182 DAYS BEFORE
Luca offers Jay a hand to help him up. Jay ignores him and stands on his own. Luca takes his hand back and brushes it on his jeans awkwardly.
“So, we’re doing this?” Luca asks him. “You’re sure?”
Jay gives him a flat look. “I don’t really many other options, buddy, so yeah, we’re doing this.”
Luca coughs into his fist. Jay makes Luca uncomfortable. Good.
“So, are you—how are we gonna do this? Do you want to pack some things to bring with you?”
“Sure.” Jay nods. His stomach churns at the thought of leaving the state with a witch he barely knows.
“Can we go to my hotel first?” Luca asks. “I can pack and then we can take my car to your place.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Jay agrees. Luca starts out of the alley and Jay follows behind, hands tucked into his pockets, curled tightly into fists.
He eyes Luca warily. He doesn’t want to do this. Frantically, he tries to think of a plan B that he can fall back on. He doesn’t trust Luca, but he’s his best bet right now. If things go south, he’s sure he can handle himself. It’s nothing that he hasn’t had to do before.
Luca’s hotel is only a few blocks away; a nice, fancy building that Jay knows he could never afford to stay in on his own salary. They walk in, and Jay just takes a moment to gather the scenery.
The hotel lobby has a fucking chandelier.
Jay grew up with a rich family—he’ll admit to that. But ever since he left, he hasn’t seen a penny of his family’s money and works shit jobs for shit apartments and other shit necessities.
Luca waves at the girl working the front desk. She smiles and waves back. Luca gestures to Jay to get a move on. Jay catches up finally, just as the elevator Luca is waiting for arrives.
They take the elevator to the fifteenth floor and Luca leads Jay to his room. He unlocks the door with a little card key, and then they’re inside.
The room is nice, and bigger than Jay’s apartment. While Luca is preoccupied with packing, Jay wanders around. He thinks he’s being sneaky as he nabs the soap from the bathroom and a package of nuts until Luca dryly tells him that those will be put onto his bill.
Jay throws the nuts back, but he’ll be damned if he leaves the soap behind. He stuffs the bar, still wrapped in paper, into his back pocket.
Luca takes a long time to pack up his things. He has a giant fucking suitcase filled with what seems like two weeks’ worth of clothes. Eventually, Jay gets tired of waiting and heaves a larges sigh before sitting at the edge of the bed and turning on the TV.
He flips through the channels before settling on a cartoonish movie and sitting back. Luca gives him a look that he can’t decipher before going back to packing.
Eventually, Luca zips up his bag and Jay’s up like a shot at the sound, out the door and at the elevator as Luca catches up, his bag in tow.
They ride the way down in silence, and Jay vaguely wonders if the drive to Brooklyn is going to be this silent when the doors open and Luca is making his way across the lobby to check out. The girl at the desk sounds friendly, and she and Luca banter back and forth, making small talk. Jay wants to yell at them to hurry the fuck up, but Luca looks like he’s going to take his sweet time.
When Luca finally, fucking finally, gets done at the desk, the two make their way out of the hotel and go to the parking lot where Luca’s car is parked.
It’s a black, sleek luxury car, and it looks like it would take Jay at least two lifetimes to pay off.
“Nice car,” Jay comments, as he gets inside and straps himself in.
Luca smiles politely at him. “Perks of the job,” he replies, buckling himself in. He doesn’t elaborate; Jay wonders if that’s a topic that’s off-limits.
Luca puts the car in gear and they’re on their way. Jay’s apartment isn’t far; he gives Luca directions and they’re there in under five minutes.
“I’ll be quick,” Jay says, unstrapping himself while they’re parked in the parking lot.
“No,” Luca says, “I’m going with you.”
Jay’s about to have a huge hissy fit when Luca gives him a look that tells him that Luca could break him with his pinky finger. Jay sighs and gets out, and Luca follows.
His apartment isn’t much. It’s one room, with nothing on the walls and an air mattress pushed in one corner. It’s mostly deflated since Jay left it this morning, crumpling under the weight of the heavy comforter on top of it; the nights are fucking cold in this place.
There’s a kitchenette, a stack of books by the mattress, no other furniture except for a desk lamp plugged into the wall, along with a phone charger.
Jay’s mostly packed already; he’s been in this place a week, and he hasn’t unpacked his clothes from his last journey. He grabs the dirty clothes littering the floor already and starts stuffing them in the duffel bag along with the rest of his clothes.
“Do you rent this place? Don’t you need to give a notice to the landlord or something?” Luca inquires, looking around the stark apartment.
“It doesn’t matter,” Jay says flippantly. “I’m here under a false name, anyway.”
Luca’s eyebrows shoot to his hairline. “Oh,” he sputters. “Okay.”
He looks like he wants to say more, but doesn’t, so Jay just keeps shoving his clothes into his bag. He grabs his toothbrush and toothpaste from the bathroom, and shoves them in as well. When that’s finished, he decides to leave the air mattress and desk lamp, but takes the phone charger and wraps it up and puts it into the bag as well. After that, Jay doesn’t have really anything that he can take.
He doesn’t have a car; he came here in a taxi. He already has his wallet, his phone—he’s packed and ready to go.
“Alright,” Jay sighs. “I’m finished here.”
“Okay,” Luca says. He lets Jay out if the apartment first, but silently refuses to let Luca walk behind him lest he does something while Jay isn’t looking. He waits for Luca to exit the apartment, and then walks slightly behind him, letting him lead while not looking too paranoid.
“So is ‘James’ your real name, or…?” Luca asks while they walk.
Jay nods. “Yeah. Well. It’s my legal name. I usually go by ‘Jay.’”
“Jay,” Luca says, like he’s trying the name out on his tongue. “Is it okay if I call you that?”
Jay glances at Luca. He looks completely genuine; Jay knows that his nickname is sort of ridiculous, but Luca didn’t even laugh. Didn’t even blink an eye.
His stomach turns. He can’t get a read on Luca—he has a face that anyone could trust, and that’s exactly why Jay is wary of him. Luca doesn’t show many emotions besides disapproval, and that’s something that makes him nervous.
“Knock yourself out,” Jay says eventually.
They take the stairs out—the elevator is broken—and stride out of the building. Jay hikes up the bag on his shoulder a little more as they exit the building and make for Luca’s car.
Jay throws his things in the back and then gets into the passenger seat. This car seat is more comfortable than his fucking mattress. He shifts a little and settles in, ready to fall asleep.
As Jay gets his seatbelt on, Luca is giving him a strange look. Jay returns it until he speaks.
“So what’s your—” Luca stammers. “Your other form?”
“What?” Jay asks.
“Your—other form?” He seems to be struggling to find the right way to phrase his question, which Jay finds endearing. Most witches don’t care whether they’re insensitive or not, but Luca wants to find the least offensive way to say it. He doesn’t call Jay an animal, a half-form, or asks him what breed he is. Because Jay’s not an animal. He’s a familiar.
Jay smiles a little at him. “My familiar form? A, uh. A Dutch shepherd.”
Luca nods and smirks at him. “I was wondering why you smelled so bad,” he says lightly.
Jay’s head snaps over to him because, “Did you just crack a fucking joke?”
He smiles innocently at him. “I wasn’t joking. You do smell really bad.”
“Fuck you, Daniels,” Jay laughs. Perhaps this won’t be a shitty as he thought.
Driving to Brooklyn takes a few days. They sleep in the car because stopping at hotels mean that people could find them. Jay hasn’t showered in forever, and Luca is definitely the same. They get their meals at rest stops and gas stations, and Luca tells Jay that he can’t drive the car. He knows that Luca is trying to be polite—Jay is a passenger, he shouldn’t have to drive—but he’s just coming off as an asshole.
Three days straight with this guy, in close quarters, and he’s ready to rip his head off. Luca is the same in regards to Jay.
But finally, after three days, Jay sees the Brooklyn Bridge on the skyline just as the sun is rising. He sits up straighter in his seat, a ghost of a smile starting to form on his lips. It’s a fucking miracle.
Getting into the city take a little while, with all the traffic, but it’s well worth it. When they pull up to Luca’s place, Jay’s jaw drops.
Perks of the job, Luca had said.
He wasn’t fucking kidding.
Luca lives in one of those old, giant brownstones with a thousand rooms and several floors. The front of the thing is half-covered in ivy. The fence is wrought iron and there are flower boxes in the windows. This place is beautiful, and must have cost a fortune.
“Wow,” Jay says under his breath. He looks back at Luca, who’s smiling at Jay’s reaction.
“Go on,” Luca says. “I’ll be out in a minute. Just need to grab my stuff.”
Jay reaches into the back seat and grabs his duffel bag and then bounds up to the wrought-iron gate like a puppy. He unlocks it, and it swings open with a metallic creak. Jay opens the door to the brownstone and looks around in wonder.
The place looks like something straight out of a magazine. The hallway is a tight fit, but there’s art donning the walls, paintings and drawings beautiful enough that they should be in museums. After toeing off his shoes, he passes a home library that has walls covered in bookshelves, and then the hallway opens up into a large front room with a huge staircase and a kitchen. Past that is a living area with a couch, chairs, and a TV.
Perks of the job, Jay guesses. This is so much—it’s hard to take it all in.
He goes to poke around the living room. The TV is massive, but collecting dust—he wonders if Luca ever uses it. The couch is huge and overstuffed, with an afghan draped over one armrest. There are several chairs—a recliner and a simple white armchair.
The only thing that isn’t modern and sleek like the rest of the place is an old, leather storage chest that is being used in place of a coffee table. The thing is massive, beaten-up and scratched, and, of course, locked.
Jay hears the front door open as Luca clatters inside, carrying his luggage behind him. Jay stands up and backs away from the chest, moving over to look at the movie selections in the cabinet next to the TV.
A few minutes later and Luca is walking into the living room, where Jay is still studiously browsing over the movies.
“You can pick any room you want,” Luca says. “There’s a few on this floor and the second floor. There’s only one bedroom on the third floor—that’s mine. There’s also a basement, but there’s mostly stuff for magic and potions stuff down there, so I don’t know how much you want to stay there.”
Jay smiles politely and nods. “Okay. I’ll go check those out.”
He grabs his duffel bag, which he had discarded on the floor, and goes back down the hallway to the stairs. He takes the stairs to the third floor.
Jay notices that this level is much more scarce than the ground floor. The walls are white, the floor dark hardwood. There’s no splash of color, no paintings covering the walls like there are downstairs, no vases or any sort of furniture to make the place look like anyone is living in it at all.
Every room on the level is open to some degree—most rooms are empty, with shelves or something of the sort inside. One room is for storage, full of boxes.
The last room, at the end of the hall, is Luca’s room—he knows it is, because it’s the only door on the entire level that’s locked.
Heartbeat picking up a little, Jay backs off and makes his way to the second level.
He decides that the first bedroom he comes to is his new room, without looking at the rooms on the ground level.
There’s a queen-sized bed and a window overlooking the yard. The room is relatively small, the bed taking up most of the space, but it’s already a million times better than his old apartment.
Jay drops the bag on the floor and steps inside, closing the door behind him. Now seems like the time for a good and proper freak-out.
What the fuck is he stepping into?
He’s living with a complete stranger. A complete fucking stranger that may or may not be doing Very Illegal Things. Luca’s job — whatever it is — is serious business. Considering how much he gets paid, paired with the fact that he doesn’t want to talk about it, means that Jay could be getting in something way over his head.