178 DAYS BEFORE
What the fuck is good to say to the guy you don’t know very well but just moved in with?
Trick question: there’s nothing good to say to that guy. Just things that are slightly worse than the alternatives.
Thankfully, Luca saves him the trouble.
“Can I ask you something?” he inquires.
Jay looks at him and shrugs. “Shoot,” he answers.
“Why did you come with me?” Luca asks. “I mean, you don’t know me. You just met me. I could be a crazy psycho for all you know.”
“Well, if you were, that would be the lamest confession ever,” he points out.
“Jay,” Luca says. “Seriously.”
Okay, he’s just met the guy, moved in with him, and now he’s being chastised by him. Good to know. Good.
He thinks as quickly as he can, biting his tongue to make sure that he doesn’t say something extremely rude like he wants to. Jay huffs out his nose. “You’re my True Bond, Luca. That’s gotta mean something, right?” he lies.
Luca thinks on it for a moment and then shrugs. “Okay, I get that,” he says. “But that’s stupid.”
Jay blinks. “Um, okay,” he says.
“No, I just—okay, I didn’t mean it like that,” Luca says. “I just mean, what if I had been lying to you about having a place in Brooklyn? What if I had hurt you?”
“Then I would have punched and kicked my way out, like normal,” Jay says, crossing his arms over his chest. He looks down at the table to resist glaring.
Luca doesn’t even blink at the words ‘like normal.’ “Why not run? In your familiar form? You need to be safe, Jay.”
Jay purses his lips together. “I don’t know how.”
“How to what?”
“To change into my familiar form,” he says. He remembers how his parents told him about how he changed between so many different animals—bird, rabbit, wolf, jaguar, before finally settling on a Dutch shepherd when he was about nine. That’s what happens to most young familiars—changing into several different animals before the body settles on the one it likes. Then, they’re usually able to control their shifts by the time they turn fifteen. Jay just suppressed it. He didn’t want anything to do with it.
His sister, Lydia, was a little different. She did little changing—she settled into her familiar form easily.
Luca gapes at him. There aren’t many familiars out there that just don’t know how to change into their other form. He’s one of the lucky few.
“I could teach you,” Luca says suddenly.
“How would you know?” Jay says. The words come out sounding more accusatory than he means them to be.
“It’s all mental, isn’t it?” he asks. “I could help you bypass whatever shit you’re feeling, is all.”
Jay sighs. This conversation is just—draining. He shakes his head and says, “I appreciate the offer, Luca, but I think I’m okay.”
Luca just shakes his head. “I think I could help.”
“Well, like you said, Luc,” Jay says, “I don’t really know you well enough.”
Jay spends a lot of time in his room. He hasn’t left the house since his arrival, because he’s not sure what he’s supposed to do. Besides, he’s having fun breaking in the TV that Luca barely uses.
They’ve gotten into a sort of routine. In the morning, Jay wakes up later than Luca does. He goes downstairs and Luca is usually gone on a run, even though it’s March in New York and cold as fuck. Jay makes breakfast for himself, brews coffee for the both of them, and watches TV while balancing his cereal bowl in his lap until Luca comes back. At that point in time, Jay gets up, goes back into his room, usually passing Luca as he rests his palm on the walls and mutters a spell under his breath.
Jay’s not sure which spell it is. He looks things up on the internet from his phone, trying to figure out what spell Luca could possibly be doing. He’s narrowed it down to a charm of sorts, since he seems to renew it every day, but that’s the only thing that he’s come up with.
Luca scares the shit out of Jay, if he’s being honest. Luca is a good guy, or at least he’s polite. Jay doesn’t understand him at all. He’s private and reserved, but he has a good enough heart to let Jay move in with him. He cares about Jay, which is a fucking mystery. Most of the time, when they talk, Luca gets all irritated with Jay not taking care of himself in the way that Luca thinks he ought to.
Like today, for instance.
“There’s a wall in your mind that keeps you from changing, Jay,” Luca says in exasperation. “Even if it weren’t you repressing your abilities, bottling shit up isn’t healthy in the first place.”
“Cool,” Jay says, like the real asshole he is.
“James—” Luca stops. “I don’t know your full name.”
Jay has to stop, because, first of all, Luca just tried to full-name him like his mother used to when Jay was in trouble. Which is fucking hilarious.
But secondly, there it is. It’s taken Luca long enough to ask. He’s surprised he lasted this long, but he guesses Luca deserves to know—he hadn’t come to Jay with the knowledge of his family in the first place, so he thinks Luca’s trustworthy.
Jay smiles wryly and takes a quick drink of water before answering. “If I tell you, will you not bother me about this shit anymore?”
Luca stares at him and says, “Sure, if it’s that big of a deal.” Jay can see that he’s lying through his fucking teeth but answers anyway.
“Devereux,” he says.
There’s a second where Luca just nods, but then he does a double take and his eyebrows pull together. “Wait, like—like the politician?”
Another drink of water. “Yep,” Jay replies, resisting the urge to sigh. He gets this a lot when he tells people his lineage.
Luca just gapes at him for a few seconds. “I didn’t know that,” he says finally.
Not exactly what he was expecting, but okay. Jay shrugs and says, “Yeah, well. I usually keep it under wraps.”
Luca walks over and rests his elbows on the counter, giving Jay his full attention. “Why?” he asks, tilting his head to the side.
Jay swallows the sudden lump in his throat, leaning away from Luca’s sudden regard. “Because when I tell them that, I attract a certain kind,”
“People asking for money,” Luca says.
Jay snorts. “If only,” he mutters. Suddenly the conversation has turned from one topic that he didn’t want to talk about to an even more delicate topic that he doesn’t want to talk about. This is his life now.
“The, what kind?” Luca asks again. His face is open, friendly, but Jay’s heart is racing anyway.
Jay’s hands clench. “Is this an interrogation?” he asks in a rigid tone.
“Jay,” Luca says softly, soothingly. “Don’t get mad. If you don’t want to tell me, you don’t have to.”
He just smiles a little, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. “You’re too nice, but other witches—when my dad died, he told me they would come flocking,” Jay says in a low voice. “My dad wasn’t there to protect me anymore, it was just me and my little sister, and he knew that witches would came saying, ‘I can protect you. I can keep you safe.’ And he told me to not listen to them. They just wanted to use me to make their magic stronger. That kind of people, Luca. The people that want a piece of me.”
His hand is clenched in a fist so tight that his fingernails are digging into his palms painfully. He slowly unfurls the fist and flexes his fingers, noticing where his nails left little crescent-shaped indents in his skin.
“Why me?” Luca asks after a long pause.
Because you didn’t look at me like a piece of meat when you first saw me. “I told you. You’re my True Bond. That’s gotta count for something, right?”
Luca raises an eyebrow. “No, it just means our magic syncs well. It doesn’t mean that we were going to be friends. It doesn’t even mean that we might get along. Personality and magic are different from each other.”
Jay remains silent.
“What was the real reason?” Luca asks, leaning forward on the counter. “I know you’re smart enough to not believe that True Bonds mean an instant personal connection.”
Looking up, Jay wipes his palms on his jeans to give him something to do with his hands. Finally, he says, “I didn’t have any other option, Luca. I had to get out of town and it was obvious I didn’t have any money. You were the most convenient option. The only option, really.”
Luca’s face is unreadable. Jay can’t tell if he’s offended him or not, but he really hopes that Luca understands. Eventually, Luca just nods.
“Protection,” he says. “I get it.”
Jay thinks about that word. That’s what his life has revolved around, really. Protecting himself. Protecting his family. He suppressed his ability to change because he thought he was protecting himself, but maybe Luca’s right. Well, Luca is probably right. He’s spent so much time like this, pretending to be human when he could be what he really is. It’s not like he can change his DNA—he can never be human.
He was born in this body. He might as well make the most of its abilities. He could keep doing what he’s always done—protect. Protect himself. Maybe, even, protect Luca, if he has to.
“I think,” Jay says after a moment, “I think I would be okay with you coaching me. To learn how to shift into my familiar form.”
Luca nods. “We can start tomorrow,” he says, and turns away, taking a swig from his beer. He exhales and then there’s a silence, a silence that settles over the two of them comfortably, like a blanket.
“What about you, Luca?” he asks. “You live here for long?”
Luca smiles. “Anything I say won’t match up to what you’ve just said.”
“Good thing it’s not a competition.” He takes a long pull from his coffee, eyes not leaving Luca for a second.
“Really, Jay,” Luca says, “let’s just take a break.” He says it good-naturedly, with a smile on his face, and for a moment Jay really believes that he’s being genuine.