Excerpt: Fire and Ink
“I’m in love with him,” David Stanton announced, “and he’s not happy,” and finished off half his beer.
His younger brother’s matching pint paused mid-air. “We are talking about Colin, right, because—”
“Oh, good, because this would’ve been a much angrier conversation otherwise. I like Colin.” Brian set the glass down and frowned at him. So did his half-pastrami and onion rings. They collectively disapproved of his shortcomings. The entire sandwich shop, bright under green awnings and frequented by just about everyone in the neighborhood, leaned in sunny yellow walls and home-brewed craft beer to eavesdrop.
“I know,” David said to them all, and put his own poor underappreciated pint on the table and put his elbows on the table and put his face in his hands. “I know.” He got the irony, too. Of the two of them, Brian’d been the dramatic one: the wilder childhood, the rashness, the forays into hexweed and—once or twice—worse drugs, while David had steadily bailed him out, helped get him through school, and concurrently run the white witch and neighborhood healer’s shop. They’d grown up and switched places very recently, somehow, three months recently in fact.
This judgment was unfair. He knew it was. Brian these days put minor empathic skills to use as a counselor, primarily for troubled new-to-magic teens, and had his own apartment and a healthy amount of admiration from various social workers and civil authorities. That recklessness lay in the past. David’s own recklessness, apparently, had only been biding its time.
Brian was a counselor, he thought. Good. His little brother could damn well counsel.
And had excellent, if annoying, instincts. “Why do you think he’s not happy? We’re going to come back to the whole love part. You. You being head over heels in love. I mean, wow. But anyway Colin first.”
“Colin first.” David emerged from behind his hands. Didn’t even bother poking back after the teasing. He wasn’t romantic. He knew that, too. “Of course he comes first. I don’t know what to do.”
Three months ago David had brought home an actual therianthrope. A proper shapeshifter, brimming over with innate natural magic. Incredibly rare. Exceptional. Only maybe thirty in the world. Astonishing even for a witch, especially so for an unremarkable local witch.
He’d thought he was rescuing a lost kitten in the rain. He’d found Colin Rue, pretty-eyed and mischievous and wounded and stunningly, dazzlingly kind.
He’d known who Colin was, at least once his new kitten’d decided to trust him and transformed into a human-shaped vision of enticing, long-legged winsomeness. He’d heard a few of those rumors. Fireflower drops, parties, decadent kept-kitten nights, a pet of wealthy and charming and seductive sorcerers and warlocks and enchantresses. Bartering those magical reserves, that natural power-source, for sex and luxury and lavish living.
He’d never expected Colin Rue to be scared, brave, and generous under much-practiced flippancy.
Even if he had he’d not’ve expected Colin to want to stay with him. Not with anyone. Not after—
David gritted teeth and held back fireball-related urges every time he thought of it. Even now.
He stared at his sandwich. Surreptitiously drew a tiny inkless sketch on his napkin: not fire but a scorch-mark. It made him feel marginally better and then worse because normally he prided himself on having control.
Good older brother. Local witch. Advice dispenser. Nice person. Reliable.
He drew another tiny scorch-mark beside the first. His magic lay in his hands. In his art.
Colin liked his hands. Said so, at least. Liked those hands on him, stroking him, overwhelming him with glorious sensation. David liked this as well: he could give Colin that. Could make him feel good. Safe. Cherished. Often swept away by ecstasy. But mostly simply anchored and adored.
After escaping from the warlock who’d kept him in a binding collar for eight months, during which Colin had been forced into obedience, into bed, into giving up his magic and his body—even after that, on first meeting, his kitten had looked at him and very gently cured David’s headache without being asked. Had offered to run, taking himself and his enemy out of David’s life. Had told him that he, David Stanton, was a good man.
Colin Rue on his own—not anyone’s forcibly collared or carelessly kept pet—liked books, and reading, and sushi. Colin kissed him with a sort of shy delight in the mornings, like someone who’d done a lot of kissing but had never known what a kiss could mean before David’s lips.
David hadn’t known either. All new. Shining like rainbows when he’d been living colorblind.
“Where is Colin, anyway?” Brian raised eyebrows at him. “Did you invite him to lunch?”
“He’s out doing… cat things. Shapeshifter things. I don’t know exactly.” Admitting this hurt. “Making rounds of the neighborhood. Talking to the local familiars. He said he’d be back this afternoon.” This hurt more: Colin hadn’t wanted to spend time with him.
“The familiars? Is that safe?”
“He says it is.” Animal familiars were generally not the brightest, but they were ferociously devoted to the witch or wizard who’d infused them with magic and awareness. Given this, David had been skeptical; Colin had only smiled, feline and secretive, and bitten his ear.
Over the last three months they’d not been exactly keeping Colin’s presence a secret, but they hadn’t been advertising either. Colin wasn’t a fugitive, but would be a scandal, a story, a subject of rumor and desire, and had that warlock’s resentment hovering in the background. They’d discussed plans, nestled naked together in bed.
It’d been unlikely that any cheerfully nosy neighbors would connect his slim quiet partner with the heedless and hedonistic explosively powerful shapeshifter who’d vanished from the supernatural party scene over a year ago. Unlikely, but not impossible, given well-meaning chatter. They had alerts, both magical and not, set up for mentions of a feline therianthrope; no one’d said anything so far.
Colin did use his own name—though he avoided drawing attention to it—for ease of remembering to answer, and he didn’t transform in front of anyone other than David, and Brian once or twice, though Brian would remove his own tongue before spilling a confidence left in his keeping. Most of David’s clients knew either the witch’s assistant-slash-boyfriend who helped to mix magical ink with barely-hidden fascination or the fluffy brown tabby kitten with striking silver-streaked eyes that liked to sit with sick children and purr.