We are still at it! Riley’s Andrew is over here making me learn all sorts of stuff about my own characters!
It was almost three weeks before Adrian returned to Hallis’ Mystic Books. Part of him knew that it was a terrible idea to return, but part of him did not care. The second was the part he needed to stamp out, but here he was.
The day was warm and sunny and he spent part of his morning down at Buckingham fountain trying to decide what he should do about the Andrew problem. His last assignment had been difficult and the memory of the creatures living in that cellar in East St. Louis still gave him chills almost a week later. The warm sun and cool breeze helped. There were a number of tourists out and the water was calm it was a good day to sit and think. He needed to make a decision.
Apparently, he had decided to stop by. No wonder Sofia got so exasperated with him. He didn’t know why he did what he did either most of the time.
The bell chimed as he entered, but this time he was not alone. There was a woman at the counter with Andrew. His heart dropped for a second. If this was someone with the circle, they could not see him in here, it would be bad for both of them. Especially now that he was putting all the pieces together.
Adrian froze just inside the door for a moment, and tried to get a read on the woman’s aura. He could hear her voice now, she sounded older than the blonde hair would suggest, but she spoke so fast he could not focus on her aura and her words at the same time.
He relaxed slightly. There was a hint of magic in her but not enough that she would be with the circle. It was just a random woman. He busied himself looking around at some of the displays. He really had not had a chance to see much the last few times he was in here. Samantha was not out of school for three hours yet, he had plenty of time to kill, he would just wait until Andrew was free.
Though several weeks had passed this time, Andrew was confident that Adrian would return. He had left one of his books with him, if nothing else. There were times when he became troubled thinking about what Adrian might want to discuss with him. His ancestry? His -mostly- inadvertent attempts to seduce him. Books, runes. . . there were too many possibilities and after a time Andrew stopped worrying about it. He had too much on his mind in any case.
Slowly, business had begun to pick up. Almost entirely local New Agers, a few visiting Chicago on vacation, people who called themselves Wiccans but had only the vaguest of talents, if any. Andrew wasn’t particularly adept at picking those with true power from those with only a little, but circle members were recognizable enough. They knew him, for one thing. Those he was careful with, with just enough charm to seem helpful and friendly, and not enough to give any cause to question their own feelings.
Diane was a repeat customer, mostly interested in crystals and talking about crystals in long in-depth tangents that Andrew barely listened to but nodded at all the right moments, trying to interest in her rune stones or tarot cards, or any number of books on crystals or psychic healing. How many crystals could one woman need, really? His attention immediately went to the door when the bell rang, temper improving when he saw Adrian.
It was still several more moments before Diane took her new assortment of crystals, as well as a couple of books and new deck of Tarot cards that Andrew had managed to persuade her into buying. As soon as she was out the door, he sighed heavily. “I hope you don’t judge me by that,” he said, in Adrian’s general direction. “I have to make a living somehow.”
“I have no idea how you deal with that,” Adrian admitted. “I would never have made it through that conversation.” He put down the box he had in his hand that he had been pretending to look at while the flighty dyed blonde woman dithered at the counter. It said it was a do it yourself voodoo doll kit, and it both amused and appalled him.
He approached the counter, watching Andrew for any reactions. He had broken the binding on his wrist just before he went to Michigan, and really had no idea what it was he was doing. He had no real control over it but he had been able to seduce a rather high-strung woman and get the keys to the basement with the ghouls. It was shockingly easy. Adrian
Now that he knew it was something could do intentionally the possibilities were staggering. But so was the risk. No wonder the circle always figured out they needed to be redone so often.
Andrew chuckled, tilting his head and regarding Adrian. There was something different about him, he just couldn’t put his finger on just what. It was really good to see him again, especially after Diane’s air-headedness. “I’ve had some experience,” which was as much as he wanted to go into Cloud or his family. “I just ignore them until I think I can convince them to buy more of this nonsense.”
Adrian was looking even more attractive than ever, or maybe Andrew just needed to get out more. It had been a long time. Almost two months, now. “Uhm,” Andrew blushed slightly. “I’m finished with the book you loaned me. I hope you don’t mind that I made some notes. Not in the book, mind you. I’m not a monster!” It was a poor joke, and Andrew regretted it immediately.
Adrian could not decide if he was pleased or upset. It certainly did seem to be having an effect on Andrew. The only problem now was, how many times had he inadvertently used that. Was that why Sofia didn’t leave him? He hated to think her affection was purely a byproduct of something he didn’t even know he could do. Yes, he knew he could get people to like him, at least for a while, and it was never hard to talk women, and the occasional man, out of their clothes when he felt like it, but what else was he doing without meaning to.
He sighed leaned on the counter. He turned his arm over and showed Andrew the symbol there. “After the last time I was here, I broke this one,” he admitted. It felt weird to say it out loud. “I suspect you know what it was binding, even though I did not see the same one on you.”
For a moment, Andrew considered asking Adrian out for a drink after closing, momentarily forgetting that the other man was a father. This was the first time since meeting him that he hadn’t felt at least partly in control of the situation, and he wasn’t sure how he felt about that. This realization didn’t prevent him from teasing his hair or setting his glasses aside, blushing again as Adrian leaned over a counter. This was becoming absurd.
Then Adrian explained, and Andrew felt even more foolish. Of course Adrian wasn’t actually interested in him, he was merely using him as a test. “Yes, I have some idea.” Andrew pursed his lips, studying Adrian’s arm but not daring to touch it. “It blocked some form of seduction or beguilement . . . I promise you, I never intended to affect you more than slightly.”
“It took me long enough to figure it out,” Adrian said with a frown. “You certainly have good control.” He looked away from Andrew. It bothered him more than he wanted to admit, but he was going to have to be honest with him.
“I should have realized sooner,” he sighed. “After Lilith, Samantha’s mother, I thought I couldn’t get lured in again.” He paused. He didn’t want Andrew to think he was accusing him of anything.
“I thought I would have recognized It faster, but you do have the mostly harmless bit down.” He gave Andrew a crooked smile. He was trying really hard too to make sure he was not using whatever it was. He had no idea how successful he was. Now that he was aware of it, he found it hard to not use it.
“I need to learn how to control it,” he admitted, looking at Andrew hopefully. “Somehow, knowing what it is has made it stronger,and frankly, it is a little creepy.”
This was not exactly what Andrew had been expecting, or if he was being honest with himself, not exactly what he had been hoping. Reminding himself again how messy things could get if he got involved, even casually, with a man who had a child, and promised himself that he would let Adrian go.
Though he does recognize that Adrian’s trying to be gentle with him, Andrew can’t help but feel a bit guilty, especially at his response to Adrian’s smile, blushing again and drying his palms on his hands. At least his suspicions about Samantha’s parentage were, mostly, confirmed.
“Are you sure breaking it wasn’t what made it stronger?” he asked, studying the rune again. If the circle did find out what he truly was, would they do that to him, or would they kill him outright? “I’ll do my best to help you, but I’m not sure if I’m ever not using it in some way. I can amplify the effect, focus it, but . . . we might have to help each other learn how to completely shut it off until we need it.”
“I don’t think breaking it was the problem. I’ve done that dozens of times before,” Adrian said.”I think it has something to do with using it on purpose. “ He shrugged and refused to look at Andrew.
“I always knew there was something, but I didn’t know what it was, so I never put any effort into it. It was just something that made it easier to deal with people. I wasn’t even sure it was tied to this one,“ He rubbed the tattoo on his wrist. “Until I met you,” he admitted.
“Before, when they renewed this one it always made me feel….” Adrian tried to find the right word. “Off balance? Incomplete, maybe?” I just thought that was why people were harder to deal with then. “ He realized Andrew probably thought he was stupid now. But it was the truth.
Andrew had set his glasses aside, forgetting that he wasn’t wearing them as he wasn’t trying to seduce Adrian in any case, just watching him thoughtfully. It was somewhat troubling how uncomfortable Adrian seemed in his presence, and Andrew chewed his lip. He didn’t want to lose him as a friend, if nothing else.
He nods at the explanation. “I wouldn’t feel right if I had that blocked off, I’m sure I’ve been using it to some degree since I came into my powers, though the circle never seemed to notice . . .” Andrew sighed. “If you can use it on purpose, and notice when it’s blocked, we should be able to figure out some way of teaching you control. Teaching both of us some control.” Andrew looked up at him, trying to catch his eyes, reassure him that he wasn’t going to try anything.
“Thanks,” Adrian mumbled. “To be completely honest, I have no idea what a lot of them are for. They let me keep what they think I need to work and bind the rest. They never told me what it is, just that they don’t want me to get to it. “ He gave a short bitter laugh. “Fat lot of good that did them. I have access to shit I don’t even know how control or what it does.”
He risked a glance up at Andrew, meeting focus eyes briefly before looking down again. “Speaking of breaking things, did you want me to get rid of some of yours? “ He was already in so deep, there was no point i pretending he hadn’t already offered.
“If you can trust me right now that is.” He stood back up and stretched his back. Leaning on the counter had made it ache.
“It’s actually bad enough right now that I don’t dare go over to the school to get Samantha when there are other parents around. There was an incident with one of the dad’s yesterday.” He grimaced at the memory.
Andrew cringed internally. Despite specifically not wanting to cause any more drama for Adrian’s child than her mere existence already did, it appeared he had simply by his own. “Dare I even ask what sort of incident?” Andrew was almost speaking to himself, remembering some of the incidents he had caused himself, before he had managed even a minimal amount of control.
“I trust you,” Andrew knew this was a mistake, and it wasn’t even what he meant. “I trusted you enough to tell you about my mother’s book, I think we’re in too far to start questioning each other, at least in regard to that.” He rolled up his sleeves again and showed Adrian the tattoos. “This one is conjuring, summoning. I admit, I’ve thought about it but I doubt my father would have any interest in knowing me.” The other was weakened anyway, or so Adrian had told him. “This one is necromancy. I don’t know if you have the same ones; I only know what they are because I, uh, overheard a few things.”
He left the question of whether or not he wanted Adrian to break his bindings unanswered, though he’d implied enough. It was up to the other man whether he trusted Andrew enough with those abilities, however.
“Necromancy?” Adrian asked, looking at the symbol just below the inside of Andrew’s elbow. “Are you sure?” Pulled up his own sleeve and showed him the matching mark on his own arm.
“They haven’t even bothered to re-work this one in a long time,” Adrian said, indicating his arm. “And I have no skills with Necromancy. I think I would have noticed inadvertent zombies and shit.”
The runes definitely matched, Andrew’s brows furrowed as he tried to remember the conversation he’d eavesdropped on. “It’s been about a decade, but I’m fairly confident they didn’t say oneiromancy or cartomancy . . . not sure why they’d want to prevent the first and the second isn’t really a magical talent.”
The zombie comment made him laugh. “From everything I’ve read, necromancy isn’t just raising the dead, but includes control over ghosts. Of course, that could be wrong.”
“Possibly,” Adrian shrugged. “I don’t do much of that either, though I have seen a zombie raised. And I have no desire to see it again.”
“Now that I think about it though,” Adrian carefully placed his fingers over the binding below the one Andrew said was for Necromancy and probed it with his power. It was fairly new, but not too new to remove. “People love that ghost shit. They would love it if you could actually talk to ghosts.” He pressed a little harder, and could feel Andrew’s heart beating in the vein just under the skin. Surprisingly soft skin at that. He shook his head to refocus.
“They’d be upset to know that most of the things they attribute to ghosts were never human to start with though.” The edges of the spell were sloppy, brittle and already almost fraying.
‘They let a freaking novice apply this?” He asked ,mmmmmas he gave it a magic tug and the binding began to unravel immediately, and he had to hurry to catch it before it all disappeared.
“Whoa,” he whistled. “That was close.” He ran his fingers across it again, making sure he had not dispelled too much of it. He realized he was holding Andrew’s wrist hard with his left hand and released it quickly, seeing the marks where his fingers were in the pale flesh.
“There’s a trick to it,” he said sheepishly. “You have to leave just enough that it feels active if they give it a casual poke just to check, but not so much that it still hurts.”
It was becoming clear that Adrian had led a far more adventurous, or at the least, more eventful, life than Andrew had. He wasn’t sure he envied him, though. As intriguing as the idea of raising zombies was, Andrew could imagine the reality was a hundred times more horrifying than any horror movie director could envision.
Nodding at his thoughts about ghosts, watchful as Adrian took his arm, figuring out fairly quickly that he was testing the bindings, but unprepared for how much he enjoyed having his hands against his skin. “I have no idea,” he replied, to the question of application. Whoever it had been had seemed far older than he had been, at the time, and Andrew hadn’t really questioned the necessity of the runes at the time, more concerned with staying alive.
There is a moment where Andrew considered what a customer would think if they walked in on this, but honestly the only problem would be if they were from the circle. It was already too late to ask Adrian into the back room, and honestly Andrew felt more secure out in public. Gasping a bit at the sudden sense of something pulling away from him, of snapping, and then flushing at the realization of Adrian’s hand on his wrist.
“I think that sort of magic’s beyond me,” Andrew said, pulling his hand back and examining the rune. “I’m sure I owe you something for that, thank you.”
“Is your wrist ok?” Adrian tried to pull Andrew’s arm back toward him, but stopped when he noticed Andrew’s reaction. He dropped his hand and sighed.
“Believe it or not, I was not trying to make it awkward,” he said. “It may have been weak like that since they trust you,. They just didn’t put as much effort into. I was stupid at first and they kept thinking the spells were fraying on their own and just made them stronger each time until I figured out to leave some there.” He shrugged helplessly and tucked his hair back behind his ear.
“So how much of before was you messing with my head and how much was real?” He finally asked. He took a couple steps closer again. “You are definitely not unattractive.” He let his words trails off, only the counter separated the two now. He reached out and almost touched Andrew’s cheek before he caught himself and took a couple steps back again before covering his face and taking a couple deep breaths.
“I can’t even tell if you are trying to influence me or not, damn it,” he complained. “But this might have been a terrible idea. Maybe I should let them rebind it and just get used to it.”
He almost held his arm out to Adrian, only resisting the urge because Adrian had, merely nodding at the question. The circle’s trust was both a blessing and a concern, as Andrew never could be sure how much longer he had before someone figured it out, and surely there was someone who would put the pieces together, and turn him in. Keeping his secret, that he could trust Adrian with, but as he watched Adrian push his dark hair back, Andrew was fairly certain that he couldn’t trust himself with Adrian.
His breath caught as Adrian came close to touching him, exhaling at the compliment. “I’m not, not now. I really can’t say how much is real but I’ve been trying not to do anything since I found out you have a family to worry about. As much as I might want to.”
“Samantha? What does she have to do with it?” Adrian asked. “Unless your intent was to keep me in the basement, she would not worry too much.” He tried to laugh but the sound that came out was half strangled.
“if you aren’t doing anything, then I am the one making a mess of this.” Adrian said, panic rising in his chest .
“There has to be a way to be less, well, this.” The thoughts of how long had this been going on, and how many people had he done this to started to creep back in. What about Sofia? Did she ever really love him, or was it this damn creepy ability? It certainly had not been “this strong before.
His panicked heart rate began to slow. Sofia was always there for him, even when the abilities were bound. Even when he felt sick and pissy and just wanted to be left alone, she was still there. The thought calmed him. He took a couple deep breaths and opened his eyes again.
Andrew was no less appealing, that was not good, but at least he felt more in control for a few minutes.
Andrew isn’t even tempted to laugh at the attempt at a joke, but he smiles weakly, hoping he didn’t look like someone who locked men in his basement. The fact that Adrian saw no reason why his daughter should get between them was not helping, and he couldn’t even explain why it was an issue, because he couldn’t even explain why to himself. It wasn’t as if Adrian was married, or with anyone, and prior relationships hadn’t really been a deterrent in the past.
It was just: Children. Parents were supposed to be there for their children, not out there, hooking up with anyone and everyone they could. And yet, Adrian’s daughter was in school much of the day, and Adrian was . . . Andrew had no idea what it was that Adrian did all day, noticing that the other man was going through an internal crisis of his own.
“I’m fairly sure people can be attracted to each other without anyone doing anything,” Andrew admitted, retrieving Adrian’s book and setting it on the counter. “And I was already attracted to you, so I’m not exactly a good test for how well you can control it. We’ll never be able to know who is doing what to the other.”
“That’s a depressing thought,” Adrian said. He felt a little calmer now though.
“So how do you do it, stop doing whatever this is?” Adrian asked. “It was much easier when it was just moderately effective flirting. Whatever I fucked up has turned it up to 10.” It felt weird to admit that he screwed up out loud like that.
“Maybe it will be worth it if the soccer moms are still shunning John the asshole.” He gave Andrew a crooked grin.” The bastard blew a gasket yesterday, said I was coming on to him. When he got in my face like he does every few weeks. I didn’t actually do anything, and the mommy patrol jumped his ass about it. “
Adrian looked around for a clock. He didn’t know I was what time it was anymore.
“I’ve probably been here too long,” he said. “You don’t need your mostly harmless reputation ruined so soon after getting to town. “ He hesitated, reluctant to leave. “how many more bindings do you have?” He asked.
“You shouldn’t break too many at once, it will make you feel like you’re sick, but I can do one a week or something if you want. Maybe before you open, or after you close? “
Andrew raised an eyebrow at the ‘depressing’ comment, mentally reviewing what he’d said ‘til he guessed that Adrian had misunderstood him. Probably for the best, anyway. Which was slightly depressing. Chuckling weakly at Adrian’s story, he’d definitely had similar experiences. Whether or not Adrian realized that the soccer moms might be under his influence to some degree, he couldn’t tell. “As far as I can tell, it’s more about being aware of it than anything else. If you know you’re doing it, you can stop it. Of course, that usually means you have to be doing something before you aren’t. Like scratching an itch.”
There was an antique clock on a shelf behind Andrew, but he wasn’t sure if the time on it was accurate. It seemed close, at least. “You could be right, circle members have definitely been around to check my inventory.” He sighed. “They actually took one of my books, but at least I had yours and the other one at my apartment.”
Andrew held the borrowed book out to Adrian. “There are two others. I don’t know what your schedule is, but I don’t open until 10 so you could come by before then?”
“I’ll be out of town on business again for a few days next week,” Adrian said. “I leave Sunday, and that is too soon to try another. Assuming I make it back, I will come in next Thursday.” He grimaced.
“Gerard is way too excited about this one for me to be sure it isn’t going to be a fucking mess,” he admitted. “He’s only happy when there is a really go chance I’ll die.” he took the book from Andrew.
“Looks like a place in Wisconsin has a demon in the basement of the Catholic church. It’s attacked a couple nuns so far, but the priest is fighting the circle on letting me come in, so maybe it will get put off. Last weeks was bad enough,” he said. “Ghoul scratches hurt like a bitch.” He raised the bottom of his shirt up enough to show three long lines cut into his skin.
“Their nails are filthy,” he wrinkled his nose. “But when they do something like give you blood to work with-” Adrian stopped.
“Yeah, I think you are still doing it a little.” he frowned. “Forget I said that.”
Assuming I make it back settled into Andrew’s consciousness, and he wondered again just what it was that Adrian did. The mention of Jerard teased at the answer – he had never had much to do with the man, but his mentor had known him and it didn’t come as a surprise that Jerard would be perfectly content for someone like Adrian to die.
Adrian worked for the circle, and was defying them under their noses. . . Andrew didn’t know to be impressed or horrified, and the fact he was impressed made him suspect that he was still being influenced by the other man. It wasn’t difficult to believe a Catholic Priest would have the hubris to believe he could handle a demon alone, putting himself and everyone else in danger. It had taken Andrew years to get himself out of the clutches of the church.
Then Adrian started to lift his shirt, why was he doing that, they’re right in the middle of the shop where everyone can see. . . Something about ghouls and there definitely were three nasty looking marks on his skin.
“Said what?” Andrew blinked at Adrian, still blushing. “I didn’t mean to be, maybe I panicked when you said you might not be coming back due to being dead.”
Adrian paused. Normally he would be pleased to get that sort of reaction from someone as attractive as Andrew, but it probably just meant he was making things worse. That or Andrew was teasing him and had heard and understood the implications of what he said. He couldn’t do much else about it right now though.
“I haven’t managed to die yet,” Adrian said. “Probably won’t this time either. Sofia would be pissed to end up with a Six year old at this point. She’d dig me up and kill me again. “ He tried to laugh it off, but the truth was, he knew that when he died the circle would make sure there was no body to dig up. Even the remotest of chances that a true necromancer could get ahold of him after death, or an opportunistic demon hitching a ride probably gave the circle nightmares.
“I’ll be by Thursday morning, after 8,” he said. He turned to leave and saw the voodoo doll again.
“You ever see a real one?” he asked.
Something had to be done about this. Andrew knew he couldn’t keep a professional or friendly relationship with Adrian while lusting after him, and he wasn’t eager to try a serious relationship even if the other man was. With his mention of the family friend, Sofia, Andrew began to suspect there was another barrier to anything like that, anyway. He could have been wrong, of course, reading people wasn’t a talent he had inherited.
“I’ll be here,” Andrew agreed, readying himself for Adrian’s departure, which didn’t come as he stopped by the novelty voodoo kit. “Only in books. I take it you have?”
“As with most things, the reality is nowhere near as pleasant as the fiction.” He tucked the book under his arm and gave Andrew a quick smile before leaving.
“See you Thursday, as long as I don’t burst into flames by going into a church.” He gave the man a wink before heading back out.