164 DAYS BEFORE
Sweat runs down his face and stings his eyes.
“One more time,” Luca says. “Go again.”
There’s a mental block in his mind—so big that it feels like a physical thing—and Jay is trying so hard to push past it and break through. Luca tells him that blocks like there are like walls: even if they crumble, there will still be bricks and dust that get in the way after he’s broken through. Right now Jay feels like he’s using a hammer to try to bring down the walls of Jericho.
Magic is all about mental will-power. Jay learned that in school, from textbooks. He always laughed, because it feels like it’s so much more than that. Humans never understood the physical toll that magic took on the body—the aches and pains of casting a new spell for the first time, the soreness in the muscles after changing back and forth from familiar to human multiple times.
He couldn’t control his familiar form well when he was younger. Any burst of emotion would have him changing back and forth from human to animal—a new animal every time, in fact, since it was before his body finally settled on the Dutch shepherd. If he was happy, suddenly he was a sparrow. If he was sad, a bear. Angry, a lion. And so on.
Trying to control something he’s repressed for so long, or even just trying to dig it up in the first place, is torture. He can barely remember what it felt like to be in his familiar form. It’s a miracle that he even remembers what form he took. He hasn’t done this in so long.
“C’mon,” Luca urges him. “C’mon, Jay, you got this.”
This is his third session with Luca, trying to get to change into his familiar form. He wasn’t even close to successful the last two times, and by now he feels like he’s getting worse at it rather than improving. Shouldn’t he have been successful by now?
He growls in frustration as he gives up and collapses to the ground. Luca catches him before he can hit the floor.
He feels weak and incompetent. Tearing himself from Luca’s grasp, he lets out a frustrated sound as he paces the room restlessly.
“You gotta be patient, Jay,” Luca says gently. “You can’t just expect to be a pro at this right away.”
“But it’s not right away,” he growls. “It’s been three sessions and I’m not even close to getting over this fucking mental block or whatever. I’m just as far as I’ve ever been.”
“It takes time,” Luca says.
“Bullshit!” he snaps, and then sighs. “Sorry. I’m sorry. Let’s just—let’s go again.”
“No,” Luca says carefully. “I think we’re done for the day.”
“We’re done,” Luca cuts him off. “You’re too wound up to make any progress right now. We’re only going to do this if you’re going to be in the right headspace, okay?”
Jay grits his teeth. “Fine,” he grumbles.
He knows Luca is right, but that doesn’t make him happy about it. Luca is usually right. He’s like an old man in the body of a twentysomething—most of his clothes consist of button-down shirts and khaki pants, he’s no-nonsense and right all the fucking time, which pisses Jay the fuck off.
He starts up on his way to his room.
“You’re gonna get it, Jay,” Luca says from the staircase.
Jay looks up at him, standing in front of his door, unsure how to respond. He settles for “Yeah?” and feels as his face starts to flush a little.
“Yeah,” Luca confirms. He smiles a little bit and resumes climbing up the stairs. “G’night, Jay.”
“Night, Luca,” Jay says back, voice catching just a little in his throat.
It’s a long night. His muscles are protesting every twist and turn he makes in bed, overworked from trying so hard to change into his familiar form this afternoon. He finally gets to sleep around three in the morning, five hours after he had settled down to sleep.
But when Jay wakes up, Luca isn’t there.
He goes down for breakfast and assumes Luca is on his morning run. Jay’s woken up a little later than usual, but he doesn’t see Luca in the kitchen eating breakfast, so he goes to cupboard and picks out what he wants to eat.
As he’s settling into his seat, he sees it: there’s a note on the counter.
Sorry for leaving so suddenly. Below is my cell phone number if you need me.
Try only to call if it’s an emergency. I’ll be back in three days. Keep practicing on changing into your familiar form. I’ll know if you lie to me.
Below that, Luca has scrawled his number. The note is obviously an afterthought to tie up loose ends. A sick feeling settles in Jay’s stomach, and Jay knows that it’s going to be there for quite a while.
Okay. This is fine. This is good. Disregarding the semi-creepy note left on the table (who the fuck says “I’ll know if you lie to me” like that? What the fuck?), Jay is alone. He can do whatever he wants.
Part of him wants to snoop around—old habits die hard. Whenever Jay was taken places after his father died, he always checked the place out first, and if he found something suspicious, he would bolt. It was difficult to tell whether the person he just met inviting him over after a night at the bar actually wanted him to stay over, or if they had ulterior motives. It’s some of the only times that he appreciated when someone was just trying to get into his pants.
The first day Luca is gone, Jay tries to make himself useful. He cleans around the house a little, washes the dishes and such. He goes on walks every day, even if it’s only around the block. Suddenly he doesn’t feel safe in Luca’s absence. He doesn’t want to go any farther than his neighborhood. He doesn’t even go near the subway.
He makes dinner for himself that night and then decides to call it an early night and go to bed. He finally falls asleep after three hours of tossing and turning.
The second day is spent much like the same, with the added addition of Jay rifling through Luca’s movie collection and deciding to watch the entire Back to the Future trilogy. He orders take-out instead of making dinner for himself and falls asleep on the couch with a carton of fried rice in his lap.
The third day is spent mostly in anticipation. He cleans up the mess he made on the couch with his dinner last night, vacuums up all the dried rice grains from the carpet and tries like hell to get the soy sauce stain out of the couch. Eventually he just flips the cushion and hopes like hell that Luca won’t find out.
Luca doesn’t get home that night.
Luca’s been gone for a week, and Jay’s starting to panic.
He’s too restless to sleep for long. He tried calling Luca’s phone three times, and it went to voicemail each time. He just hung up without leaving a message. He paces the floor but doesn’t leave the house.
He tries the phone one more time, and again it rings with no answer. This time, however, he decides to leave a message.
“Luca, you fucking asshole,” he growls into the receiver. “Either pick up your fucking phone or get your ass home.” End message.
The worst part is that Jay isn’t even really mad. He’s just worried out of his fucking mind.
Part of him wonders why he’s so worried. The first answer that he comes up with is that he cares about Luca, which—that’s not good, a) because Luca is probably Doing Illegal Things with his “job” and b) because Jay works really fucking hard on not getting attached to people, in case he has to up and leave, so he ignores that possibility. Instead he settles on the idea that if Luca’s dead, then he has to find a new place to live, which is upsetting, because he has an actual bed here.
On the seventh day after Luca’s departure, Jay’s watching some bullshit show on TV. It’s two in the morning and he can’t sleep. His eyes want to close, but his mind won’t shut up long enough for him to actually drift off. Just when he’s about to rifle through Luca’s cabinet to see if he has some sort of concoction to help him sleep—he knows potions are Luca’s specialty—he hears the front door open and close quietly.
Jay freezes, his hands still in the cabinet. He slowly lowers his hands and pads over to the front hallway, trying his hardest to be quiet in case it’s not Luca.
He lays his eyes on a large silhouette standing in the door, duffel bag in hand. Jay breathes a huge sigh of relief.
“Luca?” he asks, approaching slowly.
“Jay.” Just then, Luca steps forward from the dark of the hallway and into the light of the living room.
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Jay blurts.
Luca’s face looks fucking awful. Both of his eyes are blackened, there are cuts on his cheekbones and chin.
“Thanks,” Luca says dryly, but it’s obvious that even speaking hurts.
Jay stares for a few seconds before saying, “We need to get you to a hospital.” He turns to find the keys to the car.
“No hospitals,” Luca says. Jay can hear him limping inside behind him.
Luca grabs Jay’s shoulder and roughly turns him around. “No,” he growls. “No hospitals.”
Jay swallows the lump in his throat. Luca is fucking terrifying when he needs to be. “Okay,” he agrees. “No hospitals.”
Luca looks over his face for a second. “There’s a first-aid kit in the farthest-right cabinet.”
“Okay,” Jay says again. Luca makes his way over to the couch while Jay stands in place for a second before snapping out of his stupor and making his way to the kitchen to find the first-aid kit that Luca was talking about.
He opens it up and sees that there’s an assortment of healing potions and salves. All the remedies look homemade, in glass bottles labelled with tape and corked with rubber stoppers. He carries the box with him to the couch.
Luca sits up when Jay approaches, and Jay kneels in front of him and sets the kit on the large leather chest in front of the couch.
“I’ll do it,” Jay says before Luca can take the kit away from him. Luca raises an eyebrow (with difficulty) at him.
Jay’s not even sure where that came from, but he reasons, “I can see your face better than you can, pal.”
Luca shrugs. “Fair enough. I’ve got road rash on my arm and back, too.”
“Christ,” Jay curses, opening the bottle labelled ‘BRUISES.’ He grabs a cotton ball and gets some of the potion on it. It smells sweet, like flowers. “How’d this happen?”
Luca just chuckles darkly. “Perks of the job,” he says.
Jay wants to vomit. “Close your eyes,” he says instead.
Luca does as Jay tells him. He closes his eyes, and Jay dabs some of the potion on Luca’s face. Wherever he touches Luca’s face with the potion suddenly heals. The bruises heal in seconds, changing from a sickly black-purple to brown, to yellow, to Luca’s normal skin color.
Whatever this shit is, it’s high-quality. Luca really is a pro at this kind of stuff.
Once Jay’s finished with the bruises on Luca’s eyes, he moves on to the ones on his chin. Then he picks up the bottle labelled ‘CUTS & SCRAPES’ and gets to work on the numerous small cuts on Luca’s face, spreading the salve with his finger and watching as the scrapes heal and disappear before his eyes.
All of Luca’s potions are aromatic, unlike the stuff that people buy at the store all the time. Jay wonders if Luca adds some sort of perfume to it, or if it’s just Luca’s touch that makes them smell this way.
He tilts his chin up and looks Luca in the eye and says, “Take your shirt off.”
Luca raises an eyebrow. “Usually I take a little more romancing.”
Jay scoffs but deep inside he’s panicking like a bitch, internally screaming, all that jazz. It just figures that he would start feeling things for Luca. It just fucking figures.
“I’ll take you out to dinner afterwards,” he says dryly.
Luca smiles and takes his shirt off, and Jay wants to throw himself out a fucking window because what the fuck, why did he volunteer for this, he’s such a fucking idiot. Jay figured that Luca was ripped, but the old-man clothes that the guy wears on a daily basis really don’t do him justice.
But, besides that. The road rash covers almost his entire arm, from shoulder to mid-forearm. Then it stretches to his side over his ribcage, and part of his back. The sight of it makes Jay hiss in sympathy. How did Luca tolerate putting a shirt on over that?
“Jesus,” Jay says. He doesn’t want to see it, but he can’t tear his eyes away.
“You gonna do something, or you wanna just keep looking?” Luca says. Jay can hear the smirk in his voice.
“Sorry,” Jay says, snapping out of his trance. He reaches into the first aid kit, rooting around for the bottle he needs. He sees the bottle marked ‘BURNS’ and figures that it stretches as far as friction burns, and opens it. It’s another salve, and Jay spreads some onto his fingers.
“I’m not sure I’m going to have enough,” Jay says.
Luca nods. “I’ll make more tomorrow, just—get what you can for right now.”
Jay touches the road rash with the salve and Luca’s face pinches up a little in pain, his blue eyes clouded and a wrinkle forming between his brows. He wants to kiss that line away, wants to soothe the pain. He’s so close to Luca’s face right now, he could just lean forward and—
Jay clears his throat in a way that’s totally not awkward and doesn’t obviously give away his thoughts.
Jay gets most of the road rash. Where he touches Luca skin, relief passes over his face until he’s nearly slack with it. He doesn’t have enough of the salve to reach the abrasions near his lower back, but Jay figures he should draw the line somewhere.
He notices that there are bruises and smaller cuts on Luca’s back, and grabs the bottles to take care of them, but Luca grabs his hand before he can open the bottles back up again.
“Take a break,” Luca says, a small smile on his face. “You’re about to pass out. You should go to bed.”
Jay sighs and nods, and Luca releases his wrist. He sets the bottles into the little case that he had gotten them from and starts making his way up the stairs. Now that Luca’s mentioned it, he really is tired. He stifles a yawn and starts making his way up the stairs.
“Hey,” Luca calls from the living room.
Jay pauses on the staircase. “Yeah?” he calls back.
“Did you stay up for me?” he asks.
Yes. “Don’t flatter yourself, Daniels,” Jay deadpans.
He is tired, yes, but he decides the best course of action is to take a long, hot shower to massage the soreness out of his back from leaning forward for so long, and to get the dried blood off his hands.
The bathroom is connected to his own room, which is something very exciting to him. He starts the water and intermittently checks the temperature, shedding his clothes and stepping in the tub when the water is warm enough.
Jay sighs as he lets the spray wash over his shoulders. Even though he’s been here for weeks, he isn’t used to having a shower to himself. God, it’s been so long since he’s had a hot shower for himself—the one at his old apartment didn’t have any hot water, and before that he had to shower at a gym near the place where he was staying. This place—this is fucking phenomenal. Endless hot water. Wonderful water pressure. Jesus fucking Christ.
He just stands there, in the spray, for a long time. When he starts to wash his hair, he realizes that it’s gotten a little long—he’ll have to cut it soon. Shutting his eyes tightly, he washes the shampoo out of his hair and sighs.
He grabs the bar of soap that he stole from the hotel and runs it under the water for a second.
Spreading the soap over his stomach, he runs his hands over the numerous scars and bumps, the little moles and imperfections that make him think back to the cuts and scrapes on Luca’s own chest and back.
Luca’s body. Probably not the best thing to be thinking about in a hot shower.
He licks his lips and turns the water off, shoving the shower curtain back and stepping out.