Casper took a deep drink, mulling Cain’s question on his tongue. What did he want to know? Another drink. It had to be stupid nice, but he couldn’t taste a thing. “How?”
“Born with it,” Cain said, “or as close to that sort of random chance that no one I’ve met can figure a difference. Not even me. It’s a few and far between gift, be it a trickle or a flood. There are two variations, each draw from two planes that lie … like a skin against our world. Veil and Void. I draw on the Veil.”
Planes. Magic. Shit. Casper’s mind raced trying to find a hole, but he’d seen it. That mammoth flood of black fog that had wiped out the sky.
Despite himself, Casper kept probing. “Is that why you’re so cold?”
Cain’s jaw tightened, eyes shuffling off to glower at the other side of the room, and he took a long drink. “No … the Veil does manifest as cold, but I’m … like this because of … something I have to do to myself. Every time. Ell—I mean the—” Cain broke off with a sigh. “This cycle of rebirth, it’s a curse, and every aspect was meticulously designed for cruelty. She—Well, it would be commendable if I was in a commending mood.”
Well was the biggest bit of shrouded implication that Casper had gleaned from him. Not just this she, but the curse and the implication of purpose behind it, and whatever had Cain looking sick in his own skin.
That part he hid the best, but Casper knew the look. The taut muscles and the way his limbs shifted to hold subtly apart from themselves. The hand rubbed down the leg he had out straight like touching a memory, and a compulsive turn of his hand, clearly familiar if only for how awkward it looked twisting his thumb to run along the far side of his ring finger.
Holding the glass steady between his cuffed hands, Casper slipped out of his crouch to sit cross-legged on the floor. Closer to Cain, one knee dropped just an inch away from Cain’s outstretched leg. Cain’s eyes flickered down as Casper settled, a moment of tight, indrawn breath before Casper stopped just short of touching him.
Warmth seeped through his jeans from the floorboards, and heat baked out of the slate tiles against his other knee. Casper held Cain’s eyes as he sipped the whiskey, and like Casper puppeteered his limbs, Cain mirrored it and took another long drink himself. Almost all of his glass was gone now.
“How does it work? What sort of things can it do?”
“Mm…” Cain swirled the dregs of whiskey around the glass and sipped at them, his head tilted as he studied Casper’s face. Dazzled eyes, not the dull calculation that must be in Casper’s. How much did this blind him? “I suppose you don’t want the academic version.”
Of course there was an academic version. Casper let himself smile, just a small one that twitched at his lips, and mimicked the tilt of Cain’s head. “The short academic version.”
Cain’s eyebrows pulled together a moment before a bright smile spread across his lips. “Very well. The short version then … let’s see…”
The firelight turned the drift of his hair lambent as he tipped his head back. Absently, he drained the last of his drink and with a dance of his fingers through the hot, dry air, the decanter lifted itself and tipped out another glass. Casper’s heart began to pound, a thrill shivering through his veins.
Real magic, and not just the siren spell of his voice as he began to speak, slow and low and the timbre was like the resonant frequency to that molten purr of his voice. It was all very … wordsy. Scientific. Most of it slid right over Casper’s head – entropy and physics and energy manipulation – but the sound of Cain’s voice, it lulled him, and Casper watched him talk hypnotised, parted lips and big wide eyes as he ate up the words.
Right until Cain jolted up out of the lounge he’d eased into. “Oh cock—”
Casper’s heart slammed against his ribs. Fucking made him jump. That cunt had reeled him in so well, got Casper leant in over his crossed legs with big fuck me master eyes. Built right into him, wasn’t it, offering himself up on a fucking plate. Second nature. Dusty shit and Cain’s fucking voice made it sound like poetry anyway. The smile edging around Cain’s sheepish grimace looked way too knowing as his eyes traced over Casper’s face. A faint pinkish flush drifted across his cheekbones.
Nausea lurched through Casper’s gut and he tipped the rest of his whiskey down his throat. He groped for a grounding in the polished wood floor hard and warm beneath his ass.
“What?” Casper croaked.
Cain blinked, once, twice , gaze swimming as if he hadn’t quite heard. “Oh. No, I just—I left those bloody cuffs on you, didn’t I?” For fuck’s sake. “I’m sorry, Cas. Here—”
The whiskey tumbler drifted off on a flick of his fingers and he passed his hand above Casper’s wrists, so close the bloom of cold felt like a second skin trapped between theirs. Then the flare faded and disappeared, and Casper snatched his hands away. Seemed like the motion snatched the smile from Cain’s lips as well.
“Sorry, Cas,” Cain said, his voice low and a little maudlin. “That was an awful thing to forget, I’m sorry.”
Why did he have to sound so fucking genuine? Maybe he was. All of this, it was all real to him if he was that deep in the crazy. Casper was his reborn lover, and apparently in this narrative, they were both targets of a curse to keep this happening. A curse set by she. Must be easy to believe when you were literally a fucking wizard. Or sorcerer, if it was sorcery. Probably only because it sounded better. Whatever.
But how much did he believe it? More importantly, how desperately did he want it to be true?
Casper whet his lips and held his empty glass out to Cain. Warmth spread through his fingertips now, tingling across the bridge of his nose, but it wouldn’t touch him too much. Not yet. He’d almost been able to keep up with Jack drinking, at the beginning of the night at least, and Jack could outdrink everyone they both knew, but Cain – he fumbled the glass he took off Casper and snorted at himself as he did it. The smile had already returned to his lips and it had that same endearing lopsided tilt it’d had in the bar that Casper hadn’t seen since.
Shame it just made his stomach turn. But he couldn’t make himself leave, not when Cain was being so loose-tongued about this fucking magic.
“What was the … the—” Casper scratched his nails against his jeans, searching for words— “the black fog?”
“Hm? Black—Oh, no, that’s the same.” He flicked Casper’s glass through the air to him and a shiver of cold ran down Casper’s wrist as he caught it. “Manipulation of raw energy. I mean like I said, most sorcerers can’t conjure up more than those cuffs so it was a bit of an overkill but I really didn’t want to chase you around the whole bloody grounds with my head hurting this much.”
“But it was—”
“Black, yes. Pull enough raw energy and you start to partially manifest the Veil or Void in this plane. It isn’t actually black in the Veil though. Awful place actually. Very purgatory. The landscape mimics our own – as I said, like a skin on top of our world – but there’s nothing, just miles and miles of this off-white grit. Stinks too.” Cain wrinkled his nose and took a sip of his whiskey. “Like rotting corpses. I’ve gone completely off topic, haven’t I?”
If Casper assumed consistency right now, assumed Cain knew as much about this as he talked like he knew – because really, Casper had nothing else to go off – then he assumed the average was most people can’t do much more than those cuffs around your wrists. If that were the case, that mammoth display… Shit. A shiver ran down Casper’s spine and he pulled his knees up to his chest. What the fuck had he gotten himself into?
“Cas, are you alright?”
Shaking. Alright, he’d started shaking again. This was crazy. So Cain wasn’t just a sorcerer, he was like the fucking Master Sorcerer, capital letters and all. The whisky sloshed around in Casper’s glass as he lifted it to his lips, and a splash trickled over the corner of his mouth and down to seep along his jaw, cold.
A shift, rustle of fabric beside him. “Cas?”
How did someone like that still sit here beside him with that much concern tight across his brow? As if he was a real person and not a god.
Casper cleared the thickness out of his throat and whet his lips. “You’re—”
And he couldn’t make himself get any further. Cain sighed and his shift turned to a full-body movement closer to Casper, then he leant over on his side so he got closer still, hand planted on the floor beside Casper’s hip and his tilted head still almost level with Casper’s no matter how much he slouched in that lean. No cold radiated from his skin, but the heat – the realness – of a person was missing, and yet there was still a presence about him. A pressure.
Cain lifted his hand and Casper knew the slowness with which he moved it toward Casper’s jaw was giving him time to pull away. No matter that Cain could make him do anything he wanted, he still gave him that pretence, that breath of a chance.
Trembling, Cain’s fingers brushed away the whiskey spilt from the corner of his mouth, a wet smear across his skin, and … lingered – warm like summer, like meat just beginning to cook.
Like the flush of warmth in your stomach from a man who’d once given you butterflies when you thought everything inside you that could feel something had died under someone else’s hands.
A tight, wet whimper choked up Casper’s throat and he pressed his hand to his mouth. It wasn’t fair. Didn’t he deserve something good? He’d even let himself try. He’d opened up the soft bit and Cain had held it so tenderly that he’d thought maybe – fucking maybe – things could get better. Then he fucked it up himself anyway for Jack and it looked like this was all he deserved anyway. A fucking psycho, and worse, a psycho who he’d … he’d really, really liked him. Maybe a little scratch of himself had already started falling for him.
Cain murmured his name like a prayer. His fingers trailed over his throat, little electric sparks dancing in their wake, and his hand slipped around the back of Casper’s neck to play with the wisps of hair. Another whimper died muffled behind his hand. It felt so nice. How could Cain touch him without feeling sick?
“I’m sorry.” Cain’s murmur was cotton-soft. “Is that too much? I didn’t want to scare you with this.”
Casper shook his head. Croaking, his voice came muffled behind his hand. “It’s like magic.”
Soft laughter, a sound he felt in Cain’s breath light against his cheek. He’d gotten so close. When had he gotten so close? “It is, isn’t it? I felt like that when I found out I could do it. All I could think was what else is real? Are there vampires and ghosts and kelpies and demons?”
The words hit too close. Far, far too close to what he would have lain in bed tonight dreaming about. Casper’s voice cracked as he asked, “Are there?”
“None that I’ve found evidence of, but maybe … maybe in another world… There are creatures, though, in the other planes. Monsters of all kinds. It’s wonderful, even if most of them want to eat you.”
Monsters. Casper pulled his knees tighter to his chest and glanced up at Cain. The look on his face almost made him burst out crying, a loud gasp of it around this lump building in his throat. The wonder in his eyes, pink flush high in his cheeks now and a smile so wide it must ache, all with the firelight setting everything alight in its soft, flickering glow.
Smitten. That’s how he looked. About time to call that what it was. He looked utterly smitten, and it was only because his twisted mind thought Casper was someone else.
He was so close his breath fluttered across Casper’s lips, quick and shallow and sharp with whiskey, and Casper couldn’t see all his face at once. Just the wide, dancing eyes or the breathless smile or the sharp, strong line of his jaw or the glossy waves of his hair.
Casper kept coming back to his lips though, a tug through his chest whenever he looked away that centred on them with a low, keen ache. Soft, pink lips parted around white teeth and his shaky breaths. Nothing like the chapped things Casper had, but somehow Cain kept looking at his lips anyway.
Like he wanted to kiss his lover from lifetimes ago.