“So, you’re saying that when you came out of the woods a hundred years ago-”
“Twenty two years ago, Cassie,” Rob corrected her, with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. “Not that I should really need to correct you. I mean, just look at my gorgeous face. Most people would think I just graduated secondary school, instead of being an established career man.”
“Yeah, yeah,” she said dismissively, and waved him off with the hand clutching her cigarette. “But, dismissing that unpleasant little fantasy… You’re honestly saying that when you came out of the woods however many years ago, possibly somewhere close to a thousand judging by your ugly mug-”
“Cassie!” Rob said, clutching his chest with his free hand in mock offence but fighting a smile all the way.
“-You knew how to do magic?”
The teasing atmosphere, one that usually came as easily to them as breathing, seemed to sour in a moment. Rob looked away from her for a long moment, took another long drag on his own cigarette before answering. “Knew is a bit of a strong word. It’s not exactly something that I learned, or even fully understand now. It’s just automatic, like putting your hand out when you fall or gasping for air when you’ve had your head underwater for a bit too long.”
Something about the way he was speaking disturbed her, in a way that Rob had never managed before. She took a few hasty puffs of her own cigarette, as she thought about how on earth to respond to that. “You could’ve used less disturbing examples, you know.”
Usually Rob would’ve smirked, or teased her, or fired back another volley in their endless game. This time he only gave her an incredibly bleak look, and then returned to staring into space with a certain numbness. “I don’t think I could’ve. I don’t think it works that way.”
She had seen Rob sad before, and angry, and what seemed like a thousand states in between. But this was none of those emotions. Instead he just seemed a little lost, and a little broken. Like an empty room, left to stand after something absolutely terrible had happened.
“Alright,” she said mock cheerily, instead of actually doing the sensible thing and admitting that he was coming close to scaring her. “I should tell you, in the interests of honesty, that I don’t actually believe a word that you’re saying. But, out of my deep and profound love for you, I am willing to indulge your fantastical delusions for just a few moments more.”
That won her a smile, even if it was a flicker quick and still somewhat grim one. “Thank you ever so, what would I ever do without your kind support?”
“Wither and die, probably,” she said cheerfully, content in the knowledge that such a split would never happen, and nudged him again. Harder this time, in an attempt to bring him back to life. “Show me some magic, then. You know, if you dare.”
Rob hesitated for a moment, fiddled with his cigarette as if he was desperately trying to think of a way to put it off.
“Go on. Abracadabra, Alakazam,” she teased cheerfully, before he could tumble face first back into his terrible mood. Perhaps that was why they got on so well, she was always willing to drag him kicking and screaming back to some semblance of being cheerful. “Wingardium Leviosa. Any of that good shit.”
“I’m pretty sure that one of those was just a Pokemon. And the other one is from Harry Potter, which you know how I feel about,” Rob said, with a heartfelt shudder of distaste at the thought of JK Rowling. And then he hesitated for a second, and sighed heavily, and put out his cigarette in her ashtray in a resigned way. “I’m genuinely not sure if this is the best idea, given how it generally tends to go, but considering that you goad so prettily…”
“Go on,” she pushed again, with a grin. And determinedly ignored the hairs lifting on the back of her neck. “Be a woman about it. Grow a pair of ovaries. Come on.”
He spared her another eye roll for that, but then he faced front again and his expression went focused and creepily blank. His eyes sought out one of the few house plants that she hadn’t been able to kill, and fixed upon it with an almost terrifying intensity. For a long few moments he just stared at it, as if engulfed in a silent battle, and then he slowly lifted his hand and gave just the tiniest twitch of his fingers.
And she watched, with her heart pounding in her chest and a strange taste of bile flooding her mouth, as the house plant slowly withered. Went at first pale, and then brittle, and then slumped slowly and disturbingly in its pot until there was at first only a dusty skeleton and then only the slightest suggestion of ash.
“...Huh,” she said breathlessly, her mouth feeling oddly cottony, when she found that she could remember words again.
“I did warn you,” Rob said softly, despairingly. And grabbed for another cigarette, shoved it in his mouth with shaking fingers and tried to light it several times before realizing that he’d inserted it the wrong way around and having to awkwardly spit it out. “Want me to Adava Kedavra more things, or do you actually believe me yet?”
She stared at him for a long few moments, as he fumbled for another cigarette and tried to spit the tip out of his mouth at the same time. Considered for a long few moments, and then settled on the most relevant question she could think of. “Rob, what the fuck happened to you in those woods?”
“I told you, I’ve never been able to remember,” Rob said, and finally succeeded in lighting another cigarette with a sigh of relief. He sunk back against the pillows of her couch, puffed on it with some appearence of pleasure but still with that worryingly dead look in his eyes “...But I don’t think it could’ve been anything good, considering what it left me with.”
She stared at the wreck of her poor house plant for a long few moments. Thought about the things that went bump in the night, and just how terrified she’d been of them as a kid. And thought about how much more terrified she could’ve been, if one of those things had reached out and dragged her in.
“Well,” she said, and then realized that she could think of no possible way to finish that sentence and so just moved on instead “...We could watch the Harry Potter films in order, just to cheer you up?”
“Fuck off, Cassie,” Rob said, but finally started to smile again.