he hadn’t expected this particular grievance. “This is all batshit crazy, and I don’t believe in angels and demons and the Antichrist, and I especially don’t fucking believe that I’m the one at fault for all of this warping bullshit.”
Paradoxically, his refusal to accept the latter point had actually sort of sold him on the former, but that was neither here or there- he couldn’t quite figure out what had pushed him over the edge until he realised that it was the first time he had ever felt like he was being lied to in present company, even within the entirety of the Antichrist reveal. It sat sour and heavy in his chest.
“It’s true,” Adam responded, heavily, his eyes sparking a frustrated red. “You can’t just live in denial about it.” Then, damningly, with a gaze that left no doubt as to what exactly he was now referring to: “And I can feel it.”
This was not a lie. Warlock could have hit him. “Oh, right. And you couldn’t before, because…?”
“I wasn’t looking,” Adam said. He looked angelic in the filtered light, and yet somehow more inhumane than Warlock had ever known him, detached, disapproving.
“Get out,” Warlock hissed, turning his face to the side. He didn’t want to know if Adam was looking now, what he could see- how much he could see, all laid bare for his satisfaction. To think he’d been on the verge of apologising for the things he’d said the last time.
“I didn’t mean to-“ Adam started, frustration lacing his words again, but listening to him was unbearable, and Warlock wrenched his head up and glared with every scrap of dignity he had left.
It came out a command without his deciding to make it one, and he watched it ripple through the air and pass through Adam harmlessly, hands curling into helpless fists. But Adam had felt it pass, and with clear effort he snapped his mouth shut and set his jaw, taking a step back.
Warlock watched him leave, back ramrod straight and fists clenched tightly. Only once the door had shut did he collapse onto his bed. His hands were shaking.
His clothes were still clean.
He moved back in over the weekend. It wasn’t a gesture of reconciliation- when Adam spotted him, eyes widening questioningly, Warlock averted his gaze and said nothing, locking the stalemate. The Hilton was expensive, was all, and the feud was no longer one of cosmic scale- just personal, just individual, no third parties involved. He could suck that much up.
He’d spent the week testing the truth of Adam’s claims, researching the summer of his birthday, browsing the library’s oldest tomes on angels and demons, retracing his own memories. It still felt insane, but he believed it. There were no adequate alternatives.
He unblocked his parents and the Tadfield three; neither of his parents seemed to have noticed he’d blocked them in the first place, but Brian responded within minutes.
“Mill @ 8?”
He met them at the pub at five past, coat wound tightly around him like a shield, feeling like he was entering a political negotiation. Wensleydale was the first to spot him, pushing his glasses up distractedly as he raised a hand in greeting, and Warlock nodded sharply at them as he sat down.
“So,” Pepper said, after an interminable silence. “You know everything now.”
Warlock shrugged, eyed Brian’s beer. “You mean the Antichrist thing? Yeah.”
“Anathema says it’s probably because of the whole Antichrist thing that you guys ended up roommates,” Wensleydale blurted, fiddling with his coaster. “Like, Adam sensed you out.”
“Dude,” Brian said, pointedly. Then he turned to Warlock. “Anathema is our village witch. She helped with the whole apocalypse-that-wasn’t thing.”
“Right,” Warlock said. “And her husband?”
“Failed witch hunter,” Pepper explained, perfunctory. “He’s got some magic in him, too.”
“I’ll bet,” Brian grinned; Pepper kicked him hard under the table.
“That doesn’t even make sense,” Wensleydale muttered, then looked at Warlock with uncannily perceptive eyes. “Um, Warlock, listen, I just wanted to say sorry.”
There was a pause. Neither of the other two had been expecting this, and Warlock felt for the first time that they weren’t just following a discussed script.
“Sorry for what?”
“Well, for lying so much,” Wensleydale pushed, lacing his fingers together. “I mean, it was mostly because we don’t involve anyone in this stuff, and also we thought you might be a witch, or possibly demonic, but still. And then also I guess for Adam, cause…”
He trailed off, a heavy silence in the air. Warlock kept his expression bored.
“Adam can be kind of insensitive,” Brian said, after an eternity. Wensleydale shot him a relieved look. His dark eyes were serious. “I mean, he’s our best friend, and he knows us well enough to know how to behave. But it’s not like we don’t know he can be a twat.”
He was eyeing Pepper, who pursed her lips; there was an unspoken argument between them, and then she set her shoulders. “Consider yourself lucky, Warlock. The first time we fought he forcibly removed our agency and erased our ability to speak.”
“That sounds fucked up,” Warlock said, going for flat and missing by a mile. Pepper’s gaze was fierce.
“You’re not off the hook either. We all saw how nasty you get when cornered- and paranoia is not a good look for you. But we shouldn’t have done this all behind your back, and Adam shouldn’t have gone about apologising the way he did.”
He didn’t know how to react to this, struggling to hold eye contact, so he didn’t, just sat and tried not to lash out. Of course Adam had reported the conversation back. Probably they had all known before that too- he remembered Brian’s knowing look that night at the party.
He knew they wouldn’t like the question, but he had to ask.
“This- with Adam- it’s not him making me-“
Brian’s face darkened, Wensleydale stilled. Surprisingly, Pepper’s expression softened slightly with something like understanding, and she shook her head, once, decisive.
“Adam can only do that to people if he chooses to, and he would never choose to do that.”
“Okay,” Warlock said, quietly. He refused to feel embarrassed for asking, though the itch of a blush was working its way up his chest.
He didn’t want to accept their apology out loud- it felt too awkward, too formal. He wasn’t sure how he felt about it, only that he was more relieved than he’d expected to think he might still be able to talk to them even if he wasn’t talking to Adam. He had to stop thinking of them as a hive mind.
“So, any of you have any supernatural powers you want to tell me about now?” Warlock asked, instead of any of this, voice tilting wryly towards the end. “Werewolves? Vampires? No?”
When he raised his gaze they were smiling.
“Sadly very ordinary,” Brian answered, not sounding very sad about it. “But we did defeat the Horsemen of the Apocalypse that one time. And we’ve had some minor skirmishes with demons and angels since.”
“I think I met a demon once,” Warlock said, the memory stirring once again. “Other than my childhood nanny, that is.”
He caught them exchanging looks, and tried to silently convey that he wasn’t interested in discussing the angel and the demon yet. It worked somehow, because Pepper only raised a brow.
“It was that same summer,” Warlock began. “My father took me to the Middle East with him on a business trip...”
Getting back into an awkward balance of his first and second term required less effort than anticipated. He stuck with the rowing and the CUCA presence, but the latter was diminished in favour of sometimes crossing paths with the other three. He didn’t see them very often, because friendly or not they were still Adam’s first and foremost, but when they were around they came to make conversation with him before slipping over to Adam’s, and once in a while Warlock would run into one of them alone and have quite a pleasant time of it.
Living in tense silence with Adam wasn’t exactly enjoyable. It wasn’t that Adam was making it hard on him, exactly- he was civil when they needed to talk, and seemed not to be holding a grudge- but there was no way to be any friendlier than they were without resolving their differences, and there they seemed stuck in their mutual stubbornness.
Warlock had no interest in making nice, despite the temptation of regaining that easy friendship, mostly because he didn’t feel he was in the wrong. He was still sure Adam had not been telling the truth, and beyond that his pride was too wounded to compromise. It took a certain kind of nerve to expose someone’s secrets so mercilessly. Extending the olive branch now would have felt like a concession, an admission that the accursed feelings were so strong as to overwhelm his feeble resolve.
The ordeal of it all had given him something new, though- a kind of self-assurance, maybe, brittle but more honest than what he’d thought himself to have before. The fact that his whole life had been part of a thwarted Apocalypse was somehow comforting- he could hardly be blamed for having turned out a hot mess, and he was reasonably well-adjusted, all things considered. It made him care less about trying to be something he wasn’t quite.
It was with this wry new confidence that, upon seeing the Rainbow Ball come around, he forewent his usual plans of ignoring anything Pride related and pretending to be smug about it and instead set to strategising. Adam and the others were going, obviously, but he wasn’t going with them. And he didn’t want to go alone- too pathetic. In a secret way he sort of felt like he was attending an event his ex was going to and had to show him up.
His plan was so ridiculous that he had full confidence in it succeeding.
“So, boys,” Warlock said, at the next CUCA social, around his cigarette. He set his lighter down. “Not that hearing you all bemoan the sensitivity of our generation for the fiftieth time today isn’t a thrill, but I have something to ask.”
“Warlock wants something from us,” Johnson exclaimed dramatically, flinging his hand to his chest. “I always knew this day would come. What have you been using us for, you bastard?”
“No tribal parties,” Charlie warned, barely lifting his gaze from his phone. “And no prostitutes.”
“I want you all to come with me to the Rainbow Ball,” Warlock said, amiably, and took a drag from his cigarette into the stunned silence.
“Good one,” Peters said, slowly, though he wasn’t laughing. Warlock quirked a brow at him.
“Hold on,” Johnson sputtered, waving a hand. “You don’t seriously mean that you’re-“
“You have got to be kidding me,” Kenneth muttered. Charlie’s phone had lowered in shock. In the background he caught the Winkelvii exchanging gleeful looks.
“Anyways,” Warlock continued. “That’s a yes then?”
“You have got to be fucking kidding me,” the Aubster said, Warlock making a moue at the repetition. “Oh, man. So Warlock’s wand-“
“That’s a no,” Peters interrupted, coolly appraising. “Don’t think it’d be our cup of tea.”
“Okay,” Warlock shrugged. “Pity. Sorry about your girlfriend, though, Johnson.”
“I mean, those nudes you sent the chat were very nice, but I don’t think she’d be too happy to see them, considering that girl wasn’t Asian,” Warlock said, exhaling a gust of smoke.
“Are you threatening me?” Johnson asked, face darkening violently; he made as if to stand and Warlock waved a hand.
“Oh, no, just blackmailing. It’s like how Kenneth probably wouldn’t like his DoS to hear about the fact he regularly attends supervisions high, or Charlie wouldn’t like his old tweets to resurface, or Peters wouldn’t like those high school photos of him with shoe polish on his face to be seen outside of the group. You know? Speaking of- I know for a fact the Daily Mail would have a field day with the screenshots I have of the group chat.”
There were a lot of pale, angry faces staring at him. Peters was the first to get himself under control.
“You realise if you leaked that, we’d do the same to you. And you’d be implicated in the chat.”
“I have plausible deniability,” Warlock dismissed. “I’m friends with hardcore leftist crazies, after all. Maybe I only joined to see for myself what kind of terrible things you were saying. As for blackmailing me back- what exactly would you be blackmailing me with?”
There was a hush of realisation; Johnson spat out a bitter laugh, almost impressed sounding.
“You absolute bastard. What are you getting out of this?”
“I just need some backup at the Ball,” Warlock smiled. “Amongst other favours. But what’s a favour between friends?”
“What the fuck have we ever done to you?” Peters snapped, coldly.
“Nothing,” Warlock said, and didn’t feel remorseful at all. “You’re just assholes. And I’m not doing anything to you, you realise. I bet you’ll have a great time once you come- and won’t it be nice for your PR, to be seen to mingle with the bent folks?”
“I don’t have any problems with gay people,” Winkelvii one muttered, resentfully. Warlock shot him a winning smile.
“Well, aren’t you in luck, then?”
They were all staring at him with resigned resentment, and he put his cigarette out, lips twitching. So this was the proverbial crushing under a heel, then- quite an addictive feeling. He allowed himself to savour it for one moment, two, then got to his feet, shrugging his coat on.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, boys. Be thankful I’m not making you come in drag.”
They attended the Rainbow Ball, Warlock in his subtlest Versace suit, just to be contrary, and the various members of CUCA in tow, pained smiles fixed in place. He was tempted to tell them that they were delusional if they thought anyone inside would ever take them for anything less than straight with the way they dressed, but then that might have been too much. He was already playing with fire as it was; some of the other attendees of the ball had recognised them and were throwing suspicious looks their way.
In the queue to the venue he spotted Adam and the others chatting amongst themselves, all dressed in their finest, Brian tugging his tie loose and Pepper’s hair braided together in a rainbow of colour. He looked away before they could spot him- it was too soon for the CUCA lot to put two and two together.
If he was being honest, the ball was tremendous fun. Once the CUCA gang stopped looking like they were expecting someone to forcibly stick a bright pink dildo down their throat, they loosened up; by halfway through dinner alcohol and conversation had changed their moods entirely, and they seemed to have mostly forgotten they’d been dragged in by force. Warlock contented himself with nursing his drink in silence for much of the dinner, but to his surprise by a certain point he was nudged out of his reflection by Winkelvii two, very blonde and very forceful.
“You’re a sly bastard,” Winkelvii two said, stonily, and then raised his glass in approval. “Congratulations on a job well-done.”
“Thanks,” Warlock said, after a beat. They clinked their glasses.
After that, the group seemed to begrudgingly decide to include him for the duration of the event, and by desert when the drag queens stormed the centre stage the ambiance had improved sufficiently that when the one tactfully named Sheryl Hole designated their table as ‘Tory bastards trying to do some public image rehabilitation’, they all cheered quite sincerely, to the mixed amusement of the room.
Ice broken, Warlock didn’t struggle to convince them to partake in the general frolicking of the night, and found himself almost genuinely enjoying their company for once that they were happy to play along and keep the bad political takes to a minimum. He sat and laughed himself silly as the glitter stand devolved into chaos, ending with a ruffled Kenneth upending half the glitter into Johnson’s hair, who took it in stride, striking a pose.
It was at this point, sticky gin from the bar in his hand and glitter streaking down his face, that he felt a tap on his shoulder and watched the others’ expressions go somewhere between intrigued and wary.
“Hello, Warlock,” said Pepper, a vision in silver, rum in hand. “Quite the entourage you’ve brought tonight.”
“Pepper,” Warlock greeted, carefully.
“I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many CUCA members in willing proximity to rainbow flags,” Pepper continued, surveying the glitter-covered group. “I’m surprised you managed it.”
“Oh, you know,” Warlock said. “They’re very supportive allies.”
They exchanged a look, Pepper’s eyes boring into him, and then her lips quirked up just a little, entertained. He exhaled in relief.
“In that case, gentlemen. Care for a photo in Varsity?”
“Delighted to,” Peters said, before Warlock had even turned to bully them into submission. “You know, Hartley, CUCA greatly values diversity in its members-“
“Shut up and smile,” Pepper said, flatly. They complied; her camera flashed in rapid succession, and she shot them a toothy mockery of a smile. “Inspiring.”
“You look very nice,” Warlock said, relaxing his face. Then he glanced at her braid. “I didn’t know you-“
“Enjoy the evening, Warlock,” Pippin said, pointedly, but her lips quirked as she turned, so Warlock was left to smile faintly at her back, mulling this over.
“Why are all the fittest ones in Labour,” Johnson sighed. “If I didn’t know better I’d think you’d come here to pull her, Downing street.”
“A very risqué choice, considering,” Warlock said, dryly. But Peters’ eyes had slid over his face a little too fast, and he felt the prickling of danger in the back of his head.
The night progressed merrily, drinks flowing and music blasting. He lost some of CUCA to the silent disco, where their dance moves cleared a whole corner of the dance floor, and eventually found himself sat in a corner with Peters, Johnson, and Charlie, the latter possibly blacked out drunk and possibly live-streaming the event, with equal likelihood. It was nearing midnight; Johnson had lost his tie as per usual, his hair glittering whenever he moved his head, his foot jiggling in beat with the music, and Peters had smeared his face paint, the tacky rainbow tennis ball he’d won earlier in the night tossed messily from hand to hand as they sat.
“So,” Peters said, watching two guys near them who were very possibly having sex, or otherwise having a very physical debate about Kant’s worth in the modern day. “Adam Young.”
Warlock was just a little too drunk and unsuspecting not to stare at him, which was a rookie mistake; even drunk Peters’ eyes narrowed triumphantly.
“What about him?”
“Why don’t you tell us?” Johnson asked, grinning broadly. Warlock abruptly realised he was caged between the two of them, fingers twitching. “’S why we’re here, isn’t it?”
“You’re here because I needed people to sit with,” Warlock said, which was true enough. Internally he cursed himself for relaxing in their company. He had underestimated them.
“But you only needed that because you couldn’t sit with the quatuor themselves, and clearly your issue isn’t with Pippin Galadriel, so,” Peters continued, smugly. Warlock clenched his jaw.
“He your ex?” Johnson asked, in lilting tones.
“Oh,” Peters said. “How interesting.”
“You can’t blackmail me with this,” Warlock sighed, almost relaxing once he understood their angle. Eye for an eye. “He knows.”
“Oh,” Johnson repeated. He sounded abruptly less threatening. “He’s not your ex and he knows? What, did he reject you?”
“Something like that,” Warlock said, and smirked tiredly, picturing their faces if he were to tell them the truth.
“How dull,” Peters said, in tones of disappointment. Then he fixed Warlock consideringly and sniffed. “Why exactly did he reject you?”
“What’s it to you?”
Peters shrugged casually, twirling his drink (Johnson’s, misappropriated). “If we can’t use this for blackmail we might as well make something of it.”
“Are you offering to play wingman?” Warlock asked, disbelieving; they exchanged a glance and smirked.
“You clearly need it,” Johnson said, stretching his arms. “And you’re speaking to the master of sex.”
“Categorically untrue,” Peters shot back. Warlock downed his drink. “What is it, anyways, then? He doesn’t swing your way?”
“That’s not an issue,” Johnson dismissed. “Everyone swings a little.”
“Yeah, because you’d love it if I decided to set my sights on you with that logic,” Warlock scoffed, finding it in himself to roll his eyes. “It’s not that. He just- he’s not the type for…”
“What, like he’s asexual or whatever?”
“Oh, god,” Warlock groaned, irritably. “We are not having this conversation. You are not getting involved in this.”
“We already are,” Peters pointed out, all teeth when he smiled. “Supportive friends, remember?”
He was immensely grateful for the terrible hangover that afflicted them all the next day.
They passed the midpoint of term; things relaxed further despite Warlock’s best efforts, so that he and Adam made small talk often enough. He had made no conscious move for this to occur, but by sheer virtue of seeing each other so often and sharing living space it was hard to continue without speaking. The new state of things was almost worse than the silence, because it felt very contrived, and made him miss their previous companionship very much.
On a separate note, he was also slowly beginning to obsess over Aziraphale and Crowley, or whatever they were calling themselves now. He had pushed much of the whole revelation aside while he was working himself back into a routine, but now that he was doing relatively well he couldn’t help but come back to them. They lived in London, forty minutes away by train, they spoke to Adam often enough, and they knew who he was, and they knew he remembered.
It wasn’t so much the angel and demon thing he was curious about as the fact that they’d raised him until he was eleven, disguised or not. For years he had carried their departure from his life like a curse, as well as probably developing several lifelong traumas and trust issues, and now here they were, a phone call away. Not that they would necessarily want to hear from him- they’d certainly never reached out afterwards. But he had questions, and under duress he might have said that he wanted answers. Under duress he might have said he wanted them very badly.
He asked the others about them, cautiously, always aiming for casual. He saw them even more now, and individually- Brian was game for anything sports-related, so he came to rowing practice sometimes, and they got breakfast together; Pepper was his most reliable study partner, as well as his most reliable source of college gossip, and Wensleydale, of all people, was who he went to when he wanted to bitch about things.
“Aziraphale and Crowley?” Brian said, upon mention. “Yeah, they’re… weird. I mean, obviously. Timeless beings and all. But weird in the way that like, your uncle is weird. You know? They’re nice enough.”
“I’m pretty sure they live together,” Wensleydale said, clearing his throat. “Crowley has an apartment but his car is always parked outside the bookstore and all of his plants have moved in. Except I don’t want to say anything because I’m scared one of them will accidentally kill me if I do.”
“They’re both kind of terrible,” was Pepper’s assessment, “And definitely not qualified for the job. But all of Heaven and Hell are like that, you’ll see. Still, they’re adequate godparents. And useful for history stuff.”
This did not enlighten Warlock very much.
March crept in rapidly. In keeping with his luck thus far, Warlock found himself unjustly at the mercy of some kind of mutated Freshers’ Flu plaguing the campus. At times it felt like the student body at Cambridge was always ill, which probably wasn’t surprising given the general lack of sleep and proper diet that dominated its illustrious halls. Still, Cambridge while sick was a nightmare, so when he started to feel his head pounding he stubbornly refused to acknowledge it until he awoke one morning to find he had slept until noon and the whole room was swimming before his eyes.
“No,” Warlock mumbled, rebelliously, and went back to sleep. He slept terribly, caught between stages of consciousness; his fever kept him tossing and turning too much to settle down, and his dreams were more nightmares, confusing and overblown and full of muddled religious imagery.
When he woke up again, it was mid-evening, and Adam was observing him from the doorframe. Something wet was touching his hands. He looked down to find Dog sniffing him.
“Sorry,” Adam said. “Couldn’t keep him back.”
“Ngh,” Warlock said, or something like it. His head throbbed and he was sweating hard. “Wh’re you doin’ in?”
“Wensleydale cancelled,” Adam answered, pulling a face. “He’s ill too. And Pepper won’t risk contagion by coming here instead, so.”
“‘M guessing you can’t get sick,” Warlock mumbled. He was unsurprised when Adam nodded. “Y’re such an asshole.”
This was said with frankness, and he thought he saw Adam push down a smile, eyes sparkling briefly. God, he was cold- and he was wrapped up in about ten layers, so that made no sense. He pulled his covers tighter and shivered, wishing he could knock himself over the head somehow. The last thing he needed was some fever-high conversation with his semi-estranged roommate.
“Pepper said to get you soup or something,” Adam said. He was standing closer now, peering interestedly at Warlock where he lay pathetically burrowed in blankets. “I thought you’d probably refuse that.”
“You were right,” Warlock grunted, squinting up at him. Through the haze he was blurry, strokes of gold and blue. “What're you looking at?”
“You have a high fever,” Adam informed him half-questioningly, tilting his head. It made Warlock’s eyes ache to follow the movement. “I can tell. Can you see it?”
“See wh-“ Warlock started, then frowned, eyes gone wide. There was a sort of off-yellow dust blanketing him, hot and oppressive; he strained against it in alarm, then moaned when the movement made his head throb. “Motherfucker.”
Adam pushed him down by the shoulder, Warlock’s skin tingling with heat where he touched it. The dust had vanished. “Anathema can read auras, so when I was about thirteen I got her to show me how. I’ve tweaked it over the years, so when people are hurt or ill I can see what’s wrong with them.”
“Useful for a doctor,” Warlock muttered, head still sore. He hadn’t been ill like this in years. It felt childish somehow; he was almost tempted to reach blindly for Dog and drag him into the bed as a warm cushion.
“I have considered medicine,” Adam confessed, but absently. “Stay still, will you?”
It was barely suggestive, but Warlock felt it wash over him like a cool washcloth, and forced his eyes open to glare at the two Adams looming over him. Both blinked.
“Didn’t mean to do that.”
“What are you doing, ‘xactly?” Warlock groaned, plaintively. “Torturing me?”
“Not exactly,” Adam muttered; then there were fingers on his temple, which Warlock leant into automatically. A fantastically soothing coolness streamed into his head, and his muscles relaxed as one, shivering slowing to a minimum. He could hear a distant choir of angels sing.
“Shit,” Warlock breathed, eyes fluttering shut. “Definitely doctor material. I’ll hire you myself. Just don’t move.”
“I think it’ll work on its own,” Adam said, amused; his fingers retreated and the feeling stayed, enough that Warlock forced his eyes open and propped himself up on his elbows to look at him.
“Did you just magic away my flu?”
“I’m not sure,” Adam answered, mouth still caught in a crooked smile, maybe at the accusatory tone. “I don’t think I managed to wipe the fever entirely. Didn’t want to overstep and accidentally make you immortal or something.”
Warlock barely registered his answer, too caught up in the euphoria of his vanished headache. He felt his forehead cautiously, then let his hand fall.
“Did you do this for Wensleydale?”
“Didn’t occur to me,” Adam said, glancing at Dog, whose tail wagged contentedly. “Also, Wensleydale gets very paranoid when he’s ill. I reckon he might have tried to exorcise me.”
“You can be exorcised?” Warlock asked, laying back down. With the fever gone he felt he could sleep for days. “And no one told me?”
Adam snorted, a bright entertained sound. “You’re welcome to try it sometime.”
“Oh, I will,” Warlock muttered. His eyes had slipped shut again. “You’re lucky I’m feeling grateful right now.”
Adam’s bitten-back laughter carried him into sleep.
In his last week of Lent term, Warlock sat down at his desk, opened his laptop, and redacted a very important letter. He spent about three hours on it. It mainly consisted in a lot of bullet points, and also a conclusion; in it were contained the past griefs of a decade, and some quieter sort of sentiments, organised very mathematically across the pages.
When he was finished, he printed the letter, folded it, sealed it into an envelope, and addressed the envelope to a Mr. Ezra Fell, owner of a poorly reviewed London bookstore. Then he sat and stared at it for a while.
He got all the way to the Post Office before he lost his nerve and tore it to shreds.
In the end, it was as he stood bored at the airport that he was seized by a gust of bravado. He grabbed the nearest ugly postcard of the rack, paid an extortionate amount of money for it, and scribbled down about two sentences’ worth of writing. One was Mr. Ezra Fell’s address. The other read:
Easter term starts April 17. W.
He dropped it into the airport mailbox and forced himself not to think about it.
I feel like this is maybe stressing an evident point, but I try to keep Warlock's narration just observant enough that it's obvious what's actually happening on Adam's side of things- which is, most of the time, Adam being way more of a hot mess than Warlock thinks he is. Certainly trying to make amends with your unbelievably touchy roommate/friend/ambiguous acquaintance by exposing their mortifying feelings for you is a strategy I wouldn't recommend, even if you are the Antichrist.
This was the most relatable chapter to write and I think it's because it has that vibe of the time of the year where things just keep Happening to you and you're like... well....okay then....
All of the character interactions this chapter were so fun to write. I especially love The Them coping with what must be the second or third most stressful year of their lives- imagine the absolute horror of handling two Antichrists-that-weren't with the disastrous dispositions that these two have. I try to make all of the dialogues with Adam et co have a faint hint of something off, just as a natural consequence of all the supernatural and the intense bond they have; getting to write Warlock as the most normal person in the room is a treat.
This chapter ends with a lot of unresolved beats- sorry about that. It didn't seem natural to solve them so neatly.
On a sidenote, me for this entire fic: 'and they were ROOMMATES' '(oh my god they were roommates)'
R&R pls :)
Chapter 3: Easter
In which friendships are rekindled and then a giant flaming sword from Heaven has to come and complicate things.
Hello and sorry for the very late update- this fic ended up doubling in size compared to my original expectations so I've been scrambling to finish it up. Thanks for the enthusiasm last chapter.
This chapter is only half of Easter term, because a lot of shit happens, and resolves one set of drama only to sow the seeds for the big confrontations next chapter, haha. Aziraphale and Crowley finally show up in person during this chapter, and that was a bitch to write! I think their dynamic with Warlock as kids is very obvious, but it was much harder to settle on how they would act upon meeting him again after all this time, and no longer in disguise- Crowley in particular was hard to overlap with the Nanny persona.
On a separate note, the boys have a semi-reasonable and definitely super one-sided conversation about feelings, which I enjoyed writing very much. Warlock is a great narrator- he's such a messy mixture of rationality and emotiveness that he's observant enough to pick up on everyone around him's reactions to things but not any good at deciphering them. Kind of the opposite of Adam, in a way.
Enjoy the read x
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
He hadn’t known what to expect upon returning for Easter term. He’d spoken to the group over the holidays, but not Adam, though he’d been so busy suddenly remembering that exams existed and mocks were happening within days of his coming back that he’d hardly had the time to worry about it.
Fine, so that wasn’t quite accurate. He had worried plenty about it, but without ever going so far as to make a move. He was, as matters stood, frozen between the choices at his disposition- taking action would have involved either forgiving Adam entirely and letting the matter drop, which he staunchly refused to do, or standing firm and retreating on the friendly conversations they’d resumed having towards the end of Lent. Much as he would have liked to say that the latter had ever really been an option, he was resigned to the fact that he was far happier talking to Adam than not. A return to silence was not in the cards.
He’d resolved to waiting until term was underway before making his mind up, which was little more than a cop-out. But he was expecting something, somehow- a sign, perhaps, to steer his course one way or another. He’d sent that postcard, after all, and the universe owed him one as far as he was concerned.
His return itself was uneventful. When he pushed into his dorm, which loomed silent and empty without the now-familiar buzz of conversation, he found his plant in glowing good health. He was still thumbing it when his phone buzzed: Pepper, asking when he was moving in.
Just have, Warlock responded. You?
Tomorrow, Pepper replied. Wanted to have some space to study without my parents trying to put their two cents in on every essay I write. And Wensleydale is worried he’ll contract mumps from Anathema and Newt’s youngest. Also, Adam is bored.
Looking forward to it, Warlock dared.
You can help me move my stuff back in, since you never have to put up with that indignity, came Pepper’s reply, and then: Missed you too.
Warlock hid a smile.
Dog was actually the first one of them he saw the next day, and he bounded excitedly forwards to leap up against Warlock’s legs, which made his stomach swoop anxiously but his lips tilt into a smile. He was midway through patting his head when Adam followed, pushing the door open just the way he’d done the first time Warlock had seen Dog.
He’d cut his hair a little, so it hung above his brows, and it curled more as a consequence. For a blinding moment Warlock wanted to grab him by it and yank him closer, reason be damned, but it passed, and he forced a cautious smile.
“Hey,” Adam said, and gestured towards him. “Your hair’s so long.”
“Oh, yeah,” Warlock said, brushing a hand through it in a way that would have been self-conscious on someone else. His hair had been sporadically long across the years- as a tween he’d essentially had a shaggy bob, and for one or two regrettable years in high school he’d sported a crew-cut. He hadn’t cut it since just after the Christmas holidays, which showed; it hung low enough on his neck that he could scoop it up midway and keep it out of his face. “Forgot to cut it, I guess.”
They stood for a moment in not entirely awkward silence, both of them scoping each other out; Warlock absently tugged a stray lock of hair behind his ear, observing Adam observe him.
“Hello?” came from the door, loud enough to startle him. “Why is this door locked?”
“It’s not,” Adam called, pulling it open. Warlock wondered if he’d imagined his eyes going a little wide. “No wonder you don’t do a science subject.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Wensleydale sniffed, his arms wrapped around an enormous wooden box. “It was locked and I’m not backing down on that.”
“Coming through,” Pepper called, two equally hefty boxes under her arms. “Hello, Warlock.”
“Okay, no,” Warlock said, watching the boxes warily. “Is this the part where you ritually sacrifice me? I’m sorry to say I’m not a virgin.”
“We know,” Adam said, eyes twinkling, which made the ghosts of hickies past burn on his neck and Wensleydale pull a face. “And no, though that would be fun. I reckon I could do a whopping ritual sacrifice. Have you ever seen Jennifer’s Body?”
“Have I ever seen Jennifer’s Body, he says,” Warlock muttered. “What are these for, then?”
“Research,” Pepper said. “You know how there was some trouble with HQ, and Anathema had an ominous prophecy? It’s leading to a bit of bullshit that should come to a head this term.”
“By bit of bullshit, she means that a flaming sword of righteous power will embed itself into the surface of the earth and potentially kill millions,” Wensleydale supplied.
“Right,” Warlock said. “Yeah. Sure. And we’re… not worried?”
“Nah,” Adam said, and grinned a little, looking at Dog. It was a cocky grin, the kind Warlock had become unused to seeing on him, and it made his heartbeat skip violently. He thought fiercely that Adam had better not be looking into him now or he’d strangle him, impossibly attractive Antichrist or not. “I like it when they pull these stunts. Gives me something to do.”
“Oh, typical,” Pepper snorted. “Men.”
“Demons,” Wensleydale echoed.
Adam, Warlock thought. Aloud he said: “I’ll leave that to you lot then.”
“How were your holidays, Warlock?” Wensleydale asked, toeing his box further away from himself.
“Don’t engage,” Adam interjected, before he could say a word. “He just wants to talk about how much revision you did.”
“No, I’m just being polite and asking-“
“Asking my good friend-“
“My holidays were very productive,” Warlock interrupted, placidly. “I made so many flashcards.”
Wensleydale stared at him with slightly manic intensity. Pepper was the first one to crack, slapping Wensleydale on the shoulder reprovingly.
“He’s fucking with you.”
“Sorry,” Warlock grinned, unapologetic, as Wensleydale shot him a betrayed look and groaned. “I did make some flashcards. Mostly I procrastinated.”
“I’ve been on Quizlet so often I write Quizlets in my sleep,” Wensleydale said miserably. “Three of my floormates have barricaded themselves into their rooms.”
“You’re being paranoid,” Pepper reproached, with a toss of her curls. “Exams are more than a month away- if they’ve barricaded themselves it’s for some more reasonable alternative. Maybe they’re vampires.”
“But I hate vampires,” Wensleydale protested. It was Adam’s turn to groan and seize him by the shoulders.
“It’ll be fine. You’re just as prepared as you need to be. And vampires won’t go after you; your diabetes makes your blood taste weird. Relax.”
“Oh, well, that’s good news,” Wensleydale sighed. The longer Adam looked at him the less tense he seemed. “I didn’t much enjoy that run in with them at prom.”
“Unlike some of us.”
Pepper hit Adam across the back of the head very hard indeed; he merely shook his head like a wet dog in response. “What did I say about discussing that incident?”
Warlock, having been observing this all play out like a particularly juicy episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians which he would later deny watching, found himself smirking. “Don’t tell me. Twilight phase?”
“As if,” Pepper scoffed, offended. “Bella Swan is a terrible role model.” She shot Adam a glare and sniffed. “If you must know, I used to be quite a fan of the original Dracula.”
“What, the creepy old guy?”
“The book, not the character.”
“Hey, whatever floats your boat...”
“Pot, meet kettle,” Pepper sniffed, and then disappeared into Adam’s room, leaving Adam and Warlock to make very painful eye contact over the spot where her head had been. His plant’s leaves fluttered anxiously.
“Well,” Wensleydale said, into the silence, while Warlock attempted to convey utter indifference through his lack of expression. “I’ll just- flaming sword.”
“Nah, it’s fine,” Warlock said, clearing his throat and grabbing his coat, though he barely needed it- thus far spring had treated Cambridge surprisingly gently. “I’ll- I have some.. I’ll see you later.”
It was drizzling lightly as he emerged from their staircase, rain so airy it did little more than brush his skin, and he let it slide over his face as he stood outside, staring up at the sky.
Coward, murmured the leaves, in tones of mild reproach. What do you expect me to do? Warlock shot back, but of course they were silent then, leaving him standing there as the faint noises of conversation drifted down from the open window of Adam’s room.
He was two weeks into his plan of inaction and starting to reluctantly admit to himself that he was going to have to make some kind of move when response to his letter finally came, in characteristically dramatic form.
He had managed to tough out rowing practice into Easter, though he wasn’t sure his resolve would carry him through exam period. He quite liked his fellow rowers, insane though they were, and enjoyed the actual rowing, but he had never particularly enjoyed the culture surrounding it, and it was very on the nose in Cambridge. It felt too expected of him, and he couldn’t bring himself to care about their placements beyond his natural competitive streak.
On the other hand, the boat club jerseys really complimented his colouring, so. Tough balancing act.
This particular session had been one of the more pleasant ones. The bout of good weather had mostly lasted thus far, and though it was cold and it had rained over the weekend, the sun had shone during practice, painting the river in cool, fresh tones and weaving warmth into the morning. Their times were improving, and the river had proved docile; when it was over spirits were high, and Warlock’s calloused hands barely smarted from it.
He was midway through his coffee and about to accept an invitation to breakfast when he spotted them watching him from atop the bridge.
The shock of seeing them was no less impactful the second time around; they stood silhouetted against the pale sunlight, blinding Warlock as he stared. Nanny- the demon- still had on his damned shades, and from above it was impossible to tell if he was even looking in his direction. For the angel it was less complicated; he fluttered sort of anxiously when their eyes met, which made Warlock’s stomach go hollow with nerves. When he’d sent the letter he’d somehow never expected to really see them again.
“Can’t today,” he said to his captain, with a wry smile. “Some other time, though.”
Then, slowly, he retrieved his things and made his way up the stairs.
He stopped a safe distance away, more than arm’s length, then felt obvious for doing so and took a step closer.
“Dear boy,” the angel mumbled, expression shifting incessantly. His eyes were a dazzling blue, and his face cherubic. Warlock’s hair stood on end whenever their gazes met. “Well, I-“
He interrupted himself, and glanced backwards. Nanny- Crowley- met his gaze only briefly, then snapped his head back towards Warlock, who fought a wince.
It was indescribably wrong to see them like this, up close, in person. Before the incident, he hadn’t really seen them in a decade- there were few photographs of them as it were. Even afterwards, the distant on-screen image of them hadn’t managed to dislodge the fuzzy outline of them in his mind, the gardener and the nanny, the tutors, more concepts than people. Which he supposed was accurate, after all, or felt more accurate than this: just two guys, with an intangible sense of otherness about them, but just two guys nonetheless, middle-aged and corporeal. Somehow they looked both exactly as he remembered and nothing like that at all.
“Wasn’t sure you’d come,” Warlock offered, somewhat combatively, somewhat because it was clear neither of them knew where to begin. His stomach was in knots, and he was concentrating desperately on appearing aloof.
“Yeah, well,” Nanny said, shifting his weight. “We weren’t either.”
His accent was jarring to hear- it was the first time he’d spoken, and though rationally Warlock had expected it the absence of recognition hit hard. He felt his mouth pull into a tight line.
“Here on a whim, then? Discount punting tickets?”
“Adam spoke to us,” Aziraphale said, gently. Warlock had struggled to look at him and buy angel, but the way his voice washed soothingly over him was proof enough; he had to twitch to shake it off. “He seemed convinced enough that the visit would- do you some good.”
“Right,” Warlock grit out, instantly prepared to see himself off and furious that he’d expected any different. Before he could act upon the pulse of violence in his chest, the angel twisted his hands nervously, shaking his head.
“Oh, I’m sorry, that came out wrong. We did very much want to see you, but we weren’t entirely sure the reverse was true until we got your note, and then, well-“ He paused, bit his lip, gave Warlock a guilty look. “We thought meeting you might worsen things somewhat.”
“Worsen things,” Warlock repeated, less murderous and more disbelieving. “Because thus far ghosting me has obviously worked out so well.”
Aziraphale tilted his head like he wasn’t sure what ghosting meant, and Warlock’s eyes went to Nanny, accusingly.
“What’s your problem, anyways? He speak for both of you now? If you don’t have anything to say you may as well fuck off.”
“No need for the attitude,” Crowley shot back, crossing his arms. Warlock wasn’t entirely sure what about him so triggered his fight or flight response, but he had a gut feeling that he didn’t want to think about it too long. Instead, he fixed him with the glare he couldn’t quite fix on the angel. “We’re here now, aren’t we? List your grievances.”
At that, Warlock snorted. Like they had the time to go through those. He looked away and clutched his arm distractedly. It had started to rain softly.
“You can’t have come to get cussed out by someone you babysat sometimes.”
“Believe me,” said Crowley, sardonic, “I am more than adept at handling complaints.”
“Yes, we’re both rather used to it,” Aziraphale nodded eagerly, though his enthusiasm faded as he considered this. “Neither of us are very popular at work.”
“Can’t imagine why,” Warlock muttered, thinking about how brilliantly they’d done at the job his parents had given them. Wasn’t it fucked up that despite their hopeless ineptitude he had still subconsciously looked to them as better role models than his parents all these years?
“Look,” Crowley said, firmly. “You wanted to talk.”
“I guess I did,” Warlock answered, in tones of regret. But it was true, and he’d called them in, after all. He just hadn’t expected it to be so hard to do.
“Perhaps we might move indoors?” Aziraphale suggested, gently; Warlock was struck again by the soft persuasion of his voice. He hunched his shoulders.
“I know a place.”
Together the three of them set off for Waterstones.
Conversation was awkward, came in stilted bouts which tapered off into unsure silence or resentful glaring on Warlock’s bouts. He was not entirely convinced he was really experiencing it all, and at times felt sure he was dreaming, but then some small detail would remind him of the reality of the situation, like Aziraphale’s little happy blink at stepping into the bookstore, or the way Nanny manoeuvred himself warily around the religious texts.
They finally hit their groove about fifteen minutes into their conversation when Warlock, ceding somewhat to his natural curiosity, started questioning them about the whole angel and demon thing rather than the depressing Apocalypse-that-wasn’t details, figuring that if he’d been raised by supernatural entities he might as well get an insider’s look at them.
“So God is just- like, there? He’s a real thing? An all-knowing deity?”
“Well, of course,” Aziraphale blinked, between bites of his scone. He had an almost disturbing affection for his food. Warlock hadn’t known angels ate. “Although God is not so much a He as a God, and I think might prefer She if pressed. Though none of us really do the whole ‘gender’ thing.”
“You seem pretty gendered,” Warlock said, skeptically.
“That’s only cause being a white bloke makes the job much easier,” Crowley scoffed. Unlike Aziraphale, he seemed to have no interest in the food. “The one upstairs doesn’t do the human form business. ‘xcept through Jesus, mind you, but that whole son thing was always sort of confusing to me.”
“Oh, right, him,” Warlock said, disbelievingly. “What was he like, then?”
“Special,” Aziraphale said, softly, slightly melancholy. When Warlock turned a questioning look on the demon he twitched uncomfortably in his seat.
“Very- you know, good. Nice.” He sounded a little lost in thought when he continued. “Young.”
“This is fucking insane,” Warlock muttered, to himself. “So you two are the, like, Earth ambassadors- what do all the others do, if they don’t come here? Considering Earth is like- the only thing you’ve really got going on, as of right now? Unless there are aliens you’re trying to influence somewhere.”
“Nah,” Crowley said, gesturing broadly around them. “You lot are all there is. And the others do get involved with you, it’s just that- it’s like they implement schemes, you know, more than interacting directly.”
“There’s also work to be done in HQ,” Aziraphale said, diplomatically. “Running Hell, running Heaven. Lots going on. Lots of souls, you know.” He was preparing what had to be his tenth scone, and turned to Crowley. “Could you past me the clotted cream, my dear?”
“Could just reach, angel,” Crowley said, with an audible eyeroll, but he passed it anyways, and Warlock, more than at any prior point in the conversation, felt himself relax a little, lower his guard.
“How long’s this been going on, then?”
“Beg your pardon?”
“The two of you, I mean,” Warlock said, stirring his coffee. “Since the Gate? Or was it some fucked up epic thing where you knew each other when you were still an angel and shit?”
“Oh,” Aziraphale said, and cleared his throat, then cleared it again. Warlock suspected he lacked the humanity to think of blushing, but he could feel heat streaming from him anyhow. “Oh, no, dear boy, it wasn’t quite-“
“We didn’t know each other before the Fall,” Crowley said, a non-answer if Warlock had ever heard one, and funnily enough he was red in the face, scowling instinctively. Warlock stared.
“What? The two of you aren’t together?”
“We’re celestial beings, it’s not quite that simple-“ Aziraphale began, flustered, then glanced at Crowley, then bunched his hands into very unthreatening fists. “I suppose- well, we are- but certainly not since the Gate!”
“Ridiculous idea,” Crowley muttered; Warlock threw him a sharp look before Crowley shot him one back with Nanny-like brutality and he had to look away.
“So- like, when? Noah? Jesus? Shakespeare?”
“If you must know,” Aziraphale settled on, finally, “Then I suppose it was the whole Apocalypse business.”
Warlock gaped. “You- that’s what Adam meant by you getting your shit together? Are you fucking kidding me? Even my parents thought you were an item, and they didn’t even register that I’d been screwing our gardener for two years in high school!”
“How old was this gardener exactly?” Crowley demanded, eyes narrowing; Warlock waved him away, still disbelieving.
“You seriously expect me to believe it took you- what, several millennia to figure things out? Have you seen yourselves? You were so obvious-”
“Yes, yes, all right, no need to go on about it-“
“The situation was complicated! We weren’t even- we were fraternising with the enemy, for one, and also- well, demon- not to mention all the nasty business we were involved with-“
“Oh, my god,” Warlock said, running a hand through his hair. “I thought my parents were dysfunctional. No wonder my relationships are such train wrecks.”
“Oi, hang on a minute,” Crowley protested, “You can’t just blame all of your personal failures on your upbringing, kid, the whole point of humanity is free will.”
“Right, like demons’ entire personality isn’t a product of their being rejected by God,” Warlock muttered, mutinously; Crowley’s eyes widened spectacularly behind the glasses, brows shooting up, but Aziraphale intervened before he could say anything in return.
“I do so wish we hadn’t done all this to you, dear boy. I suppose it had to happen this way- part of the Ineffable Plan, you see- or the Apocalypse might have occurred, but we were rather terrible at raising a child. I am really very sorry for having put you through that.”
Warlock looked at him, taken aback, and found himself staring at his soft blue eyes, the nervous strain of his smile, a sudden fatigue overtaking his previous wounded suspicion. Angel and demon or not, they were people enough that he believed the sincerity of the statement, and it loosened a knot in his stomach somewhere just enough that he thought he might be truthful for once.
“It’s not- you weren’t so bad.”
Their brows raised in sync; he ducked his head, staring at the table.
“I- like, you did a terrible job at raising a normal child, but you weren’t bad… parental substitutes. At least I always felt like you- cared.” It was like pulling teeth; his face was prickling with rare sincerity. “It’s not the upbringing I’m mad about.”
“It- isn’t?” Crowley asked, and there was something so Nanny in the tilt of his head-
“No,” Warlock muttered, feeling all of six years old. “It’s that you left me.”
There was a long, drawn-out silence, and then a tremendous scraping noise as Aziraphale burst out of his chair to grasp Warlock’s hands, looking tremendously upset and not entirely sure how to fix things.
“Oh, Warlock! You poor thing, oh- I am so very sorry, we should have never left without saying-“
“It’s fine,” Warlock tried, though his throat was very scratchy and Aziraphale’s blinding concern was making his eyes burn. “I get it, you had an Apocalypse, you forgot about me-“
There was a sudden vice-like grip on his wrist, and he glanced up to find Crowley not-looking at him very hard, face twisted into a pained grimace.
“You’re-“ Crowley started, having graduated to patting his hand violently. “Wasn’t like that.”
“Yeah, okay,” Warlock said, somewhat wobbly; Crowley’s patting intensified, and for that one moment, an angel crushing his one hand and a demon patting the other, he felt a little bit like he had gotten something back that he had thought to be lost forever.
He only stayed there a minute or so, feeling raw in a way he wasn’t comfortable with, unused to having people caring so loudly about him. Then it got a bit suffocating; he shook Aziraphale off, and Crowley snatched his hand back.
“So, like,” Warlock managed, getting his tone level and casting a wary glance around lest someone he knew had seen the whole fiasco, “I do actually have- like, I have a tutor meeting in fifteen minutes.”
“Yeah, and- I have to change, ‘cause I’m still in my rowing clothes, and…”
“Right, right,” Crowley said, waving him away. “Don’t let us keep you.”
“Right,” Warlock echoed, and then stood there lightly digging his nails into the new blisters on his palm. Crowley’s face was impassive, and he looked to Aziraphale, but the latter had also recovered his composure entirely, reminding Warlock starkly that neither of his ex-guardians were actually people.
“It was wonderful to see you,” Aziraphale said, into the silence, quite genuinely; Warlock nodded, bit his lip hard, then rolled his shoulders back.
“If you wanted to- you know, Adam and I live together, so if you have one of your meetings at his place, in person, once in a while, you could- say hi. Or whatever.”
They exchanged glances, and then Crowley licked his lips and looked faux-casually back at him.
“Well, the internet at the bookstore is shit. Terrible connexion.”
“I’m quite sure that was your doing, my dear,” Aziraphale said, slightly snippy, though he smiled brightly at Warlock. “I’m sure we’d be happy to- the train is very convenient, and it is so nice to see- Adam.”
“Yeah,” Warlock said, habitually hiding behind his hair. “Well. I’ll see you, then.”
He was halfway out of the door, tingling with vague disbelief at how that had played out, when Crowley (undisputedly out of revenge for his prior grilling) called out after him.
“Maybe next time we can catch up on that whole Adam situation, while we’re at it!”
Building bridges with Aziraphale and Crowley was a slow process, especially considering the double awkwardness of involving Adam in the mix, but it at least served the purpose of distracting him somewhat from the fact that three weeks into term he still hadn’t done anything about the Adam situation.
The problem, he’d decided, was that no one except Warlock cared to resolve the situation properly. His parents obviously had no say and no knowledge of it all, for one. The Them, while disapproving of the way things had gone and sympathetic to Warlock’s reservations, were Adam’s friends first, and if Warlock chose to cut ties with him they would find themselves in an awkward position again, so they were quite happy with the current truce. Crowley and Aziraphale had no legitimate say in the fight, considering their (albeit accidental) role in instigating it, and also predictably disagreed on what to do- Aziraphale encouraged reconciliation, and Crowley suggested a ten-year plan involving arson and fraud to con him into a loveless marriage and then sleep with his spouse.
All of that left him with the unwarranted guidance of his CUCA acquaintances, whose advice was both unprompted and unfailingly sexual for some reason. Somehow, Warlock doubted he would ever sink low enough that he turned to them for advice.
Of course, there was also Adam himself, who was no help. Adam’s not-quite-humanity usually manifested itself in weirdly blasé attitudes to all variety of human taboos and an unending confidence that the world would rearrange itself according to his whims, probably because it tended to do just that- it was no surprise that when it came to delicate matters like the fact his roommate was going through a personal crisis as a direct consequence of his actions, he wasn’t the most understanding.
It wasn’t that he was a dick about it, at least most of the time. There were surprisingly few insensitive comments made, all things considered. He just didn’t appear to register that there was anything to be sensitive about. Or, say, boundaries that Warlock might want to respect.
The whole thing was worsened by the fact that he was coming to the realisation that everyone in his life was a freak with no sense of how regular people acted, and so offered no adequate support for his complaints.
“I don’t see the issue,” Pepper said, when Warlock had finished his beleaguered tangent on the fact that Adam had decided there was nothing at all inappropriate about picking him up from rowing practice with coffee, an umbrella, and an invitation to brunch. “Brunch is a platonic activity, Warlock. Or else you have something to tell me, because we’re literally having brunch as we speak.”
“My whole rowing team thinks he’s my boyfriend!” Warlock protested, rubbing at his temples. “It’s not the sort of thing you do to a guy you know is into you!”
Pepper only looked at him flatly, and he sighed, shaking his head. “Fine, okay, so ignore that. What about Saturday?”
“What about it?” Brian asked, having resurfaced from the frankly disgusting mound of baked beans he was eating. “Besides the six goals I scored, of course.”
“The whole- scarf thing,” Warlock muttered, darkly. “It was beyond humiliating.”
“Oh, that was cute,” Wensleydale chimed in, nodding. “But Adam is a compulsive problem-solver, so you can’t expect to sit there freezing and not have him give you his scarf.”
“And tie it for me?”
“Look, man,” Brian said, placatingly, “These are all very minor things. Adam just doesn’t pay attention to the finer points of social etiquette.”
“Yeah? Because to me it just feels like he’s fucking with me, and I don’t appreciate it,” Warlock scowled, impatiently. “Especially since he’s never even apologised for throwing it in my face in the first place.”
“Okay, that’s not ideal,” Pepper conceded, frowning, “But it’s kind of unreasonable to expect him to stop acting friendly when you’ve not told him you’d rather he stop.”
“He can literally read minds,” Warlock enunciated, slowly. “That’s how this whole mess started.”
“What’s a little mind-reading between friends?”
“You know what, I have- somewhere else to be.”
It was true that much of the stale-mate came from Warlock’s own indecisiveness, but he did think Adam was being unfairly presumptive in acting like nothing had happened. He guessed from his perspective maybe it was nothing, but he didn’t particularly appreciate the magnanimous ignoring of his feelings. Sure, it could have been worse; Adam could have been disgusted, or at least uncomfortable, but some days Warlock wished he would show a little discomfort. The lack of apology was one thing, but the fact that Adam saw no issue with the two of them spending increasing amounts of time together knowing fully that Warlock got more out of it than he did stung.
It was a bitter pill to swallow, and it hurt Warlock’s pride as well as possibly the soft parts buried somewhere inside of him. He was increasingly sure that as their interactions multiplied his resentment would continue building until it reached a boiling point and he ruined their friendship for good, which in turn made him more waspish and miserable.
Things came to a head the last week of April, at the end of a long and boring Tuesday. He’d had Chemistry labs late in the evening because his supervisor had been on strike, and as a result he smelled of chemicals and smoke, and his hair kept annoyingly falling out of the very inefficient bun he’d put it in as he cycled, which distracted him enough that he took a turn too sharply and almost skinned his knee against a truck.
He was muttering under his breath by the time he reached their rooms (why exactly he had to live on the fourth floor was beyond him), and just about reigned it all in in time to open the door, in case there was company.
“Hi,” Adam called, from a blissfully empty room; Warlock mumbled a hello and crashed onto his shitty bed, ready to pass out immediately. Dog came and sniffed at his hand sympathetically; he let him lick it.
Adam’s head popped out of his room, curls glowing and back-lit by his desk-lamp, to cast a look at him.
“You taste like sulphur.”
“Of course,” Warlock sighed, retrieving his hand. Then, because he’d learnt by now that Adam’s questions were often statements and his statements were often questions, he offered him an explanation: “We exploded some things. It was mostly planned.”
“I’ve always liked explosions,” Adam said, with the ghost of a grin. Warlock threw his arm over his face so he wouldn’t be caught smiling back. Most of the time it felt like the two of them had nothing but their Antichrist-or-not mess in common, but sometimes Warlock had the uncanny thought they might just have been friends as kids anyways.
“That’s probably the least surprising thing you’ve ever said.”
Adam laughed and moved into the room, patting his knee so Dog bounded over to him; Warlock shifted on his bed so he could keep an eye on him as he peered through his lab reports.
Even within their uncomfortable détente, it wasn’t often that the two of them had this sort of interaction for any prolonged amount of time anymore- alone in their rooms, no plans, content to converse for hours. Usually Warlock found a way to leave, or go to sleep, or have work to do, or else the Them were over, or Adam was out, or (lately) there was flaming sword business to do.
He missed it, in all honesty. But then honesty was hardly his modus operandi.
Adam was still leafing through his book, which was probably something to worry about, but he turned curiously to Warlock before he could decide to intervene.
“D’you like chemistry, then?”
“Yeah,” Warlock shrugged, reassured by the line of questioning. “Could do with a bit more maths, but I like when you get to write a theorem and then see it play out live.”
Adam paused, turned, and grinned. “Oh, right.”
“You’re fully just a nerd.”
“Uh, fuck you?” Warlock responded, actually beyond offended. This did nothing to diminish Adam’s grin, his uncannily sharp canines glinting mockingly.
“I sort of forget the whole Cambridge natsci thing cause you’re so- what was it? “Riot Club e-boy”?”
“Excuse- who the fuck called me that?”
“Anyways, point being, I should remember you’re the type of person who does- what is this, differential equations?- for fun.”
“You know what I don’t find fun?” Warlock shot back, witheringly. “Being slandered in my own room.”
Adam, infuriatingly, immediately made his face devoid of all expression beyond pure innocence with the sort of rapid-fire facial control that would have made Tyra Banks weep. “I wouldn’t.”
“I am not a nerd,” Warlock grit out, feeling like every single first-edition Kafka on his bookshelf and Astrophysics documentary on his Netflix watchlist was suddenly plastered across his face. “You can have some level of intelligence and just be like- Kanye or some shit.”
“Don’t you own every single Animal Crossing game for the DS?” Adam asked, thoughtfully. “And all of the original Star Treks?”
“That would make me a geek- which I am also not.”
“Sounds like the kind of definitional debate a nerd would be interested in.”
“Jesus,” Warlock muttered, and grabbed restlessly for his cigarettes.
“I don’t mean it as an insult, you know,” Adam said, serenely, as he clambered onto his desk. “All of my friends are at least partially nerds.”
“Brian has to be a jock more than a nerd,” Warlock said, around a mouthful of smoke. “And Pepper could be fifty-fifty. She does a lot of violent sports. Actually- I do sports, too.”
“You do rowing,” Adam corrected. “That doesn’t make you a jock. It makes you a twat.”
“And this conversation makes you someone who has the capacity to unite all of these factions Avatar-style with your demonic powers, and instead chooses to bully his roommate.”
“You’re impervious to bullying,” Adam dismissed, as Dog barked good-humouredly. “That’s your leftover Antichrist power.”
“If only I had any that useful.”
“I’m serious,” Adam continued, leaning back onto his elbows. “I aspire to reach your level of unflappable.”
Warlock watched him for a minute as he stroked Dog’s head, feeling something angry and ugly bubble in his chest, silent only because he had yet to decide what the harshest thing to say would be. Then his eye caught on the Pembroke scarf hanging by Adam’s head, and something about the cool blue caught him in the gut, a soft voice speaking about intent versus effect.
He took a steadying breath. Be understanding even when you are not understood. It wasn’t one of the lessons he’d taken pains to apply.
His lips were dry; he licked them, curled his fingers aimlessly into his mattress, tried not to dwell on the hot hurt anger. “I know you’re not- you’re the Antichrist and shit. But you were a massive jackass to me last term, and you never apologised for it, and I’m not sure you even understand that you did anything wrong.”
He couldn’t quite look up, but he heard Adam shift on the desk, Dog’s ears twitching anxiously, and shook his head, in case Adam had meant to speak.
“Listen, I- I don’t want some feelings fest, whatever. You’re kind of an asshole overall, that’s just what I attract. But-“ He cleared his throat, couldn’t help but try to make his expression as lax with indifference as possible. “You really fucking- hurt me, bringing up that shit. It was a dick move, and I don’t want to be friends with you unless you do something about it. So take it or leave it, but I’m not cool with just pretending like it didn’t happen or it didn’t bother me.”
He chanced a glance upwards, berating himself for the pussyfooting, and found Adam’s expression slack with surprise.
This was so humiliating, Warlock thought, and took an angry and excessive drag of his cigarette, wafting the smoke away with a glance at the fire alarm. When he instinctively looked up he found Adam hovering by the side of his bed, nearly giving him a heart attack.
“I’m sorry,” Adam said, emphatically, as Warlock tried not to choke on his cigarette. His eyes were big and baby-blue, something like guilt in the tug of his mouth. “Really. I am. I didn’t realise.”
“You didn’t realise,” Warlock echoed, skeptically.
“I thought you were- I didn’t know that was what upset you so much.”
“No, I’m serious. It- a lot of people- I don’t know how to explain it. A lot of people are attracted to me somehow. It sort of comes with the territory. I didn’t think it would-“
“That’s not exactly what I took issue with, Adam, it was more the fact you threw it in my face-“
“I forgot,” Adam said, sincerely, brows furrowing. “I forgot people don’t like to be known like that.”
There was a beat of silence; Warlock screwed his eyes shut and exhaled.
“It’s just- you know, the others, I’ve known them for so long we can all sort of read each other anyways, and Aziraphale and Crowley aren’t actual people either, and my parents are used to it, and you’re-“ Adam paused, and their eyes met for a long, long second. Warlock felt himself hold his breath against his will, then cursed himself and made the effort to release it.
“You’re the only person I’m close to that’s not like that,” Adam settled on, finally, and sat heavily on the bed. “I do try to remember that. It’s only that it’s so much harder to not know things. And my powers are- they happen by themselves.”
Dog nudged at his feet, and Warlock felt himself flush, taking another drag so that the smoke could ineffectually hide his face.
“Right, well. Work on that, maybe.”
“I am trying,” Adam sighed. All at once he felt normal and reachable again, maybe a little more twenty-something than he usually was. “Haven’t you noticed the decrease in weather anomalies and shit this term?”
“I have, actually,” Warlock conceded, hesitantly. He couldn’t quite look Adam in the face if they were going to be discussing this topic.
“It’s harder than it should be,” Adam muttered, picking at his sheets. “Sometimes the feelings just- overwhelm me.” He blinked and cast a guilty look at Warlock. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
“No, it’s fine,” Warlock replied flatly, rubbing at his face. “I love hearing about the novel heights of my incurable crush on you. Really comfortable conversation to have.”
“Incurable crush,” Adam repeated, in a tone that said he was really trying not to smile. Warlock hit him quite hard in the arm.
“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up.”
They sat in silence a little longer, the lack of conversation abruptly companionable once again, and Warlock felt himself relax a little, at last, the stinging unhappiness faded.
“What’s it like?” Adam asked, after a while, inquisitive. His eyes were watchful when Warlock frowned at him.
“What’s what like?”
“Having a crush.” At the look on Warlock’s face, he hastened to wave a hand: “Not on me, I don’t mean. Just generally.”
“You’ve never had one?” Warlock asked, though he’d pretty much assumed that anyways. “Nothing like that?”
“No,” Adam shrugged. “I’m not entirely sure I’m capable of that sort of thing. And I’m not particularly inclined to want to be, either, to tell you the truth. It all seems like such a hassle.”
“But you do have human emotions,” Warlock pointed out, for the sake of the argument. “And you love your friends, and family.”
“Well, sure. But that’s different, innit?”
“I guess.” He tapped his cigarette out against a coffee mug. “What do you want to know?”
“I don’t know. I can- I’ve felt other people’s feelings, before, course. Yours are- fine, fine, I won’t mention that! Just- I can’t really imagine it. It’s so transitory.”
“More so than friendship, you mean?” Warlock shrugged. “It is, sometimes. It really depends on the person, in my experience. I’ve liked guys briefly or for very long times. And you don’t always feel the same thing for every crush.”
“Of course not. Sometimes it’s like- static shock, or sparklers. Sometimes it’s more like heartburn and butterflies. It always hurts a little, though.”
“That normal, or just you?”
“Normal, I think. Wouldn’t know.”
“Do you like it? Having crushes?”
“I mean- yes and no,” Warlock sighed. “Having crushes on certain people sucks ass. The feeling itself isn’t so bad. Kind of like anything that’s not good for you but feels good in the moment.”
“Hm,” Adam answered, and seemed content with that.
It was almost obnoxious how easily things settled after the whole apology affair. Who knew, right? Certainly not Warlock.
In his defence, he could count on one hand the number of apologies he’d issued in his life, and on two fingers the number of apologies he’d received: one very recently from his supernatural nannies, and one from his mother the time his father had left for a year and she’d gotten so drunk for so long that Warlock had to drive her to the hospital aged fourteen and a half.
It was unsurprising, thus, that in all of his internal debate over the options he had, he had never considered this one: that confronting Adam, instead of leading to the inevitable end of their doomed friendship, would lead to a relatively painless apology and then a happy reset of their previous routine.
More well-adjusted people than him might have roasted him for the fact he’d failed to consider that Adam might have had a reasonable reaction just because Warlock himself wasn’t prone to apologising when confronted with his past misdemeanours. Fortunately for him, no one he knew was especially well-adjusted.
“I’m actually surprised you got an apology,” was Wensleydale’s take on the situation. “Adam’s apologised sincerely exactly thrice in the two decades we’ve known each other. All of the other times we’ve fought he’s just gone catatonic and then made some supernatural reconciliatory gesture.”
“What, he went beyond the whole mind-rape silencing schtick he pulled as an eleven-year-old?”
“Teenagehood was a troubling time.”
“I’m just surprised you had the guts to confront him,” Pepper declared. “I didn’t think you had it in you.”
“I’m assuming you’re the one who called me an Oxbridge e-boy, then,” Warlock muttered. “What did you think I was going to do? Just leave it be?”
“Pretty much, yeah. You don’t give off the vibe of someone in touch with your emotions.”
“You know what, Pippin, I’m starting to think Adam gets his sensitivity from you.”
“All right, sorry,” Pepper huffed. “I only meant I was worried for your sake.”
“She was,” Brian added, with a grin. “We had multiple interventions on whether or not to take action.”
“To much effect, clearly,” Warlock scoffed, although he was privately slightly mollified. “I don’t think any of you actually know how people work when they haven’t been exposed to the supernatural from early childhood.”
“Hate to break this to you, mate,” Brian said, patting his hand. “But you’re pretty much the only person in the world whose childhood exposure to the supernatural rivals ours.”
A nice residue of the detente period was that, although he and Adam had patched things up now, the other three still seemed content to hang out with Warlock individually. He had an inkling they quite liked the novelty of having friends that weren’t each other to spend time with.
A strange byproduct of the whole resolution was that Warlock had the bizarre experience of having Aziraphale and Crowley over with Adam present, which gave him a lot of weird, Stark Trek multiverse timeline vibes.
He didn’t see Aziraphale and Crowley face to face again until end April, though he’d heard from them a couple of times since the whole confrontation (mostly by phone, because the Internet connection at the bookstore was laughably bad unless Adam was involved). He hadn’t really wanted to see them in person any sooner, to tell the truth- both because because he was swamped with work and personal dramatics as it was, and because frankly he was wary of other people witnessing the state he regressed into in their presence. He wasn’t normally so much of a moody teenager, no matter Pepper’s claims.
The point was that he wasn’t quite expecting to get home hoisting a laundry basket of admittedly all black clothes to find a demon raking through his drawers.
“Hello,” Crowley said, unfazed by his knee-jerk exclamation. “Be honest, have you ever read any of these books?”
“Yes,” Warlock responded, now stung rather than shocked; he slung his bag down and moved to shove his drawers shut. “Despite appearances I can actually read.”
“Hm,” Crowley hummed, and continued rifling through his bookcase. He stopped at Dorian Grey. “Never much liked Wilde.”
Warlock was about to say that this seemed very out of character, considering that without knowing the whole demon backstory he would have assumed Crowley got his sense of style out of a fever dream combination of Oscar Wilde and, like, mid-2000s emos, when Adam’s laugh cut through from his room.
“That’s only because he and ‘Zira were so friendly in the 1800s.”
“Absolutely not,” Crowley scowled, as Warlock waved questioningly at Adam. “Just think he was a wanker. And not nearly as witty as he thought he was.”
“Flaming sword business,” Adam said to Warlock, by way of explanation, his eyes still twinkling mischievously in Crowley’s direction. “Wanted some experienced feedback on the plan.”
“The plan which so far consists of you bullying an angelic entity until it leaves and then some hellfire,” Crowley sniffed, crossing his arms. “You know, I question the standards of this university if you lot are the brand of geniuses being allowed in these days.”
“The bullying thing worked in It,” Adam shrugged, with an unconcerned little grin.
“You must be very familiar with Cambridge by now,” Warlock said, tentatively furrowing his brows. “Didn’t happen to know Mary Pembroke or something?”
“Her name was Mary of Valence, Duchess of Pembroke,” Adam corrected, “Or so Wensleydale tells me. He learnt all of the college’s histories before interviews.”
“Never met her,” Crowley said, tilting his head, “But did know the blokes who founded the university, course. Gave them the idea, didn’t I?”
“What, really? What’s so demonic about- higher education?”
“Well, the angel’s the one who got the whole big university business going with Oxford,” Crowley said, scrunching his nose in distaste. “Getting humans educated and all that, dreadful stuff. I got some students to act up once too many, and they had to flee Oxford cause of all the murder.”
“The founders of Cambridge university were murderers?” Warlock demanded, raising his brows. “I feel like this isn’t heavily publicised.”
“Course they were. Thought it’d be funny to have them start a terrible rival university.”
“Hasn’t worked out so well then,” Adam said, sympathetically. “Despite all the murders since.”
“Okay, hang on,” Warlock said, suddenly remembering the start of their conversation. “The fuck is your plan for the flaming sword thing exactly?”
“Don’t you worry about that,” Adam said, patting his shoulder. “Let’s get back to Oscar Wilde, shall we?”
“No we bloody shan’t,” Crowley said, and stooped a little towards them, fingers drumming against his leg. “Y’know, I could’ve sworn the heating in this room wasn’t working five minutes ago. And the stars weren’t out.”
“Oh, yeah,” Warlock said, looking outwards to note the skies had cleared entirely. Then he registered the point and flushed, giving Crowley a bristly look for the unwarranted payback- but Crowley was looking at Adam still, single brow raised damningly.
“Yeah, we understood the correlation,” Adam said, casually, glancing at him; his unruffled look faded a little at whatever complicated mess of embarrassed disbelief was dancing across Warlock’s features. “I’m working on it.”
Confusingly, this only made Crowley’s other brow shoot up, a warning sign if Warlock had ever seen one, and he pushed his glasses up a little as he peered down at Adam.
“Odd that it’s taken so long for you to manage it, I reckon.”
“I don’t see why,” Adam said, but he was frowning a little now, maybe unsure, and it was intriguing enough that Warlock resisted the urge to just flee the room to avoid the mortification of having two people discuss his feelings to his face.
Before Crowley’s growing smirk could crystallise, though, Aziraphale was knocking on the door, breaking the moment; Warlock moved hesitantly to open it, but he’d opened it himself, and beamed at him and Adam like he’d been part of the conversation the whole time, something like paternal pride in the enthusiastic clasp of his hands.
“You two boys give off such a lovely aura.”
“You wound me, angel,” Crowley said, flatly.
Aziraphale smiled benignly at him before shifting his gaze to Crowley and tutting. “Well, you do have a horrid aura, my dear, I’m sorry. It comes with the territory.”
“Yeah, yeah, I emanate ashes and despair and they’re all glitter and boyish mischief.”
“And a hint of peach,” Aziraphale agreed, happily. “Speaking of which, are-“
“Nah,” Crowley said, with another pointed look at Adam. “You’d think, right?”
“Oh, really?” Aziraphale said, quite surprised. “But it’s so-“
“Yeah, it is.”
“Do you think we set a bad example?” Aziraphale asked, tilting his head skeptically.
“What are you talking about?” Warlock interrupted, lost and sort of irked. “This is starting to feel like an episode of Community.”
Blink, blink. “Well-“
“I don’t like this conversation,” Adam said, abruptly, from where he’d been silently and intently staring at Aziraphale and Crowley like he could read something on them that Warlock couldn’t. “I don’t want us to be having it anymore.”
“Oh, real nice,” Crowley scoffed, but it sounded sort of sincerely admiring. Before Warlock could question exactly what was going on a second time, he’d clapped his hands together and turned to Aziraphale quite gamely. “So, what’d the books say?”
“A lot of interesting things, actually,” Aziraphale said, lighting up and discarding his pensive frown. “I’d forgotten how many flaming objects we manufactured in the old days.”
“Wait, why are- ow!” Warlock exclaimed, rubbing at his jaw. Even thinking of returning to the previous conversation made his skull rattle.
“Sorry,” Adam said, and made puppy eyes at him as Warlock glared daggers (so much for his free will championing). “Want to talk about how ArcSoc nights are actually the worst clubbing events in Cambridge?”
“You know I do, you demonic bastard,” Warlock grumbled, irresistibly drawn away from the previous conversation. “It’s pretentious garbage.”
“I profoundly agree.”
From there on out it was impossible to get anyone to return to the mysterious topic at hand, but on the bright side once they’d finished ragging on the architects they managed to segue into Aziraphale and Crowley’s extremely marital bickering so that Warlock at least had the pleasure of joining Adam in a recounting of the top ten most ridiculous examples of their godparents obliviously pining after one another during their respective childhoods.
It was no small wonder, in retrospect, that his own romantic ventures had been such a goddamn disaster. Maybe it was unreasonable to have aspired to anything fulfilling for himself- if angels and demons took millennia to get a grip, his parents could hardly be faulted for the train wreck that was their marriage, and equally Warlock was blameless for his youthful follies.
The extremely weird conversation-that-never-was stuck vividly to his mind. Clearly Aziraphale and Crowley knew (or thought they knew) something either he, Adam, or both of them knew nothing about, and clearly whatever it was was something Adam had puzzled out and decided not to let Warlock be privy to. Worse- he was relatively sure it had to do with his feelings. Crowley had obviously sensed them with his whole cross-examination schtick, though he’d handled that weirdly, so it made sense that Aziraphale would have been referring to the same- but why?
They weren’t human, and they lacked social awareness, but for the most part Aziraphale and Crowley were people-like enough to know that outing someone’s sad crush wasn’t the done thing. Hell, they’d suffered through the whole (well, not so) unrequited crush debacle themselves; they were well-placed to know how excruciating it was. So he didn’t know why either of them would have felt the need to discuss it with such tones of surprise in front of both him and Adam.
Adam was another variable. He’d been taken in by Crowley’s barbs, which meant whatever they’d been talking about had been something Adam hadn’t known prior, or at least hadn’t known they knew. And then he’d effectively switched the conversation off. Why? For all that he was equally insensitive at times, Warlock was relatively sure he’d learnt his lesson about keeping secrets from him, so he doubted it was another Antichrist scale reveal, but then…
The problem was that he didn’t have the time to think. They were days away from May; exams arrived unceremoniously in less than a month, and his mocks had been a mixed bag- his half-assed revising hadn’t hit hard in his maths-centric subjects, considering his natural aptitude, but he couldn’t just bullshit his way through the science papers or the experiments, so actual work was required lest he completely fuck up the first year of his degree. On top of that, there was the flaming sword business from which he was still mostly excluded, though none of the Them cared to keep information from him when he asked.
“It’s not about trust,” Adam had said, when Warlock once broached the question. His finger had traced lazy patterns against the antique anvil inexplicably sitting on their floor, steel sizzling and melting as he went. “It’s just that it’s dangerous and whatnot.”
“You let the others go with you.”
“They have years of experience with the supernatural,” Adam had said, reasonably. He narrowed his eyes before Warlock could speak. “Yours doesn’t count the same, you didn’t know.”
“But they can’t do anything,” Warlock had pointed out, despite the fact they’d managed just fine anyways. He’d been in a contrary mood.
“They can if I say they can,” Adam had said, and then shook his head. “Anyways, the point is I can’t ask them to stop following me now, it wouldn’t work.”
“And why is that?”
“Cause I’m the one who asked them to start with.”
By now, thus, he had a quite clear picture of the whole ordeal (Heaven- corporate shenanigans- PR stunt- massive flaming sword pulled irresistibly towards King’s College), and said picture was one that he was a smidge worried about. Not very much, mind you- he thought maybe after the bullshit he’d lived to see by this point he simply couldn’t muster normal human responses anymore- but the thought that the only thing protecting the country from fiery inferno was the guy he’d witnessed almost knock himself out for the sake of a TikTok was somewhat nausea-inducing. From what Adam said, the sword was set to come crashing down within the next week; at least if things went horribly wrong he supposed he’d miss his Thursday labs.
Between rowing, a sudden increase in studies, and the approaching flaming sword deadline, thus, he had almost no time to rehash the mystery of the unspoken conversation, and even when he did, he was either busy with people or passed out in bed. Still- it ate at his subconscious. He had never learnt to stop scratching at an itch, and this was a particularly irritating one. The solution was confrontation, and, emboldened by the successes of his previous attempts at diplomacy, he resolved to do just that- forego his usual strategy of disdainful avoidance and actually try and wrangle answers out of Adam.
He had considered whether to corner Aziraphale or Crowley instead, but though he was relatively sure they would be more easily manipulated (if only out of latent guilt, which he would exploit mercilessly as long as he could) he was also quite sure they would also lie to him relentlessly if they thought it necessary. They’d lied long enough to him before, for one, but also as ageless supernatural beings in cahoots he trusted they would easily consider it a matter of cosmic good to keep something from him, despite their qualms. Crowley’s lies rolled off his tongue like butter when he wanted them to, and for all his blustering Aziraphale was strangely elusive when he wanted to be. Adam, on the other hand, didn’t lie- his character was almost defined by unflinching honesty. Sure, Adam could bewitch him into not touching the subject, but if Warlock asked him upfront, he was certain he’d give him straight answers.
Whether he wanted to hear those answers was a different question, but Warlock had always been the proverbial curiosity-killed cat. He was more than happy to stew in self-loathing after the fact, but he couldn’t bear being the only person in the room who didn’t know a secret- not again. So much of his personality (or, hell, his persona) had been built on the attitude of knowing better than everyone else; Cambridge had forced him to realise that not only did he know very little about the world around him, but he barely knew his own life story. Which was probably for the better, in the long run, but the emotional turmoil that had accompanied the previous realisations wasn’t something he wanted to relive. He’d find it hard to forgive if he found out any of the three previous culprits had decided to hide something from him again for no good reason.
The last Friday of April, a week from the sword’s purported arrival, he found himself facing an evening off and bit the bullet before he could dissuade himself from it. His lectures started before Adam’s; he knocked on his door on his way out, smirking a little when Adam groaned and shoved his head under his pillow, if only at his early morning humanity.
“Very,” Adam said, muffled, and slowly rolled over, pulling the pillow down so Warlock could just about make out a clear blue eye and a head of shiny curls. The more awake he got and the more total his self-control was; subconsciously he was completely alert already. “What is it?”
“Are you busy tonight?”
Adam closed his eyes pensively and yawned a little. “No, I don’t think so. Unless you count catching up on The Witcher as busy.”
“Toss a coin to your Witcher,” Warlock sang, and snorted when Adam half-heartedly tossed a pillow at him.
“Now that song will be stuck in my head all day, you twat.”
“You’re welcome. Anyways- can we talk then? I wanted to ask you some stuff.”
Adam’s full face emerged from his pillows. “You’re pregnant.”
“And you have a future in comedy,” Warlock shot back, rolling his eyes. “I just have some questions. Fairly oddparents are involved.”
“Oh, if it’s only that,” Adam said, sarcastic, but he’d shoved his head back under the pillows, so Warlock figured he believed him.
“I’ll see you later, then.”
Adam mumbled a half-asleep goodbye, light from his poorly closed curtains dancing across his bare back, and Warlock saw himself out, abruptly not interested in staying in the room with Dog’s unbearably knowing head-tilt.
It started to rain a little during rowing, which was slightly obnoxious. Warlock had become used to the rain itself, despite the damage it did to his hair (gel did not take well to English weather), but their coxswain James had some kind of hysterical aversion to it regardless of the fact he’d literally grown up in Scotland. It wasn’t that he couldn’t take the rain- it was that he wouldn’t shut up about it. Warlock thought he could write a novella simply with the creative swearing that interrupted their instructions every five minutes.
They were midway through their last set, just passing the Bridge of Sighs, when something punched Warlock in the stomach full-force. He doubled over wheezing, losing his rhythm completely; around him, the other rowers exclaimed in confused concern.
“Warlock? Are you okay?”
“I,” Warlock started, fists clenched around the oars. Nothing had touched him- the boat was stilling now, his teammates twisting around to stare, and the air around them was quiet, rain light still. And yet he was struggling to catch his breath, the throbbing feeling persisting in his gut.
“I’m fine,” Warlock dismissed, managing to get a grip long enough to bat away the hands reaching reassuringly for him. The feeling was receding, but his pulse was still skittish, and his mind was stuck on loop.
He glanced upwards, towards Trinity, and stilled. King’s Chapel’s imposing dome was just visible beyond the college walls.
Shit, Warlock thought, with novel clarity. Sword- Adam.
He picked up his oars, adrenaline pumping. “Go, go, go.”
“Are you sure you-“
There was some grumbling dissent, and then the boat took off, rowers falling into long-established habit as they spun the oars. Warlock kept his eyes unblinkingly focused on Kings as they went, chasing the feeling. It was difficult to focus on- much like his brief strays into mental manipulations, it didn’t come to him naturally, and holding on to the alarm felt like lodging something misshapen between his ribs.
They were by King’s Back within five minutes, and there Warlock stopped again, getting to his feet with little warning as the boat swayed and his teammates shouted.
“Seriously, Warlock, what the fuck-“
“Sorry, I have to-“
“Sorry!” Warlock exclaimed, distractedly, and jumped onto the lawn, stumbling to regain balance as he ran towards the Chapel.
He sprinted across the lawn with the feeling expanding uncomfortably in his chest, falling over his own feet as he slipped on the wet grass. Nothing was out of place- a few students milled about, mostly seeking cover from the rain as they returned from the library, and there was the faint rumble of activity from inside the dorms, but there was no end of days thunder and lightning to be seen. Somehow the normalcy made him more anxious.
He slowed as he approached the courtyard by the chapel, out of breath and a little dizzy with nervous energy. There was no one in sight- just the trees, fluttering in the breeze, and a handful of stray pigeons lucky enough to have evaded the college hawk for another day.
For a moment, he stood watching, catching his breath, and began to wonder if he was losing his mind. There was nothing out of place, and the sword was set to be a problem in a week’s time- what was he even going off? A gut-feeling? For all he knew he had fucking indigestion.
His fingers twitched. No. There was- there was…. This claustrophobic discomfort meant…
Slowly, not knowing why, he took a step forwards, into the courtyard, then another. Then another. Then-
His foot hit the tile, and several things happened at once.
Firstly, the skies opened to flame and smoke, colouring the space an oppressive electric blue; as he choked on smoke, he moved to cover his ears from the earth-shattering noise- a kind of blended, disquieting birdsong blaring from seemingly all corners. Sighting this, his gaze flew upwards, and he nearly tripped over himself, swearing in panicked disbelief. Amidst the fiery chaos hovered a glowing sword easily the size of the Statute of Liberty, casting a burning oppressive heat above the yard; it was splintering wildly into different directions, fragments flying everywhere but directly below it.
Warlock’s stomach lurched. Adam stood under the sword, palms extended with the Them huddled behind him, and he wanted to shout something at him, or maybe flee the scene, but he had no time to think- in the second since his setting foot into whatever hellish reality Adam had kept disguised from the rest of Cambridge, attention split between all of the batshit chaos happening around him, he’d missed the most important detail of all: one gigantic, sizzling blade fragment plummeting right towards him.
He screamed, and Adam’s head snapped around, voice ringing out in horrified surprise.
There was nothing to be done; the burning heat was seconds away, shimmering silver filling Warlock’s vision as he screwed his eyes shut. God, of all of the ways to go, incinerated by divine wrath- he could have laughed if he wasn’t too petrified to breathe.
Something heavy hit him violently in the chest, and there was the sound of great crashing. His eyes shot open, residual terror and adrenaline rushing through him as he uncomprehendingly flew several feet backwards through the air, seeing nothing but smoky blue, and then he felt himself hit the ground brutally, head snapping back so hard that he saw sparks.
Distantly, he heard crashing and the roar of flames, then a chorus of blood-curdling screams; his ears were ringing too hard to focus.
For a moment he just lay there, disorientated and shaky, chest heaving, watching the skies clear and the flames flicker out. He raised a hand; his fingers were trembling, and there was Dog, suddenly, pushing his head comfortingly into Warlock’s hand. Of course- he had been the one to tackle him out of harm’s way, then.
He remembered Adam, and sat up so rapidly he almost passed out, head throbbing and suspicions of a concussion emerging; the double Dog in front of him barked reproachfully as he fumbled to his knees, blinking to clear his vision. For a second he felt completely misplaced, the buildings seeming distorted, then it struck him- the ground he was sitting on had shifted several yards away, leaving him and Dog perched atop a mound.
He started downwards, and felt his breath leave him in a rush of relief as he spotted Adam and the others. Little trace of the sword remained, just blue fire-fly embers floating around and tendrils of smoke, and Adam seemed unscathed and unruffled, though the others were looking at him like this wasn’t the case. Brian looked like he might throw up; Wensleydale was actually throwing up, and Pepper was white-faced, staring at Adam blankly.
“Are you okay?” His voice came out distorted and odd to his ears, and he winced, but Adam looked up to him placidly, an odd vagueness to his features.
“Yeah, ‘m fine.”
“You just had half of your body ripped off,” Brian managed, nauseously. Warlock blanched.
“And I fixed it,” Adam dismissed, getting to his feet. “See?”
Pepper was still mutely shaking her head, Wensleydale’s breathing wheezy, and Warlock, at a loss for words, tried to find something to say, but Adam beat him to it.
“What are you doing here, Warlock?”
“I- you- I thought the sword was due next week,” Warlock said lamely, which wasn’t what he’d intended to say, but it had been running around his mind on loop since he’d set foot in the courtyard and he needed an answer.
“It was meant to be,” Adam said, looking around at the dissipating smoke. “Turns out when I started trying to draw it to a specific location I accelerated its arrival. We only noticed in the nick of time.”
“What are you doing here?” Pepper bit out, colour returning slowly to her cheeks as her gaze finally budged from Adam.
“I had a feeling,” Warlock said, coming to a stop now he’d reached the bottom of the hill. They were all looking at him now, expressions distant, and he was still shaking a little. “I don’t know. I- I just felt it. I don’t know why I came, I just thought I had to.”
“Told you we should have texted him,” Pepper muttered viciously, coming back to herself. Adam shook his head.
“I thought we’d have it sorted before the end of rowing practice.” His gaze hadn’t shifted from Warlock once. “You should- mh. You can’t just rush into-“ He stopped. “You’re all right?”
“Yeah,” Warlock said, slowly. “Scraped my palms, might be a bit concussed. But fine. How did- half your body?”
“Miscalculated,” Adam said, the vagueness setting in briefly once more. “Forgot to pay attention.”
Abruptly the cracking and the screaming made more sense; Warlock shut his eyes to repress the mental image of Adam’s body pierced by burning heavenly steel as he threw Warlock out of harm’s way.
“Shit. I- sorry. I didn’t-“
“Not your fault,” Adam dismissed, and smiled. “And I’m fine, seriously. I fixed it.”
Fixed it was an understatement, Warlock thought. Never had the fact his roommate was the actual Antichrist sunken in so clearly as now, standing in the tranquil space where he’d effectively made a celestial weapon Disapparate Harry Potter style. And yet somehow the magnitude of his satanic powers felt insignificant compared to the very human unease of their conversation, cold fear clutching his heart at the thought of what his reckless intervention had nearly cost him.
“I need a drink,” Brian mumbled, arm wrapped around a queasy-looking Wensleydale. They both looked drained but calmer now, like it wasn’t the first time they’d stomached a near-miss.
“Seconded,” Pepper said, darkly, and took Adam’s arm. Judging by her grip, habit didn’t make the experience any more pleasant. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
Warlock belatedly fell into step with them, eyes still scanning Adam for signs that he was about to split in half. His heart was thudding with misplaced adrenaline in the now-oddly quiet courtyard.
Adam was still watching him from Pepper’s side, and he felt his throat dry, eyes prickling as he shook himself.
“Hey, I- thank you.”
Thank you for saving my life from a giant flaming sword was a little clunkier. Adam’s eyes darkened momentarily, big genuine pools of emotion, and he gave a little shake of his head.
“Don’t mention it.”
“Adam,” Pepper said, soft and warning; Warlock followed her gaze to himself and realised the rain wasn’t landing on his skin.
“It’s the adrenaline” Adam said, tilting his head apologetically. “It’ll wear off.”
Warlock watched the rain bounce off him unnaturally, feeling the sting of his scraped nerves, and bit his lip.
They never did have their scheduled conversation. Their Friday plans had shifted, for one- after the pub, all five of them flocked back to their dormitory together and spent the night subconsciously huddled around Adam watching terrible nineties romcoms; even in the next few days Warlock was too rattled by the experience to think about it. And once that was done, and Warlock had come to terms with the fact his sleep would be disturbed by nightmares for the next while, he still didn’t feel the urge to cash in a rain check.
The thing was- the thing was that once the terror and the disbelief had worn off and he’d been able to revisit the scenario with some objectivity, he’d noticed something: Adam’s powers were not what he’d thought they were.
The realisation unfolded in several parts. Firstly, there was scale and scope, for obvious reasons- he hadn’t registered quite how Antichrist-y Adam was. Then there was its functioning. Adam had gotten Warlock out of danger in the blink of an eye, and massively overreacted in doing this- siccing Dog on him was one thing, but shifting the earth itself to send him flying wildly out of the way was another. There was something to this that didn’t mesh with Warlock’s previous understanding of Adam’s powers, and he couldn’t stop thinking about it, in part because since the whole fiasco it hadn’t really…. stopped.
For all that he’d received a logical explanation for it (residue adrenaline), he didn’t exactly buy it. Life-saving drama was one thing- the fact that his shattered phone screen had fixed itself and the sun was following him around was another. The latter was the type of thing Adam had previously attributed to his powers’ reaction to Warlock’s feelings, though, but that no longer felt quite right. He couldn’t get his thoughts in order, which was incredibly frustrating, but he knew he was circling the truth. Just- something, something about Adam’s powers, and a shifted paradigm.
He intended to actually ask Adam about it once he managed to formulate his ideas, but in the week following the sword incident Adam proved oddly evasive. Not that he acted any different, but he was absent more than he normally was, so that Warlock struggled to find the time to ask him anything. He wasn’t sure if he was on clean-up duty or if he just wanted to clear his head a little, but seeing as both seemed like things he was entitled to, Warlock left him his space.
Still, he didn’t forget about it- it would have been no small feat, considering that unexplained magical events were happening to him incessantly. They varied from the very noticeable (on Monday he’d tripped over his laces only to find that the bushes had rearranged themselves to soften his fall) to the slightly weird (the cafeteria fridges filling with only Warlock’s favourite smoothies) to the discreet (his bike’s tires pumping themselves); as an ensemble they were difficult to ignore.
It was a full week past the sword’s emergence when the opportunity to talk arose; Warlock was sat on the floor carefully painting his nails black (a habit he had for the most part relinquished in high school, but which had become irresistible to him once more since Crowley had reappeared in his life) when Adam and Dog returned from wherever they’d been off to, Adam’s keys jangling as Dog gave an excited little bark and bounded forwards.
Warlock, now well used to him, raised his hands to avoid smearing his nail polish, suffering through Dog’s enthusiastic lick to his cheek with a half-hearted grimace.
“Yeah, yeah, okay, get off.”
There was a rustling sound; Warlock glanced sideways to find his plant flowering dramatically, leaves shimmering with good health. Slowly his gaze went to Adam.
“So,” Warlock said, pointedly. Adam sighed a bit and set his backpack down.
“What’s up with your powers?” Warlock asked, bluntly.
“Long story,” Adam said, clicking his tongue so Dog would back off. “Bad timing, mostly. You’ll have noticed that prior to Friday I had things mostly under control.”
Warlock nodded. For most of Lent Adam’s accidental warping had been minimal; he’d just figured he’d gotten better at not reacting to Warlock’s feelings.
“I told you last time that the reason they were acting up was because I wasn’t used to them,” Adam continued, consideringly. “Which was true. I’ve gotten used to it by now, so it got better. But then, Friday- it was the first time in a while I’ve had to do something big like that, and when you showed up I wasn’t expecting it so I couldn’t really calibrate what I was doing.”
“Yeah, I could tell,” Warlock said, cracking an uneasy smile at the memory. “Sorry. Again.”
“You’re the one suffering the consequences,” Adam waved away, shaking his head. “Because I accidentally deviated too much power saving you, you’re basically stuck with surplus. It should still wear off, but a little slower than I anticipated.”
“Right,” Warlock said, nodding slowly. “Makes sense.” It did, but still, there was something…
“Crowley will be impressed by your plant, at least.”
“Don’t think it counts if it grows through satanic power,” Warlock snorted, distractedly. His plant’s leaves were the kind of lush you only saw on Instagram posts.
“How do you think he grows his?” Adam riposted, grinning. “He bullies them into staying healthy.”
This unearthed a long-repressed memory of Nanny hissing threats at his mother’s prized rose-bush; Warlock twitched a little, then stopped, struck by momentary clarity.
“It’s- it’s all you, this time, right?”
“Like- it’s your surplus protective magic or whatever, right?” Warlock asked, waving his hands a little. “It’s not because of my- anymore.”
“Oh, right,” Adam blinked, and then nodded, after a moment’s hesitation. “Yeah, no. I’ve got that sorted. This isn’t you acting up.”
“Cool,” Warlock said, and resisted the urge to scratch at his nail-polish. “That’s what I figured.”
He didn’t think he would ever get used to the weird, casual vibe of discussing his unreciprocated feelings for Adam with Adam. Before he could shrivel up and die inside any further, Adam had hopped over to sit cross-legged by his side, thrusting his phone towards him.
“Check these out.”
“Holy shit,” Warlock breathed, hands stilling. “Where the hell did you get those?”
“Glitterbomb’s Facebook page,” Adam said, gleefully. “We finally have her.”
“I’d started to think she was just fucking with us,” Warlock replied, staring at the blurry club pictures of what was unmistakably Pepper and her mystery girlfriend. “If anyone asks I never saw these and told you off for your invasion of privacy.”
“They’re public photos, you coward,” Adam scoffed, swiping away. “Besides, I don’t plan on letting her know we know. Need some leverage on her.”
“Smart,” Warlock agreed, nodding towards his own phone. “AirDrop me those so we have backup.”
“Smart,” Adam echoed, with a gently mocking smile. Warlock rolled his eyes at him. “So- The Witcher?”
“Yeah, why the fuck not.”
They spent the rest of the night humming Toss A Coin whenever the characters on-screen were silent, and Warlock was quite happy to ignore the fact he had three textbook chapters to get through by ten the next morning.
All of the Cambridge/Oxford stuff in this fic is 100% accurate, and I think it would make a lot of sense for it to be Crowley's fault that Cambridge was founded in the way it was (and then watch despairingly as it turned out to be a really good university despite his best efforts).
Adam is really lucky everyone in their life is socially stunted or accustomed to weirdness, or else literally anyone would have called him out on the fact that he's blatantly into Warlock by this point. Warlock is not so lucky, but that's his own fault for having terrible taste.
Next chapter is very juicy, as pent up frustrations of all kind finally surface, and Warlock takes a page out of Crowley's book rather than Aziraphale's.
Chapter 4: Easter pt.2
After the second-most ridiculous year of his life, Warlock takes a shot at pushing back against the whims of the supernatural entities in his life. Turning the tables on the Antichrist always works out great for everyone involved.
Well, we’ve finally hit the home stretch- all the best drama saved for last, lol. Jokes aside, this was a blast to write; Adam and Warlock would be great protagonists for a Keeping up with the Kardashians style reality TV show, what with all the dramatics, although admittedly the only Kardashian-esque characters present would probably be Warlock’s parents.
(On a side-note, the Dowlings are just so terrible. Like genuinely awful. I take great joy in writing them as such. They're lucky their child was raised by a demon.)
In this chapter: Warlock gets pissed at his parents, has a nice nap, is characteristically confused by Adam, calls his nanny (who might be a little biased), has moral qualms, gets over these qualms by way of CUCA (yikes), confronts Adam at a party, and then questions his life choices. Then there's a lot of waiting and arguing. And maybe kissing.
Tone was hard for this one! I rewrote the big conversations with Adam a lot- unsurprisingly, trying to get (1) emotionally stunted edgy rich kid with abandonment issues and the makings of a tsundere and (1) emotionally stunted demonic prince struggling to follow the rules of humanity and alarmed by romantic urges to have a honest conversation about feelings is no walk in the park.
I hope this was a satisfying wrap-up! There were a lot of places to take this last chapter; there are definitely some scenes I scrapped even though I really enjoyed writing them, but I think it's turned out better with this pacing. Overall I think I covered the necessary plot beats, so hopefully it's to your liking as well as mine.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Over the course of the next few weeks, something unexpected and terrible occurred: nothing changed.
It took him a bit of time to realise, what with life going along at its usual chaotic pace, but the realisation took place in two waves. Nothing happened, in the sense that for all of Warlock’s keen self-awareness there were no unexplained oddities to catch his attention- just the usual quirks of reality that Adam and his lot attracted. On a similar but distinct note, nothing happened- an absence of something that Warlock could feel, like a palpable thrum of emptiness where there should have been something more.
By its nature, of course, this perceived lacuna was impossible to define. He tried to catch himself in the moments he felt it, but they were always fleeting and annoyingly vague- little disjointed moments he couldn’t make anything out of.
He felt it on a Tuesday, watching his plant bloom and flutter anxiously as Adam walked past it. He felt it on a Thursday, coming out of a tipsy laugh when a hot bright feeling punched him in the gut and no one around him reacted. He felt it when Dog took to sleeping by the foot of his bed on odd days.
He was looking at a puzzle, Warlock thought, frustrated and possibly a little distressed. He was looking at a formula and missing a variable, and there were few things that annoyed him more than pure theoretical mathematics, no matter how many times fucking Hardy ranted about their aesthetic values.
If Adam (A) x (powers (p) + Warlock affect (w)) equals reality warp ^W), but (A) x ((p) + ?) = ^W again, then…
He didn’t have the time to reflect too hard, because a week and a half down, midway through term, his parents called.
“Mom, hi,” Warlock managed, on his third missed call, vaguely hungover and somewhat alarmed. Ignoring his mother on social media was one thing, but calls? He didn’t think his mother had ever called him twice in a week, let alone a day, beyond the time he’d briefly run away from prep school to go to a rock festival. “What’s- what’s up?”
“Hi, sweets. Are you ill? Your voice sounds funny.”
“No, mom, I- are you in a car right now?”
“Oh, yes, I was at an event,” his mother dismissed, and now that his brain was grumbling awake a little he could hear it, the slightly hyperactive tone of her voice, a touch of drink or drugs. What time was it even in DC? “No, honey, I just wanted to call because you said you were sending things to the house?”
“Well, you should be sure to give them the new address. We’ve moved.”
He scrambled upright, stifling a curse when he realised he wasn’t in his own bed, too distracted to check if his snoring bed partner was paying him any heed. It was very bright out. “I’m sorry, what?”
“Yeah, baby, I meant to say something earlier, but it’s been a bit of a hassle, organising it all, and you’re not home for a while yet, so I completely forgot. I’m in Manhattan right now.”
“Manhattan? Mom, what the fuck? You sold the house in DC?”
“No, no, we still have the DC house, but we’re renting it out at the moment. Dad and I wanted a change of scenery.”
“What,” Warlock started, exhaled noisily through his nose, pinched his brow. His head was throbbing, and the guy near him- rowing team, he suspected, remembering the team drinks they’d had- was starting to shift. “I- what did you do with my room?”
“Boxed it, of course. It’s in storage now.”
Of course. Warlock curled his hands into tight fists. “Yeah. Sure. I- mom, like- where did this even come from? Since when do you want to go to New York? You were just talking about that whole start-up thing-“
“Oh, don’t be upset, Warlock,” his mother tutted, distractedly. “I needed the change of scenery, and Dad got a great job offer in New York.”
There it was. He just about held back his bitter scoff. “That’s great. Tell him I say congratulations on his vital role in rigging the upcoming elections, or whatever.”
“Sweetie, I wish you wouldn’t antagonise your dad so much. Are you sure you’re not sick?”
Warlock hung up; it was that or beginning to yell. His whole body was achy, his head now felt like it was being skewered, and there was a clammy cold feeling crawling up his throat.
The last thing he needed was awkward post-coital discourse with someone he rowed with; he took a silent breath and hoisted himself upright, blearily grabbing his clothes off the floor where he’d at least had the presence of mind to dump them in a heap. They were cold and crumpled, doing nothing for the roiling in his gut; distantly, he registered the lack of pang in his lower back and learnt something new about what he now gauged was indeed Antonio from rowing.
The stumble home was fucking miserable. He wanted coffee, but he didn’t want to be out of his room for any longer than strictly necessary. Spring weather should have at least been more pleasant, but it was raining sporadically, and by the time he slammed tempestuously into his door, nostrils flaring with suppressed rage, he felt ready to eviscerate the next person to raise their eyebrows at him.
His fucking parents. His fucking parents, boxing up a decade of their lives and moving off to New York- away from anything that might be construed as a home they shared, away from the only people that had made his teenaged years bearable, and for what? For his father’s job, for his mid-life crisis spurt of ambition, even though his mother hated New York. No doubt they’d struck a deal- a new credit card, for her, or maybe a blind eye turned to her indiscretions.
Pepper, studying family law, had read off her notes one day- marriage as a status, or marriage as a contract. He figured his parents were those special kinds of people who managed both- to have a contractual marriage which served solely as status. What a thrill it was to live in a house with two people so apathetic towards one another they would never muster the energy to divorce.
Well, fuck it, he thought, as he threw his shirt in his hamper. Fuck it, and fuck them, and fuck their stupid terrible relationship. He didn’t need to sit and wallow; he didn’t need to sit and nurse a hangover, either. They’d gotten in at around three or four, so it had to be around noon anyways- an acceptable time to start drinking again, surely.
He pulled on another shirt, relaced his combat boots, sat himself down heavily as he grabbed around his dresser for a half-drunken bottle of gin. He probably looked a fucking mess, hair unsettled and skin suspiciously sticky, but the standard was low. He’d make it work.
He nursed a glass of gin for a while, stewing in the familiar misery that was his family affairs, and when lunch hours had passed he took to drinking with intent. Ran in the family, after all.
He was crumpled against his bed, rational corner of his brain wryly aware that he was absolutely not making it out again as he masochistically reminded himself of the fact in another life he might have been the one to grow up in the idyllic little village of Tadfield with functional human beings, when Adam returned from wherever the hell he’d been, the bang of the door like a fucking cannon explosion against the haze of Warlock’s sulking.
“Warlock?” Adam asked, confused; Warlock shifted from his perch behind his bed to glare vaguely in his direction, not bothered to give him the time of day. This was nothing Adam could relate to, not perfect fucking Adam, who could conveniently disown any parents who caused him injury whenever he so wished.
“Oh, what are you…”
Adam trailed off, and a wave of heat went through the room, noticeable especially because of the cold wave of disgust he’d been almost physically wrapped in until then. It was such a contrast that Warlock blinked hard and looked up at him, found Adam eerily still in that somewhat inhumane way of his, staring at him.
“Um,” Adam said, and then very slowly began resembling a living person again. “Are you- all right?”
“Yeah, I typically love to sit and drink myself into a coma, Adam,” Warlock sneered, shutting his eyes. Curse his drinking tolerance. Even half a bottle down he was comprehensibly verbose.
“Right,” Adam said, and then there was a soft thump and his voice came from much closer. “Thought your drinks were last night.”
“Ain’t you clever.”
Another shuffle. Warlock resisted the urge to open his eyes, unwilling to confront Adam through the eyes of a self-loathing drunk, less for Adam’s sake than his own.
“Are you mad at me?”
Well, there went that resolve. He opened his eyes with a groan, spikiness receding as he caught sight of the blurry caution on Adam’s face. He looked a little drawn, spots of purple beneath his eyes.
“No. Yeah. Yes, but I don’ know why, so no, for your purposes.”
“Okay,” Adam said, slowly. He was doing something weird with his eyes, but Warlock couldn’t tell what, brain slow and struggling to keep up with his gaze because it kept avoiding his. “So, not me. Parents?”
Warlock sucked his breath in, smile crooked with misdirected resentment. “Easy guess.”
“Well, yeah. They’re sort of terrible.”
They looked at each other; Warlock wavered, considering telling him to go fuck himself and mind his own business, but Adam’s expression was all concentrated concern, and he sagged, defeated. “Right. That they are.”
Adam shifted, tugged at the bottle, which Warlock rolled his eyes and released. He expected the moralising, but he didn’t expect Adam to frown at him in thought and then take his newly free hand in his, palm scalding as always.
“You slept since yesterday?”
“Yeah. An’ I’ll drink my water and wash my face too, Pepper.”
Caught out, Adam snorted softly and passed him a water bottle he was relatively sure he’d conjured out of thin air; Warlock winced and drank, mouth feeling slightly less disgusting. He was too drunk to feel comfortable, still hot and buzzing- the cold hole in his chest had vanished, at least.
He looked at the side of Adam’s face, and the side of Adam’s face looked back. The last thing he wanted was to talk about it.
“’S that maths on the floor?”
“What’s A and P stand for?”
Fuck. “Nothing. Don’t tell me y’re a maths genius too.”
“Wouldn’t call myself a genius,” Adam said, but he moved to sit by his side so that they could both look at the sheets of scribbling together. “That’s- planar algebra?”
“Uh huh. N’n-Euclidean geometry.”
God. He closed his eyes and thunked his head back against the bed frame.
“Where d’you go last night?”
“Cindies,” Warlock muttered, neck flushing with begrudging embarrassment. “Then home with someone.”
“Right,” Adam said. It was uncomfortably hot in the room; Warlock shifted a little, tugging at the collar of his shirt. “Why d’you leave?”
“Adam. The fuckin’… Spanish inquisition.”
“Yeah, all right, then.”
They sat in silence for a beat, Warlock progressively more tired despite the fact it was mid-afternoon and he wasn’t usually the sleepy type of drunk. Then he opened a suspicious eye to look at Adam.
“Are you doing this?”
“Maybe,” Adam said, around a half-yawn. “Doing what?”
“You are,” Warlock groaned, yawning in response. “You’re hypnotising me into a nap, you dick.”
“Oh, right,” Adam said, and shook himself a little, Warlock’s yawns receding. “Not on purpose. Think ‘m a little knackered myself.”
“Yeah,” Adam sighed. He was slouching back against the bed now, but his brows furrowed as he looked towards Warlock, remembering himself. “Sorry. I’ll stop.”
Warlock considered it, the biting haze of vengeful alcoholism and the warm comfort of promised respite battling it out in, and then let out a bit-back sigh, resigned to hitting another nail into the coffin of his edgy reputation. “Fuck it. Conjure a mattress or something.”
He’d barely finished speaking when the floor vanished from beneath him, and he shot Adam an amused look. He seemed a little startled by his own rapidity, a half-sheepish smile quirking his lips when he caught Warlock’s eyes.
“Think I might be more tired than I thought I was.”
“Mhm,” Warlock said, or something like that, because the mattress was infinitely softer than the horrible single-frame flat-as-fuck one on his own bed, and having an afternoon nap rather than trying not to cry about how much he hated his parents seemed a very tempting prospect to his increasingly fuzzy mind. He twisted and let himself slide onto his back, head lolling just off the edge of the mattress.
There was shuffling; Adam had let go of his hand, at some point, which was unfortunate because it had been sort of nice, actually, and Warlock could feel him curling up somewhere nearby, head by Warlock’s feet. But there were blankets now, and what could have been the faint clinking of Warlock’s old crib mobile in the corner of the room, and he was too tired to think.
He fell asleep with muddled memories of birthday sleepovers playing through his mind.
The next couple of days were markedly weird. Not as a result of their impromptu nap session, oddly enough; Warlock had awoken disoriented and not very hungover at all, sleep-flushed and less inclined to kill someone, and Adam had been rifling through his desk drawers already, smile guilt-free when Warlock pointedly cleared his throat. What’s a nap between friends?
No, the oddity came from elsewhere- they had no less than three weird conversations in which Adam seemed to be trying to set Warlock up with Antonio from rowing, for some godforsaken reason.
The first time was subtle, or as subtle as Adam could be when he wasn’t aiming for it, just a series of questions about the details of the hook-up; Warlock answered gamely enough, unembarrassed. It wasn’t anything to write home about- they were sort of casual friends or friendly acquaintances, was all, and Antonio was handsome enough.
The second time, Adam’s proposed walk lead them right to Jesus Green, where Antonio and his friends happened to be, so they exchanged faintly awkward small talk as Adam chatted up his friends, on his best (and slightly terrifying) behaviour, leaving Warlock bewildered.
The third time, Warlock caught Adam mid-way through engineering a new segue into Antonio-releated conversation and started to ask questions- like what the fuck was happening, for example.
“What do you mean? Just seems like a nice guy.”
“He’s fine!” Warlock dismissed, blowing hair out of his eyes. Shouting while cycling was a gentleman’s sport. “I don’t see why we’re talking about him, though- again!”
“We saw him yesterday, it just-“
“You made us run into him yesterday, you mean! Are you- are you trying to set us up, or something?”
“Yeah,” Adam said, glancing back like this was an incredibly obvious point. “It’s the first time you’ve gotten with someone you’re actually friends with. That’s significant!”
“We’re barely friends, and besides, you seem to be forgetting I’m otherwise occupied, dumbass,” Warlock yelled, over the honking of a car behind him. “This is insanely stupid.”
Adam’s bike was going far faster than his, perhaps out of pettiness; he was casually defensive by the time Warlock caught up with him. “Just thought it might help with that.”
Oh. Adam was trying to get rid of his crush. The knowledge burst through him like a deflating balloon, and he nearly missed his cue to turn off in the face of his humiliation.
“I guess,” was all he managed, a solid five minutes of silence later, wishing lightning would strike him dead so that he didn’t have to spend the rest of his life overanalysing his every interaction with Adam for signs of crushing to suppress.
Something very fucking weird was going on, Warlock thought, when lightning instead struck Antonio’s punt and left him in a cast for two weeks not two days later. Something very fucking weird, and not just the fact that exams were three weeks away and he’d barely started revising.
The thing was that- well, he didn’t know how to put it. The formulas in his head kept rewriting themselves, confused, and he wasn’t even sure what to focus on. So Adam was sick of Warlock’s crush, then, or something- or, hell, ‘crush’, not that Warlock wanted to think too hard about that- but he couldn’t really fathom why, because Adam had the warp thing under control, supposedly, and Warlock wasn’t acting on it any more than he ever had, and it… He didn’t know. There was no good reason for the change, or if there was, not one he could see.
It was an added layer of complication he didn’t need, not with his supervisors breathing down his neck about exams and the fact he’d skipped two of their mock lab sessions already. The whole thing had him edgy enough that on a whim, irritated and mid-way through violently throwing his calculator against the wall (why the fuck did it matter if there was a concise geometrical proof for divergence, anyways?), he threw caution to the wind and called up Crowley of all people.
Crowley didn’t take long to answer, which was either good or bad, because Warlock didn’t have the time to decide whether this was a terrible idea or not; he held whatever it was they were using- iPad, maybe, god they were old- crooked for a moment, frowning down at him.
“Hi,” Warlock muttered, too worked up to feel stupid yet. “You’re a demon- how do you put up with feelings?”
Crowley’s entire face rearranged itself, settling on disbelief. “What now?”
“You know what I mean!” Warlock said, and looked away, trying not to seethe. “It’s so- just letting other people affect you all the time, it’s so stupid, I’m sick of it. It shouldn’t matter.”
“Oh, right,” Crowley drawled, and relaxed a little, twitching his nose in thought. “Well, yes, humans especially are very bad at the whole emotion thing. The one upstairs has it right, ‘course, doesn’t really do the whole sentimental schtick. Angels neither, when it comes down to it. Demons are quite emotion driven, on the other hand, considering Lucifer, but it’s all the fun nasty stuff, you know, deadly sins and whatnot.”
“Those aren’t all that great either,” Warlock said, moody. “At least you get to choose not to feel. Though I don’t see why you don't do that.”
“It’s a bit more complicated than that,” Crowley scoffed. “Used to be different, didn’t I?” When Warlock looked at him, bitterness intercut by a burst of curiosity, he narrowed his eyes as if to refuse him entry. “Anyway, you’re hardly calling to talk about me, picture of self-interested humanity that you are.”
He sounded quite pleased with it, and Warlock groaned. “Adam’s being weird, and my parents are assholes.”
There was a beat. He looked up to find Crowley’s brow shot up in very Nanny-like fashion, and felt his lips twitch into a pout on reflex. “What?”
“Nothing,” Crowley said, picture of sarcastic sincerity, “Just thought I’d leave you time to continue stating the obvious. Water is wet. Sun is hot. Anything else?”
“I don’t know why I bothered,” Warlock groused, cheeks flushing. Of all the people to go whining to. It’s not like Nanny had ever been known for indulging in his weaknesses.
“At least be angry about it,” Crowley reprimanded, shaking his head. “Go punch Adam in the jaw or something.”
“He’s like your godson.”
“He’s the Antichrist, it’ll barely graze him,” Crowley dismissed, authoritatively. “Do you some good, putting that hurt somewhere productive. How many times did I tell you it’s no use getting so worked up about it?”
“Oh, please,” Crowley scoffed. “I can practically taste the pain from here. Old lesson again- if you insist on feeling it, at least don’t use it on yourself. Huge waste. A lot of the best wars started with hurt feelings.”
“I’m not interested in starting a war,” Warlock grumbled reluctantly, though actually the thought itself was calming his fraught nerves a little, just picturing himself with the power for once. “I just wish they’d all quit acting up so much.”
“Your folks won’t ever do that,” Crowley waved away, unimpressed now. “Dismal pair, the two of them. Your old man and his ego, talk about overcompensation. And let’s not get started on your air-head mother. The number of times I considered poisoning them-“
“Hey!” Warlock exclaimed, taken aback, although a very inappropriate urge to laugh was bubbling up in his chest. “Wh- you can’t say shit like that!”
“And why not?” Crowley challenged, a hint of a smirk in his annoyance. “Had to work for them for a decade, didn’t I? Bloody obnoxious, the both of them. The worst kind of humans. And I say that having spent four days locked in Liz Bathory’s basement one time. Least that one had style.”
“Count your lucky stars you’re nothing like them,” Crowley said, softened in that brash way of his as he sniffed and looked away. “Scraped up some braincells somewhere, half-decent personality. Maybe the angel got to you in your formative years with all that holy stuff.”
“Nah, you two were really terrible at your job,” Warlock responded, matter-of-factly, but he was smiling a little. “But you probably still left me better off than what I’d have been like without outside intervention.”
“Lot more boat shoes, that’s for sure,” Crowley muttered, then shook his head, business-like. “That’s those two dolts covered, anyhow. Just ignore them until they turn senile and then stick them in the worst nursing home you can find, I reckon. Now what’s the problem with Adam?”
Warlock pulled at his lip, glanced at him, sighed. “I guess you know already.”
“What, that you’re besotted?” Crowley gave him an almost sympathetic look as Warlock bristled. “Again, stating the obvious, hellion.”
“Yeah, I’m aware, thanks,” Warlock said, jaw set. “As is everyone else, Adam included. Which he’s made perfectly clear.”
“No,” Warlock exclaimed, the injustice of it ruining his attempt at detachment as his voice rose. “Not once! I probably wouldn’t have said shit if it was up to me. Not like I chose to be into some Satanist weirdo who can read minds.”
“Right,” Crowley said. His expression was dancing like he knew something. “And he’s, what, giving you a hard time about it?”
“No, he’s- I don’t know what he’s doing,” Warlock sighed, flat now. “He doesn’t- he treats me like it’s normal. Which is- not as saintly of him as he thinks it is. But he’s been acting weird independently of all that- or not, maybe, I’m not sure how the two connect, that’s what’s a pain in the ass about it.”
“Oh, enough already,” Crowley interrupted, running a hand through his hair with a scowl. “I know how this is going. Let me guess, you’ve tried to have a nice chat about it once or twice, and he’s ceded an ounce and you’ve let it go, how very brave and noble of you-“
“What the hell else am I supposed to do?”
“Confront him!” Crowley hissed, eager with it. “Stop playing so nice! Hell’s fires, it’s like I never raised you. You have to stop giving him all the power, you dolt.”
“He’s the Antichrist.”
“So he already has all the power he needs! Since when do you let people toy with you so much? Shouldn’t matter if they’re nice about it! Where’s the kid gone who bit through someone’s hand at his seventh birthday party?”
“I did that once,” Warlock managed, torn between mortification and a cresting sense of exhilaration. “Crowley, aren’t you- supposed to be keeping the peace here? I’m not going to turn on Adam like he’s the enemy-“
Crowley groaned, loud enough to cut him off. “He’s situationally the enemy- he’s obviously lying to you, for one, which you know. Besides, what do I look like, the angel? I’m allowed to be biased.”
“Right, so you’re on my side,” Warlock drawled, a brittle sort of sarcasm, but Crowley just huffed and shrugged, snake tongue flicking subconsciously through his lips.
“Well, damnation, maybe I am. You’re not the only one who’s had to pine after some oblivious arse for millennia.”
It was said very flippantly, which solidified Warlock’s incredulous suspicion that Crowley was actually just playing favourites. Having not been anyone’s favourite anything for so long as he lived, he had to take a moment to compose himself, old urge to sullenly cling at Nanny’s stocking-clad legs roaring to life in his chest.
“Y-yeah, I guess not.” Blink, stare, what were they even talking- oh, right. “Pretty sure you didn’t jump that hurdle by bullying Aziraphale into it, though.”
“No,” Crowley said, rather snarkily, looking at him over the brim of his glasses. “But then he’s an angel, and Adam’s the Antichrist.”
This was a rather final argument. Warlock stared at him.
“Go for the jugular,” Crowley ordered, sternly. “You’re the one who was raised to do it.”
Warlock spent the next week watching Adam like a predator watches prey, caught between two minds.
One the one hand, there was this: Crowley was a demon, and Adam had actually done nothing to him that he hadn’t apologised for, beyond failing to return his feelings. Sure, Warlock had the gut-feeling he was lying to him, but he also suspected Adam wasn’t fully aware of this himself, and in any event it was all conjecture. By blowing up at him he risked unnecessarily fracturing their relationship, and beyond that his relationship with the Them at large.
On the other hand lay temptation.
Warlock had, for all intents and purposes, become nicer over the course his first year at university. Meeting Adam (and everything which had ensued) had hit his walls with a sledgehammer, fissures allowing long-withdrawn warmth and (gag) kindness to spill out. He had actual friends now, not just people he tolerated or people he loved to hate, and they were all nice enough themselves that when he was pointlessly mean he felt bad for it. He cared more about other people; he didn’t try so hard to seem superior. In short: he was a nicer young man than he might have been otherwise, and the kindly teachings of his youth had reawakened to serve him as a moral compass.
The thing was, though, that he hadn’t been educated in matters of the world by a single benevolent angel. For all that Aziraphale’s attempts to shape him were only now really allowed to guide his hand, there had been Crowley, too, in a sense more successful than Aziraphale had ever been, because Warlock had kept those lessons- on how to protect himself, on how to hurt- close to his chest throughout the years, necessary weapons that they were. But he had never made his demonic nanny proud with Adam and his lot- been rude and vindictive only in flashes, only when cornered, and never with intent. This whole time he had avoided doing so out of a sense that it would be wrong of him, frowned upon, that they were all nice and human and not raised by demons, even Adam. After all, if Adam could behave, being the literal son of Satan, Warlock could control himself too.
But now there was this- a stalemate, and Adam lying to him. He was sure of it now, having sat down and mapped it out, because it was the only way to make sense of it all. Adam’s powers, still bending the rules of reality around him weeks after the fact; Adam’s friends, more than once now starting to say something only to blink hazily and start anew- there was something hidden there. Something Adam didn't want him to know.
If A x ((p) + X) = W….
He wanted to do it. This whole time- from the very beginning of the year, before Warlock had even laid eyes on him- the ball had been in Adam’s court. Adam had accidentally bent the rules to make them roommates; Adam had found out about Aziraphale and Crowley; Adam had known about Warlock’s feelings probably before even Warlock himself. Adam always initiated, and Warlock rarely set his foot down. It was part Antichrist fuckery and part Adam himself, and he was terrible at resisting it, but goddamnit, what was he if not contrary? His battered pride deserved vengeance, let alone his heart. It was easy to let resentment build- easy to feel anger. At every turn he was always the one left vulnerable, and Adam cruised along happily, never stooping so low as to understand the mess that was sentimental humanity.
He wanted desperately to level the playing field. To remind Adam that people, even just people, also had a bite, could hurt back. To take him seriously, for once.
You don’t even know what he’s lying about, sang his conscience. The stalemate ensued.
That Friday, two weeks from exams and coming off a revision high, he went to CUCA’s post-exam blowout, happy for the excuse to avoid their rooms. In typical CUCA fashion, one minute he was watching some girl rather impressively doing coke off a table with a credit card (what was this, Wolf of Wall Street?) and the next he was deep in drink and listening to Peters finish off a long story about some guy in his jurisprudence lectures, once again sat in a corner between the terrible twosome. This time, sharper-minded, he had the presence of mind to start to look for an escape route should the need arise, but before he had the time to do so his phone pinged.
can u buy condoms from slocal please i o u
Thoroughly distracted, Warlock almost dropped his phone.
ran out of balloons for bop, Adam continued, slowing Warlock’s pulse from heading straight into heart-attack territory.
He was midway through tapping out an affirmative when Johnson wolf-whistled into his ear. “Did I just see the word condom?”
“Fuck off, Johnson,” Warlock said, locking his phone and taking a drink. “Stop reading my texts.”
“You’re finally doing it?” Peters asked, brows raising delicately. “Well, well. Congratulations are in order. When’s the wedding?”
“Still not having sex.”
“Seriously?” Johnson exclaimed, looking genuinely irritated now. “Well, why the fuck not?”
Warlock cast him a flat look. “Oh, I don’t know, let me jog your memory.”
“Come on, Dowling,” Peters scoffed, shaking his head. “If he still says he’s- what, asexual, or god knows what- he’s obviously lying.”
“Surprisingly, my nefarious gay powers don’t actually warp minds.”
“Not that, you absolute dickhead,” Johnson erupted, swatting at his head. “Have you looked at the guy lately? I swear to god. Makes me jumpy to be in proximity.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Oh, you’re worse than a woman,” Peters groaned, shaking his head. “If you’re even in the same room he spends the whole time staring at you like he wants to eat you, you freak.”
“You don’t even-“
“No, seriously,” Johnson said, grabbing him by the shoulders and making Warlock fumble to avoid spilling his drink. “Seriously, I am sick of this. I am so sick of this I am dropping my condescending veneer entirely, Dowling, appreciate my sacrifice. You need to get a bloody grip. Your Northern commie boyfriend wants to go full Brokeback Mountain with you.”
Warlock, disturbed and doubtful, took a moment to exasperatedly reflect that this was definitely the only gay movie Johnson had ever heard of before reluctantly glancing towards Peters, who nodded.
“Listen to the man, Dowling.”
“Look,” Warlock started, battling the fire in his nerves. “If that were the case, you don’t think that, say, our mutual friends…”
He trailed off, thinking of aborted conversations, of Aziraphale and Crowley’s mysterious coded discussion, of the glaze in his friends' eyes, and swallowed.
“I- since when have you been paying such close attention to our interactions, anyways? I’m barely ever here!”
“Morbid curiosity is a powerful motivator,” Peters said, mournfully.
“Also I feel like if I set you two up I’ll get to go to a gay wedding,” Johnson said, relaxing into his chair. “Apparently those are insane.”
Warlock stared at them a beat, incredulously, and then dropped his face to his hands. “You’re both such indescribable douchebags.”
The missing fucking variable. If If Adam (A) x (powers (p) + Warlock affect (w)) equals reality warp factor (W), but (A) x ((p) + ?) = ^W again- the most obvious goddamn answer was that the results were the same despite the subtraction of Warlock’s feelings because Adam’s had come into the mix.
It was exactly the kind of thing he would have subconsciously figured out by this point- hence the stream of anxieties- and yet failed completely to consider in reality. If any part of it was true, he was a moron.
He felt an almost gratifying sense of parallel as he stormed across traffic back to Pembroke, bikes screeching angrily as he went, feet racing across the pavement. This was how it had all kicked off, in a sense- that first stupid night staggering into bop reeking of CUCA-mandated drink, Adam hauling him upstairs. Now he was barely feeling the drink, his mind was focused, the cards were in his hand, and all he had to do was take a fucking leap of faith and trust in his own hypothesis.
His skepticism made token protests. Adam, into him? Adam? Who despite his humanity was more of a human-shaped hellion than anything else? For all his trickery and quirks Warlock had believed him when he’d said he didn’t feel things like that, so why did this change his mind? It wasn’t like two drunken vaguely homophobic assholes that he didn’t trust as far as he could throw them were heavenly authority on the matter.
And yet, declared his mind, relentless, this was scientific, this was true. Because if Adam hadn’t lied about the sword aftermath, then the shift really had taken place, Warlock-to-Adam, and the effects hadn’t changed because Adam’s feelings had been influencing the warp. And either Adam knew, and he was an irredeemable bastard, dragging Warlock along like this, thwarting his friends from telling him things, or he didn’t, or didn’t want to, and this was all subconscious. Either way Warlock felt righteously pissed enough that niceties didn’t matter. This whole year he’d been routinely mortified, every vulnerable emotion thrown back in his face, and he’d let it slide because he’d always felt in the wrong somehow, seeing as he was the one with the unwarranted feelings. Except that wasn’t true.
That whole Antonio bullshit- the thought struck him as he elbowed his way to the front of the queue, ignoring the glares he got as he slapped his fiver down and got his wristband. That would have been a last-ditch attempt to see if he could get rid of the feelings somehow, shunting Warlock off to like someone else. How damn presumptive- how impersonal-
“Oh, Warlock!” Pepper said, brightly, cutting through his steely haze in a flash of neon. Eighties theme, Warlock registered, distantly. “I didn’t think you were coming. CUCA not up to scratch?”
I am going to find Adam and then I am going to try my best to break him, Warlock might have said, except that wasn’t how to play this thing, and he was being smart now, not honest. “I wanted to change out of this but I’ve lost my keys. Thought I’d ask Adam for his. He in here?”
“Yeah, with Wensleydale. I’m just off to put my coat away,” Pepper said, smirking a little. “How on earth do you keep losing your keys so often?”
“It’s a talent,” Warlock smiled, all teeth. “I’ll see you inside, then?”
“Yeah, see you in ten.”
He let the smile slip from his face the moment he was past her, weaving over to the bar to claim his free shots. Dutch courage; he’d sobered up too much on the walk over.
The dance-floor was crowded, and Adam had left the DJ booth, apparently, because it took him a solid five to ten minutes to find him again, crowded up between dancing freshers on the other side of the room. By then the drinks had kicked in, hot buzz in his stomach burning hotter when he caught the flash of golden hair through the shitty strobe lights.
He wove through the dancers, pausing when someone stumbled into him a little, wondered at the way the music seemed dull against the ambient roar of his thoughts. Why had he ever shied from confrontation, again? The anticipation alone was sending a thrill through him. Maybe if his parents had fought a little more they wouldn’t have been so damn miserable.
Adam caught sight of him easily, and his eyes widened in pleased surprise, hand coming up to beckon him over as Wensleydale turned to see who he was looking at. Warlock kept his features carefully normal, but he thought there was something in his eyes, maybe, or just some aura thing he couldn’t read, because Adam’s expression flickered, a hint of caution between the mischievous good humour.
“Thought you were at that CUCA thing.”
“I was,” Warlock acquiesced, and raised his phone, letting his features shift into restrained concern. “Then Pepper texted.”
“Pepper?” Adam asked, frowning; Wensleydale blinked, glancing around. Warlock only nodded, own frown coming easy.
“Yeah, didn’t she- she said something about her bike being missing?”
“She what?” Wensleydale exclaimed, brows shooting up. “Our bikes are tied together!”
“Yeah, I know,” Warlock said, all wary concern. “She texted to ask if I could come help look since Adam was on JPC duty, but they’re nowhere to be seen, so. She’s with the porters now, if you wanna go.”
“Oh, god, they must have been gone when she went to put her coat down,” Wensleydale moaned, shoulders sagging. “I knew security was too lax on those bike racks.” He cast an anxious look around again, then cursed. “I’m going to go find her. You don’t s’pose she might’ve forgotten to look somewhere?”
In a heartbeat it was just the two of them, some terrible British pop song about angels blaring in the background, Adam’s gaze heavy on Warlock as they faced one another. There was glitter on his cheek.
“Pep didn’t text you.”
“No,” Warlock agreed, agreeable smile vanishing. “I figured I might as well join in on the lying, seeing as you’ve been indulging in it so much.”
Adam’s eyes flashed, a touch of wary antagonism. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“I mean you’ve been lying to me, and it’s either because you’re an asshole or because you’re in denial,” Warlock said, giddy with casual spite. “I’m just here to find out which one.”
It was glorious to see- the way Adam’s features twisted, the disbelief in his eyes, the confused lilt to his mouth, the stiffening of his posture. He wasn’t sure what was happening; he wasn’t out for blood. An honest reaction, Warlock thought, but that meant nothing either way. His lips kept curling up into an instinctive, anxious half-smirk.
“I don’t know where this is coming from,” Adam settled on, lowly, sparks of power in his eyes. “But you’re being very shitty right now.”
“Three times now,” Warlock said, a non-sequitur. “Brian, Pepper, Wensleydale. Three times they’ve been talking to me, and they’ve said ‘Look, Warlock, about Adam’, and then suddenly they’ve forgotten what they meant to say. Weird odds, right?” He smiled humourlessly. “I’m only a mathematician, though. Don’t take my word for it.”
Adam’s eyes had flared red, just for a second, a spot of alarm, and now his face read something different altogether, like this was news, like he needed to process it, and for the first time his wariness wasn’t just posturing, reflected something like actual fear. “That’s not- I didn’t do that.”
“Well, it wasn’t me,” Warlock answered, stepping forwards to avoid a drunken fresher spinning past them. His heart was pounding in his chest, adrenaline-charged, disbelief at his own audacity. “Seem to recall someone telling me how very terrible it was to overload someone’s agency like that.”
“I didn’t,” Adam started, but he stopped, shaking his head, and abruptly he looked more ill at ease than Warlock had ever seen him, stepping back like he could physically escape the conversation. “It wasn’t on purpose, it just-“
“Just happened?” Warlock suggested, frustrations and anxieties reaching a boiling point in his chest. He was struggling not to just drop the act and start demanding answers. “Sort of like that lightning incident just happened? Sort of like your powers just happen, to me, all the time? A bit like that, maybe?”
“Stop it,” Adam snapped, eyes flickering red and blue. “You’re trying to make this into something it’s not.”
The thought had occurred to him, and for a moment time seemed suspended, a coin mid-air, hesitation in his fingertips. If he was wrong he was harassing what amounted to his best friend for no good reason, and even if he was right he was doing the same shitty thing to Adam that Adam had done to him all those months ago, throwing his own feelings at him in weaponised form.
If he ceded now, though- he ceded forever. Lost the chance to know. And who the fuck ever got what they wanted by being nice to the Antichrist?
The coin landed. Tails.
“Oh, I don’t think so,” Warlock said, remembering middle school, high school, sure that Adam Young had never been bullied, because he had never been afraid of anything. “I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what it is, actually.”
“You can’t understand it,” Adam retorted, and he sounded half-convinced himself, all golden glory and alcohol-sticky lips, Warlock’s gut clenching with a multitude of unnamed things he was sure Adam could feel coming off him. “I’m not- like that.”
It could have worked, in some other universe. In this one, Adam’s back was to the wall.
They both realised it in the exact same moment, Warlock sucking in a breath and Adam’s eyes flashing scarlet, caged animal for a heartbeat. Adam’s back was to the wall, Warlock barely a hand’s length away from him, and for the one split-second that they realised this in tandem there was a flash of panic in his expression.
Hook, line, Warlock thought, hazily, punch drunk now, but cold fire still burnt in his chest, and he had a closing move to make.
Aloud, he said: “Sure. Let me try something, then.”
“I don’t think I will,” Adam answered, but it was said without conviction, devil-clever eyes scanning Warlock’s with urgency, fingers twitching at his sides, and Warlock had him, really had him, just this once; he was moving before he could think about it, hand cool against the heat of Adam’s cheek, and then his eyes slid half-mast and he was closing the gap, pulse thundering triumphantly, numb to the drunken chorus around them, every ounce of his attention caught in the frozen portrait before him, red lips and blue eyes.
His eyelids fluttered; his thumb shifted, and then he was kissing him, warm and slick with the artificial sweetness of alcohol, barely a touch, because there were a series of rapid-fire cracks and then screaming, and he drew back, roaring in his ears, to find a horde of bewildered drunk party-goers cowering away from the ceiling, all the lightbulbs blown to pieces, shards littering the floor.
Sweet, vicious victory, like a honeyed knife through the chest; his thumb pressed in then withdrew, hand only shaking a little, and Adam was looking at him like a shadow of a person, chest heaving, expression blank.
“Yeah,” Warlock said, quiet against the rumbling confusion, the pitch black of the room, the hiss of triumph in his veins. “That’s what I thought.”
He didn’t see Adam for two weeks after that.
Two weeks. He’d left bop without turning back, gone to bed, relying a sixth sense for where to draw the line, to wait things out. He’d woken up in the morning to find the door to Adam’s room gone, and when he’d left for the library he’d found a new door had appeared near his in the corridor, demarcating the two.
He’d left him be for a couple of days, willingly. Then he’d started to wonder, and he’d sent a message or two, but he’d heard nothing back. Knocking felt like an insurmountable challenge, because damn it, this was Adam’s turn to play, not his. But Adam had vanished, pure and simple- nowhere to be seen in college, dead silent in his room.
He messaged Pepper first, then changed his mind and messaged Brian, figuring going for wrath first was asking for it.
The reply was near instant.
What the fuck did you do, mate ?
What do you mean what did I do? Warlock wrote back, aware that he was being oblique but wary of saying anything before he knew what was being asked.
To Adam, was Brian’s response, in tones of resentment and awe. He’s been a right fucking mess.
He did that all on his own, Warlock decided, more to himself than to Brian. Are we OK?
Depends what you did.
Stop letting him gaslight me, Warlock retorted, defensive, and after that one Brian called him, so he picked up.
“That’s what this is about?” Brian asked, disbelieving. “Holy fuck. How’d you manage that?”
So things were all right with the Them, sort of. There was a communication gap on both sides, reluctance to reveal to much without Adam involved, and also there were exams- Brian’s almost over, Wensleydale’s underway, Pepper’s starting. Only Adam’s started and finished about the same time as Warlock’s, though his were far less concentrated.
In a way it almost suited him. He took to studying for real, and didn’t get used to the fact he could no longer glance over to Adam’s room at all, or to the lack of Dog wading in and out at all hours, or that his plant was dying, but he was too distracted to let it eat at him the way it might otherwise have.
Exams came and went, dragging on in their misery. He breezed through three of his papers and dragged through one, commiserating with his fellow natscis as they bitched about the paper, the examiners, the subject, the idea of mathematics itself, and then abruptly it was all over, champagne sprayed over his head as he emerged the building, sun shining and summer creeping in.
Two weeks, four exams, and one massive, black-out celebration party. Warlock hadn’t so much as caught a glimpse of him.
He wasn’t sure what he’d expected, honestly. He’d known, of course, that it wasn’t a nice way to go about things, and that Adam was liable not to take it well, but he’d expected explosions, earthquakes, maybe a rogue tornado; in keeping with the pattern thus far. He’d expected a fight, actually, because so much of their turbulent ups and downs had been marked by shouting fits. He’d darkly, secretly expected Adam to somehow explain it all away again, leave him humiliated and outcast once more.
He hadn’t expected the radio silence. It made sense, in Adam-logic, that Adam would behave, abruptly, that Adam would seize control, retract every ounce of otherworldly magic he’d let seep into Warlock’s life. Maybe it was even easy to do, now that he knew the source of it- maybe he’d gotten it sorted, finally. Warlock was concerned by just how much he missed it, having magic swirling through his days, in the rustle of leaves and the glint of raindrops.
He wasn’t sure what to think or to feel about it all. It would have been easy to regret it, to grovel and apologise, but for better or for worse he couldn’t bring himself to. If he’d left it the way things were, it’d have been limbo sooner or later, anyways- at least this way around it was Adam suffering from a case of brutal honesty, not him.
The crux of the issue lay there, really. He had no idea how Adam was handling this all, beyond the fact he was handling it badly. Undoubtedly he’d been thrown off, and he couldn’t be having a pleasant time- even for human beings, realising you could catch feelings was terrifying, let alone biblical demon-spawn. Was he hurt? He struggled to imagine Adam hurt, really hurt- it was the sort of thing he could make disappear, and perhaps more significantly he couldn’t imagine himself having enough bearing in Adam’s world to push him that far.
He’d gotten what he wanted- he knew Adam felt something for him, and he knew that it, and not Warlock, was behind all of the seemingly inexplicable weirdness that had been driving him crazy all year. Beyond that, he had low hopes. Adam lusting after him was one thing, and probably not all that hard to adjust to for demons, considering. Adam having feelings was another, and there Warlock struggled to hope for much. Adam liked him well enough- they were good friends, when they weren’t living out some sort of B-rate Spanish telenovela- but anything else…
It wasn’t that he didn’t think Adam was capable of love, or anything so fatalistic- demonstrably, he was, even just in the platonic sense. He’d been human too long. It was more that he couldn’t see how he would accept it, on a personality scale; how he could ever choose to let it reign him as love was bound to do. Certainly if Warlock had the choice he would have never- though no, this was untrue, because Warlock was depressingly sentimental in some corner of his soul, and his curiosity would always be the death of him.
He waxed hot and cold about it, at times intensely guilty and at times completely unapologetic. It was all a little bit insane, somehow moreso than any of the supernatural fuckery he’d gone through over the year. Adam- Adam- wanted him back, on some unfathomable scale, so much that he’d been rearranging reality for him all year long. It was the kind of nonsense fever dream Warlock might have indulged in during his early teens, all angst and lank hair and demon boyfriend fantasies.
His brain sort of died on him every time he remembered he’d kissed him. Just about- and only to prove a point, high on his own vindication- but nonetheless, a bold and surely sacrilegious act, and Adam had let him.
In a way he thought the reason he wasn’t more affected by the silent treatment was because he couldn’t begin to fathom what might happen once Adam collected himself. Reciprocation felt fantastical.
And yet, and yet. He thought about Adam dragging him home in Michaelmas, when they barely knew one another beyond mutual animosity, Adam stealing his headache away when they were midway through a fight, Adam holding his hand without asking questions. For a twenty-something demigod who always got his way, he sure had wormed his way through Warlock’s defences mostly by always being so unnecessarily kind.
His imaginary demon boyfriends had rarely been kind. Warlock sat himself down, considered it, and tried to picture seeing the world through Adam Young’s eyes. By the time he was through with it, he’d done a lot of stress-induced mathematics and smoked his way through half a pack of cigarettes.
In the end, being that everything felt too irretrievably complicated to shift the balance, he settled for slipping a note under Adam’s door, in his messy doctor’s scrawl, not an apology or an ultimatum, just something for a friend that he owed big time.
because you don’t like gin, and you’re not scared of dogs, and you crash lectures you’re not supposed to be attending.
He left the bag hanging off his door’s handle, holding a bottle of spiced rum, a chew-toy, and his own battered and well-loved copy of Pascal’s Pensées.
His plant reawakened from the dead the next morning, leaves a vibrant, healthy green, and Warlock smiled, half-awake, instinctive and shamelessly relieved.
May Ball was creeping up on them, summer holidays in sight, and Warlock was just about coming to suspect that he wouldn’t see Adam until the following year, maybe never again, when he awoke from a lazy sun-kissed nap one day to find that a door had painted itself onto his wall and Adam was sat on his desk-chair.
He almost concussed himself bolting upright, immediately aware of the fact his hair was a wavy unstyled mess, that he was wearing an old MCR shirt he’d dug up because he kept putting off laundry duties, and that Adam was giving him the kind of hard evaluative look he’d given him only rarely before, sky-blue and impenetrable.
“The door’s one way,” Adam said, by virtue of explanation, and tilted his head towards it. Then he said: “C’est le cœur qui sent Dieu et non la raison.”
Pascal, obviously- it is the heart that feels God and not the mind. Warlock blinked, disoriented, and tried to think of why he’d say it like a question. “I didn’t take you for the religious type.”
“Not traditionally,” Adam conceded, thoughtful. “Hard not to believe when you’re a token of a religion.”
“When I was a kid I was relatively normal,” Adam said, conversationally. With the shadowy lighting his hair was almost caramel, ordinary, his eyes darker now. “I adapted. I’m very adaptable. There were kids around me so I was like them. But I was only ever like them in the ways that made sense to me. I’ve always- only the things that make sense to me exist, when I want them to.”
“Right,” Warlock breathed, and felt his breathing increase in pace, anxiety coiling in his lungs.
“It was the same with the whole Apocalypse business, really. I wanted Dog to be a dog, so he was. I wanted to change everything to be the way I wanted it to be, and then I realised that wouldn’t work out either, so I didn’t. It’s all symptomatic of the same thing, I think- I need to understand things, and then I deal with them.” He frowned pensively, hint of character in the faint quirk of his lips. “I suppose that sort of thing runs in the family, if Satan really was booted out of Heaven for asking too many questions.”
He paused again, examined Warlock. “You can tell where I’m going with this, obviously. I didn’t think I could like people before, because I couldn’t. I’d never wanted to. Couldn’t see why I would. Then there was you, and so-“ He made a clicking noise with his fingers. “Things changed.”
Warlock swallowed, considered maybe apologising after all, not for the confrontation but for having taken so long to send his stupid gift basket. His face was half-flushed.
“It’s been a bit of a mess, honestly,” Adam said, factually. “I was quite upset at first. Then I readjusted a bit, but I kept remembering or forgetting about all of my new worldview at inconvenient moments. Pep and Wensleydale refused to set foot in my room for a week cause I kept sporadically making everyone around me horny.”
“You what?” Warlock coughed, uncharacteristically flustered by this declaration. “How-“
“I kept forgetting it was a thing I could feel, so it broadcasted,” Adam shrugged, flash of pearly-white canines in his brief grin. “Had some awkward run-ins.”
“Long story short, though,” Adam sighed, serious once more, “I’ve adjusted. You were right about the whole year thing- I struggled so much containing it because I didn’t get why it was happening.”
“Oh, good,” Warlock said, slightly at a loss, because Adam was sat there looking good enough to eat and not sounding very angry at all, and he didn’t know what the fuck was going on. If this was just a sort of coming of age journey thing for Adam, or… He tugged at a stray lock of his hair aimlessly, hand freezing in place when Adam’s gaze snapped sharply towards the movement.
“You know,” Warlock managed, after a beat, finding that no lessons from his childhood had prepared him for this- a semi-impersonal confession from the son of Satan himself. “I- this isn’t that weird, actually. Like- it’s not an Antichrist thing. It’s very normal to catch feelings when you didn’t think you could. Hell, it’s the plot of like half the romance movies out there.”
Adam’s frown shifted a little, and he jutted out his lip, acquiescing pensively, losing a layer of reserve. “Oh. You’re right. I hadn’t thought of that.”
“I know you- well, you say it’s under control, now,” Warlock said, knocking his feet together. “What does that mean?”
Adam hummed, shifted. “Like I said- I didn’t feel this sort of thing before because it seemed unreasonable, or- pointless. People do such stupid things for love. Now I understand it’s not something you can govern with reason- that it comes from elsewhere. So it’s manageable.”
“Et non la raison,” Warlock echoed, understanding dawning. Only- there was another aspect to the quote, more pertinent, more alarming. “You could stop feeling it, though. If you wanted. If you didn’t think it was-“
God-sent was the apt translation, but not one he could articulate without wanting to snap off his own vocal chords. Theological and abstract though it was, Pascal’s argument was one of embracing irrationality for the sake of divine love, and was only convincing if you actually bought into love being more than some unfortunate product of chemical imbalance. It was all suffocatingly romantic, coming from a mathematician.
“I could,” Adam agreed, nodding. “The perks of damnation.” There was cloudless self-assurance in his gaze, frustrated embarrassment gone now that he’d recognised his own unexpected failings, but also a hint of reproach Warlock thought might be subconscious, something of a look what you’ve done to me, mortal.
“You haven’t decided,” Warlock determined, recontextualising the conversation. So he’d come to explain and to decide all in one- like it was that easy. He supposed for him it was. His stomach lurched. “If it’s worth it.”
It came out remarkably self-possessed, his tone cool, but of course by virtue of this whatever stung consternation he felt was broadcasted to Adam, whose mouth twisted a little like he’d said something different.
“You are, obviously. I wouldn’t have gotten into all of this mess if you weren’t. But we’re very good as friends, and I’m not so sure about the other stuff. We fight enough as it is. And-“ He paused, ruffled his hair, issued a very normal sort of sigh, vulnerable in its banality. “Honestly, I have a poor track record when it comes to being lead by emotion. I've been bad enough this year, but that- it’ll be like being eleven again.”
Which was fair enough, Warlock supposed, considering the storms and the lightning and the pre-teen Apocalypse-that-wasn’t, but perhaps not entirely true, because he’d spent the year bearing witness to the weirdest, most considerate accidental courtship in the history of the world, and all in all he sort of thought Adam was pretty good at being lead by emotion, seeing as he tended to let only his better feelings seep into the world at large.
He didn’t vocalise this, because it wasn’t really his place to say. Adam was fundamentally not quite a person, and this was probably a lot harder to manage than he let on. Had Warlock awoken on his eleventh birthday to find all the powers of the world at his disposition, he was sure he would have brought forth the end of times without a moment’s hesitation- Adam possessed some exceptional altruistic capacity for self-control that he hid very well. Making it harder on him than it was already was probably a dick move.
“Okay,” Warlock said, aloud, and felt oddly mature and reasonable, willingly surrendering his chance of reciprocity for the greater good. It stung, of course, because he knew with depressing bone-deep certainty that he wouldn’t stop pining after Adam for so long as he lived, but then maybe this was what it was all about, being a person- nothing fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, just fundamentally human, with all the bittersweetness that involved. “If that’s what you want to do.”
Their eyes met, and all of Warlock’s furniture rattled very slightly, Adam’s face a mask of complicated thoughts, brow furrowed like he’d expected differently. He thought maybe this was what it had been like on the other end, reality rearranging itself not quite so literally every time Adam was confronted with something so unexpected and unpredictable as feelings.
“I think I might know,” Adam said, eventually, a glimmer of red in his eyes, as he pushed off the chair and leant against Warlock’s desk, with the same clear confidence that he’d assessed him with the day they’d met, a hum of trepidation in the air. “But I think we’ve both been demonstrably bad with hypotheticals so far, so. I think it’ll have to come down to putting theory into practice.”
“Don’t sweet talk me with maths,” Warlock muttered, half-accidental, because his pulse was racing and his nerves were shot. A fucking test, really? This was a greater cruelty than sacrificing his feelings for the sake of stability- giving him just enough control to ruin his own chances. “What do you want me to do?”
He didn’t know what he’d been expecting, but it certainly wasn’t what Adam said.
“Kiss me again.”
Warlock choked, instinctively scarlet, and stared, unable to formulate coherent thought. “I- what?”
“I like you a lot,” Adam said, with slightly cruel gentleness, tilting his head. “You like me a lot, and just now you’d have given that up if I asked, which is very stupid of you, and also makes me feel a little unhinged, in ways you probably shouldn’t know about. I think I could manage it, or if I can’t I’ll learn how. It’s maybe not the most selfless decision, but then it’s not like I’m some paragon of virtue, either.”
His eyes were a deceitful, violently soft periwinkle; Warlock pinched himself hard enough to break skin. “You-“
“The data doesn’t lie. But, in the interest of confirming a result-“ He stopped, smiled a little coyly. “Kiss me again.”
It washed over Warlock in tones of lenient command, but it was purely his own doing that had him suddenly on the other side of the room, blinking somewhat dazedly at Adam where he stood and trying very hard not to lose his shit. His hands were a little shakier than he would have liked them to be, but fuck it- if this was a test he was doomed to fail, he might as well make the most of it, and if it wasn’t…
He inhaled, lost for a moment in shades of blue and gold, then found some unflinching nerve buried inside him and focused, because for better or for worse warfare and diplomacy were his lingua franca and this was a battle he wanted to win very badly. His hands found purchase- on Adam’s waist, on his shoulder- his pulse accelerated, and he closed his eyes, tilted his head, kissed him.
If the stakes hadn’t been quite so high he might have honestly just crashed and burned the moment they touched, because it was all very- very, but the moment his lips parted Adam hummed consideringly in the back of his throat, which for some reason tore every ounce of Warlock’s self-restraint to shreds, so that quite abruptly he was kissing him hard enough to bruise, and Adam was making a muffled, startled sound, hands flying up to grip Warlock by the hair, hips slamming back against his desk as the windows rattled.
Warlock kissed him like his life depended on it, hot and fervent and really far too much of a confession, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to stop, because Adam certainly wasn’t, and he thought dizzily that if they ever did he might die.
Something sharp dug into his sides, snapping him back to sanity, and he pulled back with gargantuan effort, panting like he’d run a marathon. It took his dazed mind a moment to register what he was seeing- his plant had erupted into a veritable tree, branches quivering across the room.
“Adam,” Warlock started, probably to say something about the tree, or maybe apologise for ravishing him, but his mind went blank the moment he turned back to him, words dying strangled in his throat. “Ngh.”
For a moment he felt pure terror, Adam’s eyes blazing like hellfire, single-minded outrage making Warlock’s knees buckle, and then Adam visibly dragged himself to the surface, gaze an iota less murderous. He looked debauched.
“I,” Warlock got out, hoarsely, because god damn it, there were things at stake here, and-
“Hypothesis confirmed,” Adam said, almost growling, which- but Warlock barely had the time to register the fireworks in his stomach because somehow he was knocking into his bed with a lapful of Antichrist, and there were more pressing concerns at hand.
He managed to pull himself together a shameful half-hour later, backed into the corner of his own bed and kissed so raw it sort of hurt, and so he slapped a wobbly hand over Adam’s mouth, ignoring the flare of betrayal in his eyes, and wrestled him onto his back, pressing a knee into his stomach to keep him still.
Adam looked at him, narrowed his eyes, and licked his palm. Warlock felt himself die a little inside, resolve wavering, then took a long, shaky breath and glared down at him.
Using any kind of demonic power against the Antichrist was of course ineffective, but it was the kind of thing that got Adam’s attention, and he blinked, eyes clearing a little, vacillating blue. Warily, over the roiling in his stomach, Warlock withdrew his hand a little.
“This is not a good idea,” Warlock said, maybe a second off-beat, because he’d gotten distracted by the split in Adam’s lower lip. “First of all, we need to talk, and second of all, I think I might have a heart-attack if we don’t take a break.”
“Taking a break is different than stopping,” Adam muttered, eyes flashing, and Warlock groaned, only now registering the true perils of dating a demon.
“Fine,” Adam mumbled, twitching a little, and exhaled, long, before meeting his eyes again, looking altogether more reasonable. “Okay. Fine. Talk.”
“You’re the one that should know what to say here,” Warlock responded, flushing with self-awareness as he avoided his gaze. He made to roll off Adam, but didn’t get very far, Adam’s foot dragging on his ankle to stop him.
“Nah, stay, I like it.” He blissfully ignored Warlock’s expression and scrunched his nose in thought. “Well, I dunno what you want me to say. We’re dating now, presumably. I think we sort of were anyways.”
“Okay,” Warlock managed, irritably embarrassed by how flustered this was making him, and gnawed at his lip. “Yeah. Do we tell people?”
“You don’t have to,” Adam shrugged. “I probably will. I reckon I’ll have to, cause I don’t think I’m going to be very subtle.”
“I don’t think you were before,” Warlock retorted, relieved that he could muster teasing. “I don’t mind. I mean I do, because the others will give us hell for it, but it’s not like there’s any way they won’t know.”
“I’m pretty sure everyone knew before I did,” Adam muttered, a little piqued. Then he grinned, self-satisfied. “Might as well make them suffer for it.”
“Do not touch me in front of Aziraphale and Crowley,” Warlock said, alarmed, and was not reassured by the way Adam smiled. “No, don’t even think about it, they’re like my weird parents, I won’t ever be able to look them in the eyes again, you bastard.”
“They’re ageless beings, Warlock, they’ve seen it all,” Adam snorted, unconcerned. “Besides, they could already read it on us months ago.”
“Not the same,” Warlock said, darkly, though he knew by the way his insides squirmed at the brightly pleased spark in Adam’s eyes that he’d pretty much lost that argument already. The thought made him pause and hesitate, disbelieving happy glow fading a little in the face of rationality. “Adam-“
Adam’s eyes went darker on instinct, mirroring his own. “I feel like you’re about to say something stupid.”
“Stop it,” Warlock winced, and shook his head, fingers twitching lamely by his sides. “Just- are you sure about this? Because- liking me and liking kissing is one thing, but if- this is a big thing for you, and I-“
He stopped, unsure of how to say it, or if he could, because it felt too big and real to express. He didn’t know what the hell Adam had done to him to drag these hidden parts of him to the surface, thoughtful and strategic and at times shockingly moral, but felt it intently, for a second, the outlines of the person he could be in his better moments, and it outweighed his own wants.
“Called it,” Adam sighed, though it was soft, and he wiggled onto his elbows, giving him a serious look. “The kissing barely mattered, you self-doubting idiot. I made my mind up the moment you said okay, and I probably would’ve done the same thing even if you hadn’t. I just wanted to kiss you again.”
“Oh,” Warlock said, and closed his eyes lest Adam witness his discomposure up close. Idiot.
“Also, if we’re having this emotional moment, I feel like should warn you that I’m in love with you,” Adam said, and it was so casual that it took Warlock about half a minute to register, upon which he choked and stared at him like he’d grown a second head. Adam looked quite sincere about it, and more tellingly there was a hint of a flush high on his cheeks, a vague self-conscious tilt to his mouth, sealing the reality of the statement. Warlock swayed, coloured, and thought his heart might literally explode from pumping blood too fast.
“I know it’s not the sort of thing you say when you’ve just figured out you like someone,” Adam continued, pushing Warlock’s hair out of his eyes distractedly, “But I think I’m kind of all or nothing with these things, so. Sorry.”
“You’re going to kill me,” Warlock husked weakly, scrubbing at his face. Was this what elation felt like? Either he was happier than he’d ever been in his life or he was about to throw up. Maybe both. “This can’t be happening.”
“It’s all right if you don’t feel the same,” Adam said, patting his leg. “Although it does feel like you do.”
“Stop reading my emotions.”
“Not my fault you’re broadcasting them so loudly,” Adam shot back, though for a moment he looked unsure, and his brow wrinkled, the incurable uncertainty of loving someone dancing through his eyes. Warlock cracked; hauling him up by his shirt to kiss him again, but as pleasantly as he could manage, the unfamiliar burn of something like tenderness lodged in his throat.
“That was different,” Adam said, almost accusingly, when he pulled back, looking a new kind of attractively tousled, and Warlock nodded, helpless, and slapped a hand over his mouth again, just so he could catch his breath. Adam let him, quirking a brow.
“I love you too, you complete asshole.”
He could feel the way Adam grinned under his palm.
In the end, Warlock only just about managed to drag them both out to dinner, and the effort of doing so meant that neither of them looked particularly presentable as they stumbled into the cafeteria, kitchen staff giving them amused knowing looks as Warlock tried his hardest to remain unaffected with Adam radiating smugness by his side. By the time they’d found a seat he was pretty sure half the college had caught on.
They awoke the next morning to banging on their door (their, singular, Warlock noted, and bit back a smirk), and Adam yawned fuzzily and flicked a hand, door swinging open, as Warlock remembered himself and bolted upright.
“Jesus,” Pepper said, staring at the both of them with horror, like she’d caught them doing far worse than sleeping on the floor with a laptop half-knocked over between them. “I knew it.”
“Oh, God, don’t look at me,” Pepper said, sounding thoroughly disturbed. “I’m only here to say you need to get your subconscious under control. Think you lost it overnight.”
“Oh,” Adam said, and squinted, like he could sense it. “Sure. I’ll fix it.”
“Fix what?” Warlock asked, dubiously glancing towards the window, then pausing. The skies outside were cotton-candy pink, and there seemed to be faint music playing throughout the courtyard. He stared.
“Adam,” Pepper said, warningly, and Adam smiled, caught out, shook his head like a dog. The skies went blue; the music stopped. “Thank you. Are you going to be like this every day?”
“Just until I get used to it,” Adam shrugged, and then frowned. “Pep, you’re embarrassing Warlock.”
“Oh, fuck me,” Warlock muttered, and dragged a hand over his eyes. “Don’t listen to him.”
“Warlock’s doing a fine job embarrassing himself,” Pepper sniffed, “As are you. I suppose I’m happy that you two got your heads out of your respective arses, though.”
“You don’t sound very happy.”
“That’s because I’ve been so lucky as to spend twenty years in the presence of an Adam Young who thought this sort of thing was beneath him, and now I wish I’d appreciated the blessing that was,” Pepper hissed, crossing her arms. “You’re making sex eyes at me.”
“Are too, and at anything that moves for the rest of eternity, I’ll bet,” Pepper exclaimed, turning an accusatory look on Warlock. “Thanks awfully for kick-starting that one, Warlock, Adam is so known for his restraint.”
“I’ve come to realise the error of my ways,” Warlock said, wearily, and it must have been easy enough to see because Pepper’s glare turned somewhat sympathetic, flickering warily towards Adam.
“Shit, spare me the details. I’ll pray for you.”
With that she beat a hasty retreat, and Warlock thunked back down on the floor, wondering how his life had come to this.
“We’ve literally only kissed.”
“I know,” Adam hummed, entertained. “Don’t tell her that, though.”
He didn’t know if she told the others, but either way the next time they all saw each other Brian and Wensleydale blinked and silently handed her money, so that was that.
It was equally insultingly quick with Aziraphale and Crowley, who they went to see in London, seeing as they had free time in the post-exam lull. Warlock had tried- sort of- not to walk around like a giant flashing sign that read demon boyfriend at work, take detour, but to little avail; the moment they stepped foot into the outrageously over-stocked bookstore, there was a clattering sound where Aziraphale lost his footing on a ladder, and then a triumphant cry from upstairs.
“Adam, Warlock!” Aziraphale exclaimed, clasping his hands together warmly, eyes horrifyingly knowing as he beamed. “Do come in, there’s tea ready. I see congratulations are in order?”
“Absolutely not,” Warlock declared, and turned on his heel, ready to abscond, only Adam grabbed him by the cuff of his shirt and hauled him right back, smiling beatifically at their guardian angel.
“Thanks, ‘Zira. Read any good prophecies lately?”
“I hate you,” Warlock sighed, and threw himself into a chair, glowering at the amused glint in Adam’s eyes.
“Have some decency,” Crowley drawled, appearing at the foot of the stairs with his hands habitually shoved in his pockets. “Keep the grand declarations at home.”
“Hypocrite thy name is Crowley,” Adam snorted, and passed Warlock his scone. “Where’d you think I got the demon with a heart routine from?”
“Oi, don’t blame me for your aberrations,” Crowley retorted, ducking away from Aziraphale’s tickled look. “I’m a regular fallen hellion stuck on this planet amongst humans and angels for too long, me. You’ve no such excuse, you’re the prince of Hell.”
“My mother will be thrilled I’m finally rubbing elbows with royalty,” Warlock informed Adam, who smirked.
“I’m going to kill you,” Warlock said, flatly, buttering his scone. “Or cheat on you with some angel-spawn who isn’t biologically inclined to torture me.”
“There aren’t any of those around,” Adam answered, but he was sulking a little, and didn’t protest when Warlock ate the last of his scone. “And angels are way harder to date than demons, I reckon.”
“Oh, enough already,” Aziraphale huffed, setting his fork down. “Don’t let these two get you wrapped up in any funny demon business, Warlock. Hell is called hell for a reason.”
“I’m not much of a demon at all,” Adam said, around a mouthful of jam. “I don’t particularly care for any deadly sins, or the end of times, or tremendous suffering and all that. And I don’t even think humanity is irredeemable, most of the time.”
“Crowley’s like that too,” Aziraphale said, sly now, watching Crowley sputter. “In smaller doses, of course.”
“What’s with the barrage of insults, all a sudden?”
“That’s what I’m saying,” Adam shrugged. “You two are a terrible influence.”
“Again, I’m faultless in this,” Crowley protested, scowling. “Warlock can attest- I tried my damnedest to get him up to scratch.”
“You sure did. Still working through the trauma.”
“I’ve seen the effects first hand, thanks,” Adam groused, half-resentful, half-appreciative. Warlock bit back a smile.
“When do your exam results come in, boys?” Aziraphale asked, from where he’d worked his way through half the scones at a dizzying speed. “Do they still display them by Senate House?”
“No idea,” Adam said, glancing at Warlock. “Didn’t think to ask.”
“He already knows he’s got a First,” Warlock scoffed. “Yeah, they do, but you can opt out of it. And results come in on different days for different subjects. Mine are out the day after May Ball.”
“Oh, well, I’m sure you’ve both done very well,” Aziraphale said, focusing his attention on them and smiling warmly, which Warlock’s puny human heart was unable to take without smiling back half-shyly. “Are you excited for the holidays?”
“Going back up to Tadfield, I presume,” Crowley added, gesturing towards Adam. To Warlock he said: “Horrible little town.”
“Yeah, mostly. We were thinking of going up to Edinburgh for a bit,” Adam said, but he was distracted, eyes on Warlock. “You’ve got jam.”
“I’m going to the States,” Warlock said, “But I think I’ll just go on a road trip or something. Don’t really feel like seeing my family for three months.” Then he thumbed at the jam and licked it off his finger. “Better?”
Adam’s eyes sparked, but he only smiled, Warlock clearing his throat loudly. “Better.”
“Yes, Cambridge term always did start late,” Aziraphale hummed, consideringly. “I quite enjoyed my stints there in the autumn. I rather liked the libraries. And Fitzbillies has such lovely cakes.”
“Hedonist,” Crowley said, around a poorly disguised smile. Aziraphales shot him a dirty look.
“It’ll be weird living out of college next year,” Warlock mused, glancing around the bookstore and wondering where the faint smell of burnt wood came from. “I’ll have to cycle to West Cambridge all the time for lectures, so I reckon I’ll drop most of them.”
“Like you went this year,” Adam grinned. “I don’t think half of your classmates know who you are.”
“Guess you won’t be roommates anymore,” Crowley observed, quirking a brow. “Since you’re out of college and all.”
Warlock hadn’t even thought of this, brow knotting as he considered it, but Adam was unperturbed, raising his brows innocently.
“Funny that you should mention it…”
God, he loved Cambridge.
Whenever I struggle to write Crowley or Aziraphale dialogue I just reread mine while picturing David Tennant or Michael Sheen acting it and work from there. Tennant's nose scrunch is usually a good sign.
This chapter was a lot of fun to write, probably due to all the pent-up repression coming to a head. Also because all of Warlock's internal monologues finally get to manifest outside of his head. Getting Adam to crack was very satisfying; it's hard to get under someone's skin when reality bends around their will. The world will probably rue the day it happened now that he's expanded his interests because he is not typically a man of many inhibitions, but all's fair in love and war. At times I did wish I had a companion piece from Adam's POV for this because it's impossible to make it obvious through Warlock's eyes just how much Adam is also Going Through It during this fic, the poor bastard.
Hopefully the final confrontations didn't feel rushed- I went back and forth on them a lot but considering it's been a whole year of unconfirmed suspicions and fuckery on Warlock's side of things, I felt like he really only needed external confirmation of the missing variable to go apeshit, and equally Adam really only needed someone to give it to him straight in order to stop lying to himself (hence subconsciously averting all conversations on the topic).
There are some things that were raised in prior chapters that I didn't quite manage to cram into this one, but I thought it was best not to try and tie up every little thread for the sake of realism. The stories of Warlock's wacky (read: dysfunctional) teenage years thus didn't get much attention, sadly. Just know they were all very embarrassing for very different reasons.
I don't know if I'll ever return to this fandom, but I'm glad I got this fic out of my system, and writing Warlock and Adam (and Aziraphale and Crowley) was really fun, so I hope you all enjoyed reading it, and thank you for the support x