"Why am I not surprised those pants haven't yet driven off your ghost?" a familiar voice asks right beside Anthony Greerson's ear. An equally known chest pushes lightly against his back as the speaker looks at the pages of notes in an old, looping cursive.
Anthony grins and leans back just a little. This game never gets old. "Edmond LaValle, as I live and breathe," he says, a little mocking. "I see your job hasn't murdered you yet."
Edmond laughs and claps a hand on Anthony's shoulder. "Nor your ghost, you," he replies. He steps to the side, clearly in view, and gestures at the next seat. "May I?"
Anthony hums. "Depends. Are you trying to get me to come back?"
Edmond chuckles. "While your particular brand of investigating the Caul is rather interesting to watch, I do believe the Alethia Academy would object strenuously if I lured you back after all they did to poach you in the first place."
This is very true. Anthony shuts the notes and catches the bartender's attention. "Two Magic Is Real cocktails," he requests. Turns back to Edmond, knocking their legs together. Doesn't miss the slight wince, the flinch back from their old game of invading each other's personal space. "Ah. So your job is still trying to kill you then."
"They're making a rather poor attempt of it, then," Edmond laughs it off. Or tries, anyway. He coughs at the end, takes just too long to catch his breath.
"Yeah," Anthony replies, dry as dust. "Poor attempt. What was it this time? Harpy? Goblin? A human with a great love of magical explosives?"
"You know the rules." Edmond smiles around the rim of his cocktail. "A story for a story."
Anthony smirks. "Picture… You're in a clown museum."
They trade stories back and forth, one about a Czech apartment building next, then another about a train trestle. One about a pair of twins that Anthony sees right through, but does not call Edmond on. Instead, Anthony asks him if he's ever been to a Waffle House.
"Wait really?" Anthony asks when the answer is no.
Edmond waves a hand. "The world is a big place."
"Well, fix that the next time you end up in the southern United States." Anthony puts a hand - carefully, now that he knows about the injury, or at least that there is one - on Edmond's knee. "It's worth your while."
Edmond leans in, never one to give up ground in this game of theirs. "Well, if you insist."
"I really do."
"I'm dumping cold water on you two," the fae bartender warns, like she hasn't been sneaking kisses to her fellow bartender half the night. Must be nice to be young.
Edmond laughs, breath ghosting over Anthony's cheek, and pulls back. "All right then, tell me about Waffle House."
Anthony does. Edmond tells him about a coffee house in Kuala Lumpur.
Finally, Anthony tells a story about a ghost in a tower, the idiots who ask her for knowledge, and the professor who keeps walking right into the tower anyway. He drew a privacy ward on the conversation ages ago, so attention just… Slides away.
Edmond is silent for a moment. "There was once a boy that discovered he could make fire appear with his mind."
Anthony thinks at first that it's another veiled story about the LaValle twins, but the sister in this one can't see magic, nor the parents. He swallows hard, nudges Edmond's knee with his own, and listens to the boy's last, fatal attempt to make his family see magic.
"You have a lot of downer stories, Edmond," Anthony says when he finds his voice again.
"Oh, and the one about the tower ghost is any better?" Edmond retorts with no heat, and Anthony has to concede the point.
"Is that the end, then?"
"Well, that's the thing about stories, isn't it? They're always going on somewhere after the teller is finished with it." He waves a hand, drops it on Anthony's wrist. "The teenagers realise that the water is full of leeches and spend the rest of the night in the A&E. The pessimistic little girl lightens up, though never enough to be truly an optimist. The ghost gets bored of the professor."
Anthony turns his hand over to wrap his fingers around Edmond's. "Pessimist."
"I was there when you got those scars, Anthony. I know how you get." Edmond grins, quicksilver and sharp. "Pursuit of magical knowledge is your true love, no matter the cost."
"Not no matter the cost. Not anymore." Anthony will find a way to keep the ghost from taking his students. He has to.
Edmond hums. He nods at the pile of notes. "Anything you want help with there?"
Anthony considers it. Anything he tells Edmond, Addison hears about eventually, and, while this is all above board right now, he doesn't want to set a precedent. Doesn't want to get drawn back into Black Star and its secrecy and strict rules for publishing. And he genuinely likes teaching, even if he did have to follow through on his threat to turn someone into a tadpole.
"Another story would help," he says at last.
Edmond smiles, knowing, and obliges.