We are actually getting into the novel timeline now. Andrew has become official canon now. Warning: Possible spoilers!
Nearly ten years after opening Hallis’ Mystic Books, Andrew’s business had steadily grown. Though there were still an overwhelming majority of New Agers, his customers had shifted somewhat to include more genuine practitioners. The general layout of the story hadn’t changed overall, though he had moved the replica hob behind the counter when some teenagers had been found attempting to break into the cabinet.
There had been several times over the years when Andrew had come close to hiring someone to help, but always decided against it at the last minute. He’d even gotten to the point of interviewing someone before deciding that they simply couldn’t be trusted with some of the merchandise. Not that this was a highly talented individual, nor particularly dangerous, but he suspected they’d report him if they knew everything that he kept. Especially his growing personal collection, safe in his apartment, but passing through the shop often enough. There had already been a couple of close calls with the circle as it was, and he simply couldn’t take the risk.
The biggest change had been in himself, though Andrew didn’t feel that he looked much older. He had merely become more open wearing the symbols of his faith, though the rest of his outward appearance, at least when working at the shop, was as bland and harmless as it had been since his move back to Chicago.
Adrian pushed the door open and held it as Ashley stepped inside. It was misting outside and fine drops of rain glittered on Adrain’s dark hair. He tried to brush it off. Ashley looked around, eyes bright and excited. Her ponytail bobbed and danced as she turned her head this way and that, trying to take it all in. She saw the display of crystals and books about The magical power of Stone or something like it and quirked a quizzical eyebrow at Adrian.
“I thought you said this was bullshit?” She said, gesturing to the display.
“Shhhh,” Adrian laughed holding a finger up to his lips. “You never know who might be standing around.”
“Since when did you understand tact?” she asked skeptically.
“Fair enough,” Adrian admitted, spying Andrew behind the counter. Despite his carefully bland exterior, Adrian knew more of the real Andrew and sometimes had a hard time reconciling the two in his head.
“Ashley,” he brought her over to the counter. “This is Andrew. He owns the place.”
First the girl entered his shop, and Andrew wondered if this was just another curious teenager or if she was just trying to get a cup of coffee and dry off. While he had a coffee pot in the back room, he had never offered to any customers besides Adrian or Samantha. Coffee drinking while browsing books was not a good combination.
Then Adrian himself followed her in, clearly with her. Andrew raised an eyebrow. He was confident that the relationship was entirely platonic, they still made an oddly mismatched pair. A friend of Samantha’s, possibly? Adrian’s daughter was still missing, and as bad as it might be, Andrew hoped she was with her mother. It was better than some alternatives, at least. To be honest, Andrew was more than a little surprised to see Adrian here – with this other girl – than out hunting for his daughter. But he should have been long past surprised by what Adrian did.
At least the girl seemed to know what was authentic and what wasn’t. “It’s nice to meet you, Ashley,” Andrew offered her his hand, glancing at Adrian with the unspoken question: Who is this? “Are you looking for anything in particular?”
“Oh, Uhm, hi, Andrew,” Ashley gave her best customer service smile and held her hand out to him.
“I’m not really looking for anything in particular, I don’t think,” she looked at Adrian, like she was not sure if she was supposed to be finding anything.
“She’s new to her abilities,” Adrian explained. “I just thought I would bring her by so she could see the place.” He had leaned on the counter and was watching Andrew as he looked at Ashley. He was not completely certain it was safe for her to be around him, so this would be the test. Of course, both of them had gotten a lot better at controlling their abilities, and he had not seen Andrew express any interest in women, but he just wanted to be safe.
“Yes, take as much time as you like.” Shaking Ashley’s hand, Andrew turned from her to Adrian, then glancing back at the young woman. She seemed vaguely familiar but perhaps she just had one of those faces.
“The circle knows about her?” he asked Adrian, before frowning at his own rudeness and turning back to Ashley. “About you?”
“Well, yeah,” Ashley said. “Rei wants me to apprentice under her as well as Adrian.”
“No,” Adrian said. “She wants you to apprentice under her and not me.” He turned back to Andrew, still leaned in close on the counter.
“It still is not clear what her talents are, so they can’t really pick a mentor for her right now anyway.” Adrian explained.
“You look kind of familiar,” Ashley said, studying Andrew. “Have I seen you at Nicolo’s before?”
Andrew chuckled at the commentary, still wondering exactly how Ashley fit into Adrian’s life, aside from being his apprentice, which was more than a little surprising in itself. It was not a surprise that Rei wasn’t in favor of it. Was she one of Samantha’s friends? Or had Adrian picked up one of the groupies for that video blog he did? The first seemed more likely.
And then Ashley put it into place, though it still took a moment. “Yes, I’ve been there a few times. You work there, don’t you?”
He still wasn’t seeing the piece of how she’d ended up with Adrian, like a stray puppy he found. “The circle isn’t always the best way to discover talents, even with all their tests.”
“Luckily,” Adrian added.
“How is that lucky?” Ashley asked.
“Because not every talent is one you want them to know about,” Adrian said. “Kind of like what we talked about in Louisiana,” he added. He pulled his sleeve back to show the tattoos on his right arm. The ink was dark and fresh and the skin around them looked red and irritated.
“What happened?” Ashley asked, shocked.
“These are what happen when you have talents they don’t like,” Adrian said.
“Those are the bindings you talked about,” She said.
“Yes,” he said shortly. “But don’t worry, if I see anything they don’t need to know about I will let you know before Rei finds it. But so far, you have nothing to worry about as far as I can tell.”
If Andrew didn’t know Adrian so well, he would have been more surprised by his showing the new bindings to Ashley. Andrew couldn’t help but wince at how inflamed they were. The circle must have wanted to punish him. For Samantha?
“I have a few myself,” Andrew said, leaving out the part where Adrian had broken them whenever they’d been applied. “But that…” he resisted the urge to reach for Adrian’s arm, not sure if he should even try with this new person here, and glanced at Ashley. “What talents have you displayed?”
“She can function as some kind of magical ground,” Adrian said, pulling the sleeve back down. It hurt like hell, he should have realized being around Andrew was a bad idea right now. Gerard had been particularly vicious this time, and he was actually afraid he may not be able to break it this time. Trying to find the edges of the spell was like digging for a deep splinter, but it just kept getting further and further away. He still had a few weeks to work on it. Hopefully then it would be easier.
“Seriously, Adrian, “ Ashley reached for his arm, but Adrian jerked it back so fast he bumped into Andrew instead.
“I have no idea what might happen of you touch these right now,” he told her. Part of him wanted to just keep touching Andrew, but he pulled his arm back to his side. “if you want to test it against bindings we will have to wait a while.”
“It looks infected,” she said curtly. “As always, you are not taking care of yourself.” She glared at Adrian for a moment “But do you think anything would happen if I tried?”
“If it did, you would have to spend the rest of your life keeping that from the circle.” Adrian said dryly.
“They are just newly done, they’ll heal,” he tried to assure her.
At the explanation of her talents, Andrew looked at the girl with more interest. It was an entirely chaste interest, Ashley being too young (though Andrew wasn’t sure how old she was, he’d associated her with Samantha early on. Despite it seeming as if there was no connection) and too far from his type, in any case. But her powers intrigued him, and he wondered again how Adrian had discovered her.
Adrian’s bumping into him distracted him from these thoughts, but he was old enough and accustomed now to Adrian that he managed not to show any reaction. The way Ashley was behaving, as if she had taken over for Samantha in taking care of him, did cause him to raise an eyebrow. Exactly how long had they known each other and just now Adrian was bringing her into his shop?
“She’s right, Adrian. They do look infected.” Andrew glanced between the two of them. “I have no idea if this will even work with infections associated with magic, but I could try to heal the infection for you?”
“I don’t know if it is actually infected,” Adrian admitted. “It never had before.” He pulled the sleeve up again, carefully prodding one.
“It may just be because they were making a point. “
“You can do healing magic!” Ashley’s eyes got big with excitement.
“Just let him do it then,” she insisted.
“Because I have no idea what will happen of he puts his power on these right now, “ Adrian insisted.”These are different than before.”
“Does this have anything to do with what Oliver said? “ she asked nervously.
“Oliver had way too much fey blood for his own damn good,” Adrian complained.
There was another reason why he did not want to let Andrew try to heal him. Without his own abilities, Andrew’s seemed to affect him more, and apparently did something that made the bindings hurt worse. Over the years he discovered that it was often best to stay away when they were too new. Though until a few days ago, he had done a good enough job of controlling it that they had left him alone for a while. But this was twice in only a few months and it was the really pissing him off.
“Why didn’t you have him take care of those cuts the zombie dude made on your arm and hand?” Ashley scolded, and Adrian felt his breath catch in his throat. There was no way Andrew would buy that story.
Andrew was really uncertain how to react to the girl’s enthusiasm, wondering how Adrian managed to put up with it on a regular basis. When she insisted that Andrew go ahead and heal them, he started to reach for Adrian’s arm, stopping short at Adrian’s misgivings.
Who the hell was Oliver? Andrew was used to Adrian keeping parts of his life strictly separated; after all, portions of his relationship with the other man were known only to them, and things were definitely easier and safer keeping it that way. Nor was he especially jealous of this other man, but it seemed Adrian had been going off on more of his life-threatening adventures with a teenage girl and some man with fey blood, and hadn’t seen fit to mention any of it to him.
Nor had Adrian mentioned these cuts or this zombie, though all of it had likely happened in Louisiana. He frowned thoughtfully at Ashley, trying to get a read off her, but she honestly believed that the cuts had been the result of an attack. “Yes, Adrian, why don’t you let me take care of those cuts? And any others you might have, for that matter.”
“They healed just fine,” Adrian insisted, pulling his left arm in close to his body. “It was no big deal.”
“No big deal!” Ashley almost shouted. “We thought you were going to die! “
“Well, I didn’t, so just let it go.”
“You are a stubborn, self destructive, pain in the ass, Adrian!” Ashley’s cheeks flushed a bright rosy pink the angrier she got. “You go and get yourself hurt all the time and have a friend who is a healer and you don’t even let him help you.”
“Andrew, had enough to worry about without me running to him for every little injury.” Andrew had helped him before, but he hated having to rely on the man so much. He looked at Andrew hoping to get some support against Ashley’s ire.
He knew Andrew would see the scars eventually, but he had hoped to be in a better position to convince him it was fine and nothing to worry about. But now his hand was forced by Ashley and had all his bindings in place. Andrew had more than just the upper hand. He had all the cards. Suddenly Adrian felt tired. He just wanted to go home and lock the door and go to bed.
Ashley’s indignation would have been amusing, if this wasn’t so serious. Self-destructive went unwittingly close to the truth, but it was obvious she had no idea that the cuts were certainly self-inflicted; and as much as Andrew wanted to talk to Adrian about this, now was not the time. He wasn’t about to break Adrian’s trust by letting Ashley know.
All Andrew had to worry about was the circle discovering his own secrets, still mostly tied to his Incubus father, though there were still a few texts in his growing collection that were better off unknown as well.
The fact that Adrian wanted him to intervene on his behalf was clear, and Andrew gave him a look in return to the effect of you’ll owe me for this. Before turning to Ashley and attempting to use his abilities to calm her. “I think Adrian’s had enough experience to know when he needs help.” This was completely untrue, but if his abilities worked, she should believe it. “Not that I’d mind if it was truly serious, but a few cuts, that he can handle on his own.”
Had he honestly almost died? Andrew wouldn’t have been surprised, though Ashley’s excitable nature made it difficult to know for sure.
Andrew was using his charm on her, it made his wrist itch. He had no idea why it did that. He was almost alarmed, but it was clear he was not trying to seduce her.
“You must not know Adrian very well then,” She pressed her lips into a thin line.” He doesn’t have the common sense God gave goat.”
Adrian stared at her wide eyed. How had that failed? He glanced at Andrew to see his reaction.
A line of concern and confusion deepened between Andrew’s brow – why wasn’t this working? Though he’d had far more practice using his powers on men, he did this sort of mild persuasion almost daily with customers. Admittedly, this was far more serious than selling a few more books or talismans, but it still should have worked.
He chuckled rather nervously at Ashley’s statement. Well, that was true enough, and he wasn’t about to correct her on how well he knew Adrian. “I’m sure it seems that way,” he tried again, “but he’s stayed alive so far, hasn’t he?” though at the moment all he really was concerned with was speaking to Adrian, alone, and finding out exactly what the hell was going on.
“You’re probably as hopeless,” she sighed looking at Andrew. “It’s like jedi mind tricks or something,” she continued. “He just waves his hand and poof he gets his way. I swear to God, I have no idea how he is even still alive.”
“That is not an exclusive club,” Adrian admitted. “Hell, I’m the founding member.”
“You have your regular hours today, Andrew?” Adrian asked. He knew he was not getting out of explaining everything now, but had no desire to do it with Ashley there or any other customers for that matter.
It was not an inaccurate description of his or Adrian’s abilities, and Andrew couldn’t help making a face somewhere between a wince and a smirk. But this still didn’t explain why it wasn’t working on Ashley, unless it had something to do with her own talents.
“I think I’ve been around a bit longer than you, so we’ll talk about who founded this club” Andrew teased, before rethinking that. “I should, unless something comes up and I need to close early.” The something being Adrian’s second visit, but he was already worried this wasn’t vague enough to hide anything from Ashley.
“That sounded shady,” Ashley said. “Are you into something you shouldn’t be?” She glared between the two and Adrian could keep from giving a short snort of laughter.
“Did you bring me somewhere that has shady shit going on?” She demanded.
Adrian laughed out loud that time. “This store is completely above board,” he assured her. “I wanted you to know where this was and who Andrew is because if anything ever goes wrong he is someone you will be able to trust. And he won’t hand you over to the circle.”
“You didn’t answer everything,” She said.
“And I am not going to either,” he answered. He looked back at Andrew. “I’ll talk to you later.” Ashley continued to badger him as the walked back out onto the street, but Adrian didn’t mind. At least she wasn’t a simple little sheep that would get taken in by the first con-artist she came across.