Sygny let himself into the apartment, thankful that the lights seemed to be off, and the computer system idling. His father had been there when he had left earlier, but he seemed to be gone now. Sygny knew that this only delayed the inevitable, but for the time being he was happy that he would have some peace. He shut his bedroom door behind him and kicked off his shoes before flopping down onto the bed.
You’re an idiot, he thought to himself, imagining the look on Arno’s face over and over again. He had tried to be flirtatious, but he had just ended up making him uncomfortable. He couldn’t help but imagine Arno having a tail, as he was sure he did now, and the appendage wrapping around him in bed. However, he was concerned that Arno wasn’t even interested in him in the first place, despite his roommates’ assurances that he was Arno’s type. He supposed that this is what he got for forcing a guy to go on a date with him. He hadn’t even asked if Arno wanted to go out again, but he figured that it probably wasn’t the case. Sygny took out his phone and almost texted him to tell him that he had a good time, but he stopped himself at the last moment. Don’t be clingy, he admonished himself. He hoped that, regardless, they could at least be friends.
When he woke his first thought was that he had fallen asleep on top of his blankets, fully clothed. His arm where his sleeve was shorter was cold in the temperature controlled apartment, and he blinked slowly, wondering what had woken him up. It was Sunday, and he had no responsibilities.
Then he heard it, a clattering of pots and pans in the kitchen as if a whole stack of them had been thrown to the floor. The noise came again, clearly deliberate at this point. Sygny scrambled around for his phone on the bed, finding it under a pillow and looking at the time. It was six thirty in the morning; just late enough that there was some sunlight coming through his windows. An even larger crash came, startling him physically out of bed.
Pushing his hair, which was sticking up in all directions, out of his eyes, Sygny opened his bedroom door slowly and peered around the door jamb. He couldn’t see the kitchen, the likely source of the sound, from the hallway, so he crept out. His father, a huge man with brunet hair a few shades darker than his son’s and small black horns in a crown shape over his skull, was glaring at him with gray eyes that matched his own. Except for his small stature and lack of demonic features, he mostly looked like his father.
“It’s quite rude when someone wakes you up with loud noises,” his father said, grinning to reveal brilliant white teeth. His hand snatched another metal pot from the counter and knocked it to the floor.
Sygny stepped back without realizing it, pressing himself against the wall that led to the hallway. “I apologize,” he said, remaining formal and trying to keep his voice from shaking.
“Get your shit together,” he said. “You will do credit to me if you want to live here. No running off with greasy bikers and disturbing the whole neighborhood when they drop you off late at night.” He stepped out from behind the counter, stalking towards Sygny. Though his fingers shook he still managed to erect a magical barrier about six inches in front of his face, hoping his father wouldn’t get close enough to realize what he had done. It made him feel safer, protecting him from the memories of times when he had first come to live with his father six years ago and couldn’t yet produce a solid shield to keep the man out of his face.
“Useless. Whatever money he paid you for sex, I want it. Give it to me, or I’ll set the computer not to let you out except for school.” He held his hand out, and Sygny shook his head vigorously. “Don’t lie to me.”
“He’s just a friend,” Sygny managed. Though it wasn’t necessarily true, as Sygny certainly wanted Arno as more than a friend, one date where they didn’t even kiss didn’t a relationship make.
“Hmph,” came the growling response, his father peering at him to evaluate the truth of his words. Sygny did his best to meet his eyes, before dropping them, as one would before a predator. “What happened to that nice boy you were seeing, Kareem?” he asked.
Sygny didn’t know how to reply. His father had liked Kareem for his family connections and money, approving of his relationship. He had been taken on expensive dates and vacations, but the second he displeased him Sygny had been given the cold shoulder, and Kareem had found another in a string of boys to cheat on him with that looked eerily similar to him. He would never have had a problem with a polyamorous relationship, but that wasn’t what Kareem had wanted; he just tried to teach Sygny the lesson that he could be replaced if Kareem so desired. When Sygny had tried to leave for good, Kareem had tried to get violent, forgetting that the mage could keep him from making contact. He was done with assholes like that for good.
Silence seemed to be answer enough, and his father walked away, slamming the door of his office. Sygny held still and counted to thirty, but his father stayed away. Unfrozen, he took a deep breath, shaking out his arms and dissipating the barrier in front of him. After grabbing his school bag from his bedroom and left the house before his father decided to lock him in, heading toward the library.
The keys on his laptop clicked in the otherwise silent room. There were other people there, reading books on tablets or wearing headphones, but no one else seemed to be doing homework on a Sunday. One might think that libraries would have died with the advent of technology like holoscreens. It was true that there weren’t as many paper books, but people still liked reading, and there were more people writing than ever before. It didn’t hurt that there was internet for everyone, free of charge. Sygny liked the library, it was always quiet, and he never expected his father to go there.
Even so, he couldn’t stop thinking about his father. Each time he had to read something particularly boring from one of Tomas’ textbooks his mind would wander. He knew that he was lucky; his father didn’t hit him, and couldn’t really, even if he tried, but he still shuddered each time the verbal onslaught came for him. It sucked to be told you were a piece of crap over and over until you almost believed it yourself. All his father cared about was his image, his money, and, if Sygny was going to bother him by living there, what he could do for him.
He missed his mother, the sweet, caring woman who had raised him. She had died of cancer only a few months into his education, forcing him to live with the father he had never met. He wasn’t sure what his mother had ever seen in his father, the part-demon acted like he would have crushed her if it wasn’t for her power to tell him the future sometimes.
Sygny tried to shake himself out of the past. He pulled out his phone to check the time, seeing that only a few hours had passed. He didn’t want to go back to his father’s apartment anytime soon. No one had contacted him over the weekend; he didn’t really have any friends from school except Jaide, and they were on a trip to another territory to study with a water mage. Being in Davnihar’s territory all the time made them feel like they were dehydrating, even with the humidity. He missed his friend though; anyone else he had hung out with had been pushed away by Kareem. They weren’t mean to him or anything, but they didn’t come back to him now that he was single, either.
He once again considered texting Arno, but was still worried that he was mad at him. What kind of asshole forced someone to go on a date with them? And he had been gracious about it as well, just like Lacuna had said he would. In the end, he decided to text Arno’s roommates, figuring he could be friends with them even if Arno was annoyed with him. He shot off a quick message but did not receive a reply immediately. It was only ten in the morning, so he figured it wasn’t impossible that Lacuna and Tali were still asleep.
After another twenty minutes of trying, he realized he wasn’t going to get any more work done. He stuck his computer in his bag and pushed the chair back from the table, deciding to take a walk; anywhere was more appealing than sitting in the library for the rest of the day.
The air was close and humid, immediately causing him to sweat. The library was pretty far from the demon lair, but even with just a sporadic few puddles of lava bubbling up through the sidewalk the temperature hadn't dropped. Sygny put in headphones and listened to music as he walked, wandering aimlessly around. He found himself sitting in some shade outside of a coffee shop. He was hungry but still didn’t have any cash. A park was his next stop, and he threw a shield over himself before taking a nap under a tree. Certainly, he hadn’t gotten enough sleep that morning.
When he awoke there was a notification blinking on his phone, Lacuna and Tali inviting him over for an, as Lacuna put it, “crappy movie marathon.” He quickly replied in the affirmative, stretching as he got up and cracked his back. Maybe sleeping under a tree wasn’t such a good idea.
Arno wasn’t there when he arrived at the warehouse, and Tali explained that he was working out down in the basement. Despite the description he had received of the planned activities, she quickly launched into a description of the first movie’s plot and told him it was one of her favorites.
“Crappy movie marathon, like I said,” Lacuna interrupted towards the end, rolling her eyes. Regardless, she seemed amicable enough as she got the popcorn ready. “Do you want cinnamon sugar, cheese, or spicy?” she asked.
“Spicy!” Sygny said, grabbing a spot on the couch. Tali turned down the lights as Lacuna prepared two bowls, a spicy one for herself and Sygny to share and a cinnamon sugar one for Tali.
“Ugh, I don’t know how you eat this stuff,” she said as she handed Tali her bowl. The spiked girl shrugged, immediately popping some into her mouth.
They had paused the movie for a bathroom break when the door to the basement opened, and a shirtless and sweaty Arno appeared, chugging water from a huge container. Sygny stared at his defined muscles, not realizing he had turned completely around on the couch to take in the view. “Hey,” he said after a moment, catching Arno’s attention.
The other man looked at him with a raised eyebrow, putting down his water. He took a look at the screen before asking, “Are you enjoying that?”
Sygny looked around to make sure that Tali wasn’t lurking in the hallway before replying. “Not really, I’m not sure what she sees in this stuff.” Arno laughed.
“When it’s over I’m sure you won’t want to suffer through another one. I’ll get cleaned up and then we can go see an actual decent movie?” he said. Sygny stared at him for a moment.
The previous day flashed through his mind, reminding him that he had insulted Arno, to the point where he didn’t even want to bother him by texting. Before he could answer Arno added, “Just as friends, I mean.” Sygny’s heart sank. It made more sense now, but he would take what he could get. Since Jaide was going to be going to be gone for the whole summer he needed someone to hang out with that would keep him out of his father’s apartment. If Arno just wanted to be friends, then he would be friends.
“Sure,” Sygny said, a smile spreading across his face. Arno disappeared down the hallway just as Tali came back from the same direction and Lacuna returned back with more hot pepper for their popcorn. She gave Sygny a sly look but didn’t say anything. He wouldn’t be surprised if she had heard their conversation, but was just glad that she didn’t seem to be holding his escape plans against him. They settled in for the rest of the movie, but Sygny was quick to jump up and follow Arno down into the basement when Tali went into the kitchen for something to drink afterward.
“We can just walk,” Arno said. “It’s not far.” Sygny agreed, and they headed out into the early evening. Their route was indeed short, and Arno bought tickets for them without asking Sygny to contribute.
They took their seats and Sygny whispered to Arno, “Oh good, action. I need to get that crummy drama stuff out of my brain. Every single word someone said was over the top.”
“Tali’s taste in movies is legendary,” Arno agreed in a low voice. They kicked back the reclining seats and settled in for a fully immersive action movie experience. At one point Sygny grabbed the armrest in a combination of terror and exhilaration at a scene, only to realize Arno’s hand was already there. He let go immediately, but made sure not to do that again for the rest of the movie. When the lights came up at the end Sygny ran his fingers through his hair, feeling like he had just run a marathon.
“Wow,” Sygny said, his eyes wide. “Talk about intense.”
“Well, there was none of Lacuna’s spicy popcorn, but I’d say it was a better experience overall,” Arno said. They made their way out of the theater into the dark, walking quickly back to the warehouse.
“I should really get home,” Sygny said, making a pinched face. The afternoon and evening had been greatly preferable to his morning.
“Of course,” Arno agreed. “I’m glad I could—” he cut himself off, staring at the front door.
“What?” Sygny asked, but then he saw what he had thought was a shadow was actually a person, lurking by the door. Arno stepped in front of Sygny, who shook his head. Clearly, Arno had forgotten that Sygny was more than capable of protecting himself. In fact, he thought to check the spells on the building, which did not seem to be activated. Whoever was in front of them didn’t wish his friends ill, at the moment. Sygny couldn’t help but feel like the person had some kind of negative intent, though.
The person pulled off their hood, and Sygny observed a ghostly pale face and hair crowned with black horns. Their eyes looked like black pits, though they might have a color in more light. Overall, including the long cloak they wore, the effect was spooky.
“Joss, you scared me,” Arno said, and Sygny could see his shoulder muscles relax from where he stood behind the big man. Despite this, he wasn’t so quick to discount the newcomer as harmless.
“What is the meaning of this magic?” Joss said, their voice whispery but forceful. They didn’t speak loudly, but Sygny heard every word clearly. He found himself automatically defaulting to neutral pronouns, as the person before them seemed genderless, even after hearing them speak. He didn’t want to offend them by accident with the wrong pronouns, even in his own thoughts.
“Haven’t you heard?” Arno said. “There was a death at the lair. I wanted to have extra protection for Lacuna until everything was sorted out. Without you here we’re more vulnerable.” He began to walk towards the front door.
Joss hissed, their words cutting through the night. “That was nothing.”
“People dying isn’t nothing,” Sygny said, hands on his hips. Arno turned around and made a calming motion with his hands. Joss directed their gaze to the mage, their head moving slowly, but they said nothing.
“Good night Sygny!” Arno said, more cheerful than Sygny had yet heard him, as he unlocked the door. It made goosebumps rise on Sygny’s skin, but it was true that he needed to get home so he could be rested for school the next day.
“Good night,” he replied, resolving to text Arno as soon as he got home to get an explanation.