There was nothing worse than frustration.
If Toby was in a more rational frame of mind, he might have amended that - loss was worse, pain, nearly being killed. But right now the frustration of simply waiting was like a knife in his gut, being twisted in slow, awful increments.
Van couldn’t find him. As soon as Ambrosius had taken Kevin, he had her searching for them using the magic he otherwise hated so much. There was no help for it - when the mundane failed, as it had, magic was all that was left.
It was the refuge Ambrosius had taken as well. She’d tried several times to locate him with spells, but couldn’t. Plain old physical research had taken them to Sunset Point and then the old abandoned lighthouse, but all they found were signs of past habitation: Furniture marks in the dust on the floor, a faint smell of stale smoke, drops of colored candle wax scattered on the floor like confetti.
Ambrosius appeared to be just simply gone. He’d left the island and taken Kevin with him. Van insisted he hadn’t, that the center of his power was here, but if that was true where the hell was he?
Toby had become obsessed and he knew it, but he couldn’t stop himself. He wasn’t sleeping, he wasn’t eating, he was missing work (thankfully, Van had cooked up some bullshit story so Marco wasn’t all over his ass), and he felt like he was going insane. It had gotten so bad that Adam actually started to worry about him. He knew Kevin had gone, but for some reason Adam was under the mistaken impression that Kevin had dumped him for a sugar daddy.
One night he broke down and told him the truth, mainly because he was tired of hearing him badmouthing Kevin. Adam listened to his story with wide eyed disbelief, but at least didn’t interrupt him as he told him the entire thing. When he was done, he put his bottle of beer aside, and said, “So Kevin was abducted by a warlock? Huh. You know, that’s interesting, ‘cause I was looking up some stuff online, and it turns out I’m an elf. I’m related to Legolas. Maybe I can put a call in and we can get the hobbits back together to go look for him.”
Toby glowered at him and got up from the kitchen table, walking away in disgust. “Fuck you.”
Adam cackled, like this was all one big joke. “C’mon Toby, what really happened? You can’t actually believe what you just told me. Do you need some Prozac? ‘Cause I got some -”
Even Adam, still desperately desiring to get into his pants and take Kevin’s place, didn’t attempt to believe him. And why would he? It sounded insane. He’d been living through this madness and it still didn’t seem quite real to him either. Maybe he was already insane. How would he know?
He went back to his room and sat on the edge of his bed, letting his head drop in his hands, too exhausted to dry or even break something. He’d already put his fist through the drywall once, and clumsily covered it by hanging a painting of Van’s over it. He was still embarrassed that he had done that.
He knew he had to accept, on some level, that Kevin was gone. He just didn’t know if he’d ever be ready to do that.
That night, Toby woke up suddenly, sensing he wasn’t alone.
He didn’t move, just opened his eyes and searched the dark for the intruder he knew was there. But there was nothing, just darkness that seemed to breathe around him, and hard rain that was hitting his window like a handful of thrown pebbles.
“Toby, I don’t have a lot of time,” Kevin said, suddenly appearing beside him. He’d barely registered who it was before Kevin grabbed him and kissed him hard.
Toby’s first impulse was to push him away, but he knew the taste of Kevin’s mouth, how he kissed, the feeling of his lips against his, and he knew this was actually him. The warmth of his body pressed against his, and the familiar smell of his skin was enough to make him feel like crying.
He pushed him back to look at him and catch his breath. He touched his face, felt the pulse of his heartbeat in a vein running along the underside of his jaw. “You’re here,” he gasped, looking into Kevin’s hazel eyes. He was dreaming; maybe it felt real, but Toby knew he was dreaming.
Kevin ran his hand through his hair, cupping the back of his neck. “I am, kinda. It’s hard to explain. I guess I’ve been able to do this, at least since I’ve come to the Cove, but I’ve never done it on purpose before.”
Toby was sure he didn’t understand this. He had to be dreaming. “What?”
“It’s like directed dreaming, I guess, only … we don’t have time for this. Toby, you have to stop looking for me. He knows; he’s setting a trap for you.”
“Ambrosius? Where is he? Where are you?”
Kevin shook his head, and Toby was shocked to see unshed tears gathering in his eyes. “Listen to me. If you come after me, he’ll kill you.”
“You’re asking me to give up?” Toby scoffed. “I’m not going to do that.”
“I think he has this idea if you’re out of the picture, I’ll love him.” Kevin drew him towards him, leaned his forehead against his. “Please, Toby, I couldn’t stand it if something happened to you. I love you.”
Toby slid his arms around him, felt the lean muscles of his back, and was once again overwhelmed with the feeling that Kevin was here, now, back in bed with him. If this was a dream, and it had to be, it felt more real than any dream he’d ever felt. “I love you too. That’s why I can’t stop looking for you.”
Tears fell from Kevin’s eyes, and Toby kissed them away, tasting the saline of his tears before Kevin pulled his mouth down to his and kissed him hungrily, his tongue eagerly guiding his into his mouth. Toby had a hundred questions, a thousand, but his body was already responding to him, and he didn’t want to resist him any longer. Kevin wrapped his arms and legs around him as they kissed, rolling over so Toby was on top of him. Toby started kissing his face, his tongue grazing the finest bit of golden stubble on his cheeks, as Kevin sighed, “God, I’ve missed you.”
Toby wanted to tell him how much he missed him, how he thought he was losing his mind, how he and Van had exhausted every option they had, but he didn’t want to talk right now. He kissed his way down Kevin’s throat, his chest, tasting his skin, taking Kevin’s nipple in his mouth and lightly grazing it with his teeth until he heard him moan. He tasted like the sea, like salt.
Kevin pulled him back up and kissed him so hard that for a moment he couldn’t breathe, and then Kevin kissed the corner of his mouth, lips grazing his jaw before he bit his earlobe. “I want to feel you,” he whispered, his breath caressing his skin.
Toby closed his eyes, and wondered why all his dreams couldn’t be this vivid. If they were, he’d never bother getting up. They kissed once more, their tongues feeling like they melting in each other’s mouth, and Kevin rolled them over, kissing his way down his chest, feasting on his flesh. He took him in his mouth, making Toby gasp, the warmth of his mouth and his tongue all too real. He was here somehow; he didn’t know how, but this wasn’t exactly a dream. He should know by now never to question all the weird shit that happened around here.
He let the sensations carry him away until he wasn’t sure he could take it anymore, and then he pulled Kevin up and rolled over, pinning him to the bed with his body, kissing him hard enough to bruise his lips. When he finally slid inside him, they both groaned, Kevin wrapping his legs around his hips and pulling him deeper inside him.
At some point, Toby was aware of an odd sensation in his mind, dizzying and intense. It took him a minute or so to realize that he was feeling what Kevin was feeling. Was he feeling what Toby was too? He had to be. There was this feeling like an electric current between them, a circuit in their skin, turning nerves into live wires. This couldn’t be happening; Toby was back to thinking this had to be a dream again.
He stopped being able to tell who he was, where the boundaries of his own skin stopped. He was having such a hard time separating himself from Kevin that he didn’t know who came first, but the orgasm exploded in his brain and triggered another, leaving them both panting and sweating. Toby collapsed on top of Kevin, and they just laid there for a long moment, listening to the rain outside. “That was intense,” Kevin finally said.
“What the hell was that?” Toby asked, “You felt it, right?”
“Yeah.” He paused briefly, looking confused and maybe just a little frightened. Was it something he had done, or was he simply afraid of that? This was something else that had worried Toby, even though he tried not to think about it too much: what Ambrosius was doing to Kevin, or what the magic was doing to Kevin. When she started dabbling in magic, Van changed; she could not only read that damn book, but she could wield power that even she didn’t fully understand. Could the same thing be happening to Kevin?
Kevin then nuzzled his neck and kissed the sweat off the side of his face. Toby closed his eyes and stopped worrying; he was tired of worrying. As if Kevin had read his mind - did he? - he murmured, “I’m okay, Toby. I just need you to chill for right now. I need you to pretend you’ve given up looking for me. If he thinks you’ve stopped, I can distract him.”
He knew Kevin was trying to protect him - it wasn’t like Ambrosius hadn’t tried to kill him before - but he didn’t like the idea of being protected any more than he could bear the thought of Kevin being that bastard’s hostage one more day. “We can beat him. Don’t give up.”
“I’m not. But the idea of coming home is the only thing keeping me going right now.”
Kevin lightly stroked his chest. “You’re home to me.”
Toby smiled. That was the sweetest thing Kevin had ever said to him.
But after a moment, he realized all of what Kevin had said. “Keeping you going? What’s going on? He hasn’t hurt you, has he?”
Kevin grimaced and avoided his eyes, which made his stomach sink, turn to ice. “That bastard. I’ll kill him.” Toby wasn’t a violent man; in fact, he’d always hated violence. But he felt that if he saw Ambrosius anytime soon, he’d kill him or die trying. That man had brought nothing but misery, death, and destruction since the moment he’d shown up.
Kevin shook his head and cupped his face in his hand, stroking his cheek with his thumb. “Toby, don’t. I -” he suddenly looked off towards the far wall, but Toby already knew it wasn’t the wall he was looking at. “He’s back. I have to go.”
“Where are you? Kevin, tell me.”
Kevin kissed him quickly, and deliberately didn’t answer his question. “Wait for me. I’ll come back to you as soon as I can. Don’t ever forget that I love you.”
“Kevin -” But then Toby woke up to bright sunlight painting the ceiling, making him squint until his eyes adjusted to the light. He didn’t need to look around to know Kevin was gone. Had he even been here in the first place? No … and yes. He could still taste him on his lips, and he could smell the scent of his hair in his pillow.
Ambrosius was still on the island, and so was Kevin. He was just hiding somehow, lurking somewhere in the darkness like some mythical monster.
Knowing this didn’t help. In fact, the frustration of it all made him punch his pillow with undue strength, feeling a scream build up in his throat that he didn’t dare let out.
Toby now knew what he had to do. He really didn’t have any choice in the matter.
If he had to deal with the devil to get Kevin back and keep him safe from Ambrosius, he would.
When she heard the pounding on her door, her first thought was that some unexpected tropical storm had blown in, and one of her shutters was loose. Island weather was so unpredictable, but that was especially true here, where absolutely everything was unpredictable. Tides, weather, people. Well, some people. Some were so predictable, even here, that they were hilarious.
But the pounding was far too rhythmic, and it looked as sunny and calm as ever outside. Grace frowned and peered out the window to see one of her tenants on her porch. She didn’t have a good view of him from this side, but she could tell it was a man just from his muscular arm. Not Ambrosius though. Not only wouldn’t he bother to knock, but he had never been that tan or that built.
She was still deciding whether or not to give him five seconds to explain himself or just turn his testicles into toads now when she opened the door and found herself face to face with Kevin’s little love puppy. What was his name? The poor cuckolded son-of-a-bitch. She almost felt sorry for him.
Grace simply stared at him, waiting for him to speak. It didn’t take long. “I need your help.”
He wasn’t a bad looking thing. There was something almost feline about the shape of his eyes, he had a model’s cheekbones, and he certainly seemed to have a nice body packed into jeans and a tight grey tank top. But she had learned the hard way to instantly distrust pretty men. They didn’t generally look pretty for women. “Why should I care?” she asked him. She was genuinely curious.
He stared at her from hollow, bloodshot eyes. He looked half-crazed, which was probably true. It was a good bet Ambrosius was tormenting him just to give himself a private little jolly. “You hate Ambrosius. I know you do. Van told me.”
“Van told you? What precisely did she tell you?”
His body language screamed impatience, but he had the good sense not to let it show otherwise. She thought that he had a few more brain cells that that whelp Kevin, and this seemed to prove it. “She said you and he had a … thing.”
“A thing? How wonderfully articulate. Come to think of it, that’s exactly what she would say.”
“I want … I need to get Kevin back.”
She gave him a cold smile and started to close the door. “I fail to see how this concerns me. Get off my porch before I turn you into a eunuch.”
The man - and she remembered now that his name was Toby; Van had mentioned him before - put a hand up to stop her door, and said, “If he loses Kevin, it’ll kill him.”
Ah, so Toby did have a functioning brain. That was refreshing in a man, as well as rare. She opened the door a bit more, and wondered what to do with him. Would anyone miss him if he died right now? Possibly Van, and his little boy toy, if he even bothered to remember him now that Ambrosius had him. The thought of Ambrosius being happy with his little blond lust puppy suddenly made her feel a cold, hard shock of anger. “Why don’t you come in?”
Toby didn’t wait to be asked twice. As she shut the door behind him, she asked, “Do you have a plan?”
Toby turned to face her, and she noticed how tired he looked. He’d been driven to his last nerve. It would have been funny if it wasn’t so pathetic. “I don’t even know where he is. We can’t find him. It’s like he’s not on the island.”
“Ambrosius? Oh my dear boy, of course he’s still on the island. He has nowhere else to go.” She studied him, getting a sense of magic. Somebody had used it on him quite recently, sun magic; there was a certain aura of lingering power.
It suddenly occurred to her that he was perfect. The powers of Tresum did provide. She had been working on a spell to weaken the sun magic, but she needed blood from a man touched by it. And here he was now in her drawing room.
“Then why can’t we find him?”
“Because he’s using magic, and clearly you don’t have any.”
“And as fond as I am of my aspirant, even she may not be up to the task.” More likely you needed to be familiar With Ambrosius’s bag of sleazy tricks, and there wasn’t a single one he could put over on her anymore, but why tell him that? She didn’t need to validate Van’s powers, which seemed unfairly inflated and acquired. Much like Ambrosius’s powers. “What is it exactly that you want? Just rescue your boyfriend?”
The man threw his arms up in the air, as if appealing to some higher power. “No! I want him to leave me and Kevin alone.”
“I see. And how will you do that?”
He shook his head, looking down at the floor. “I don’t know. I suppose if we moved to the mainland, he’d follow.”
“Kevin is his aspirant. He won’t give him up that easily.”
He sighed, shoulders slouching in defeat. “I know. Is there any way to undo it?”
“Undo it? You mean time travel?” She chuckled at his naiveté. “What is the phrase - That ship has sailed? Unless you’re willing to wait for the next Libra Solstice, I don’t see how.”
He gave her a pleading look that made him look more like a beaten puppy than a sly feline. “Is there any way you can help us?”
She laughed coldly. “What am I, a genie?” But he did have something she wanted. Of course she could just take it, but there was the problem of Ambrosius. If she could take Kevin away from him, that would devastate him. He honestly believed he loved that little tart. He was surely smug in his triumph, gloating that he got what he wanted. Surely there was some way to ruin that.
Toby rubbed his eyes, and muttered, “This was a mistake.”
As he turned to leave - as if he actually could - she had a sudden burst of inspiration. “There might be something …” She trailed off until he looked back at her eagerly. “It’s called a wish stone.” She didn’t wait for his response, simply went off to retrieve it in another room, leaving him waiting with nothing but questions.
When she returned, he was almost ready to jump out of his skin. “What is it?”
She put it down on a small side table. It was just a normal grey rock, about the size of a pill bottle, but to a practitioner of magic it was obvious it was anything but normal. Rocks didn’t normally give off an aura of dark power.
Toby looked down at it, brow furrowing in confusion while his mouth curved down in disappointment. “It’s a rock.”
“So it appears. But if you feed the stone and are pure of intent, you can get one wish.”
“Feed the stone?”
She retrieved a ceremonial bowl. “Blood. You must feed it your blood.”
Toby looked at her in wide eyed surprised. “Uh … how?”
She retrieved a small knife, with a curved blade of the purest silver and a handle of bone. Human bone, as a matter of fact, made from one from her father’s arm. She was always tempted to tell Diana about it, but she was afraid the bitch might try to steal it. “Hold your hand over the bowl. I’ll cut it and give you the rock. If your intent is pure, your wish will be granted.”
He looked at her suspiciously. “You’re making this up.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “I do not joke about magic, and I will not tolerate insolence in my home.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, hardly meaning it. But he held his hand out over the bowl, clearly submitting to the spell.
She turned his hand palm up, and made a horizontal cut across it. He hissed through his teeth in pain, but didn’t move or otherwise complain. She made the cut much deeper than she needed to, but she needed his blood as much as the stone did. It pattered in the bowl like rain as she put the rock in the palm of his hand, and curled his fingers around it. He closed his eyes, as if trying to force his will into it, and said, “I wish Kevin would come back to me, and he’d be beyond Ambrosius’s reach forever.” He opened his eyes in slight alarm. “It’s starting to feel warm.”
“Well then, your intent must be pure.” She wasn’t surprised. Something about Toby screamed martyr.
He opened his hand, and the stone had turned white while seemingly remaining unmarred by the blood pooling in the center of his hand and dripping through his fingers. “That’s weird.”
She plucked the blood warm stone from his palm and set it aside, grabbing up an ugly nylon scarf that she absolutely hated and gave it to him for the cut. She made sure her movements were slow, so she had a good amount of blood gathered in the bowl. “What now?” He asked, wrapping the scarf around his hand like a bandage.
“Now, you wait. Things will be set in motion that should get you what you want. You should see results by moon rise.”
He eyed her skeptically. “That’s it?”
“That’s it. Why don’t you go home and get some rest? You look exhausted.” She tried on a smile that she knew didn’t reach her eyes, mainly because she didn’t care, and it was very hard for her not to laugh.
He wasn’t really that smart, was he? He didn’t ask her why she had never used the wish stone.
Oh well. He couldn’t help being born a man.
It turned out that fate had wanted her to play a part in this. Shortly after Toby left, she found a ritual that could separate an aspirant from their avatar, and she would swear that it hadn’t existed in the book before. Grace was rather pleased to be a part of it all. Ambrosius would be furious.
It took her all of five minutes to find him. He’d erected a glamour, a cloaking spell, that was surprisingly strong for him, suggesting he’d pulled from Kevin’s own energy to create it. It was easy to see how Van had missed it. It was even possible that Van and Toby had been in this home, seeing and sensing nothing but empty rooms, while Ambrosius watched, safely cloaked in his magic.
She waited until Ambrosius was gone - perhaps buying hair gel, or some other god awful thing related to his monstrous vanity - and walked into his home. As soon as she was through the mystical barrier, she heard shouting suddenly come to life mid-sentence. “ - here, you son of a bitch! Let me out of here!” Kevin’s voice was harsh, as if he’d been shouting for a long time. He probably had.
She found him in a back room, where he was chained up in an ironic parody of what she’d done to Ambrosius. The thick black chains were suspended from the ceiling, and Kevin’s arms were extended to their full length over his head, the chains so short his feet were just barely touching the floor. It must have been painful; if he was suspended in these chains long enough, both his shoulders would dislocate, something she wasn‘t even cruel enough to do to Ambrosius. He was shirtless, his jeans hanging low on his hips, sweat matting down his hair and making it darker and faintly curly. He looked at her sharply as she came in the room, and demanded, “What are you doing here?”
“Is that any way to talk to your rescuer?” she chided, unable to keep from smiling. The boy reeked of desperation sweat. Did he and Ambrosius have a lover’s tiff even before he chained him up? She got a sense of recent magic on him, but far more powerful than the sense she got from Toby.
Ah, now it all made sense. She knew Ambrosius had forced a psychic link on Kevin, and he was probably looking forward to Kevin forming one with him, and then the little whelp turned around and forged one with his boyfriend. Poor, poor Ambrosius - still thwarted in love. Now it was really hard for her not to laugh. “Rescue me,” Kevin repeated dully, his tone insulting. “You were the one who killed me.”
“Ambrosius told you that, did he? If it means anything to you at all, it wasn‘t personal.” She thought she smelled blood, and saw a couple of small drops of it on the floor. She got about a thousand times more from Toby’s hand. “Did he mention what he did to you?”
Silence. He simply glared at her from beneath his sweaty brow, and she could see the fear warring with hate in his eyes. That made her smile. “Your boyfriend - your other boyfriend, the one who isn’t a warlock -”
Kevin’s glare heated up, and she basked in his hate. Did the slutty puppy really think she gave a damn what he thought of her?
“- came to my house and made a wish. He wants you to be with him, and free of Ambrosius forever. Destiny seemed to put this in my hands, as I found a ritual that will separate you from him for good. Is that what you wish?”
He looked at her with suspicion. “Toby came to you? Why would he do that?”
She took on a look of concern. “He didn’t look well. He’s taking your disappearance hard.”
That statement had the desired effect. His hate crumbled into worry, transforming his face. Now the pain she saw wasn’t only physical. “I’m not - did you tell him I’m not gone? I‘m here, it’s just that … I can’t get away from him. I’ve been trying, but -”
“You’re his aspirant,” she said, finishing his sentence for him. “You go when he says you do.” And when he unchains him, of course, but that seemed obvious. Ambrosius may have loathed his imprisonment, but clearly he realized what an effective will breaker it was.
Close up to him, she ran a fingernail across his chest, considering breaking the skin, as he squirmed away from her touch. Not a bad chest, but his face was way too boyish for her tastes. He looked far too much like the himbo he was. Circling him, she saw the source of the blood spots on the floor. There was a small, fresh tattoo on the back of his left shoulder, a small sun with a dozen rays radiating from it, as simplistic as a child’s drawing and still leaking blood, most of which had crusted over until his struggling with the chains had opened up the scabs. She touched his shoulder, knowing it would hurt him, and grinned at his pained gasp. “He’s marked you. Now you’re really not going anywhere.”
“Is that what it means?” He asked nervously, turning to look at her as she completed her circle of him. “He told me I needed it for … I dunno, something related to Tresum. I didn’t understand it.”
“I bet you didn’t.” The stupid puppy probably couldn’t tie his own shoes without help.
“Does this mean you can’t get me out of here?”
“Oh, the ritual? No; Ambrosius’s mark on you won’t make any difference. Do you wish to be broken from him for good?”
“Yes, a million times yes. Just get me the fuck outta here!”
Even if he’d answered no she was going to do it anyways - she just felt it was important that he believed he had consented. She stepped back behind him, and whispered in his ear, “Don’t worry. It’ll only hurt for a second.”
Toby was tempted to go back to Grace’s a few hundred times, but never did. He told Van of the whole thing with the “wish stone”, which she hadn’t heard of before but promised to research. She seemed most troubled by the bloodletting; according to Van, the most powerful magic involved violence or sex, states of high emotion and energy. But she figured if the wish thing was going to work, blood would have to be involved.
He found himself waiting outside the hotel, even though he wasn’t sure why. He watched the darkness come in over the ocean and the moon move slowly across the sky, gaining luminescence as it went. Occasionally his hand throbbed, but the wound was closing really well.
Toby was almost falling asleep, lulled by the sound of the waves and the palm fronds rustling in the wind, when he got the skin crawling feeling that he was being watched. He sat up suddenly and looked around, seeing nothing, until he looked down the hotel’s drive … and there he was.
Kevin was walking towards him, dressed in the same grey t-shirt and jeans he’d last seen him wearing, his hair a honeyed straw color in the light of the crescent moon. “Kevin!” he exclaimed, climbing quickly to his feet, so happy he could cry. It worked! He had some doubts even as the spell was taking place, but now he realized how foolish he had been. Grace seemed sinister, but Van was right: she knew her magic.
Kevin smiled sadly at him, and said, “I was afraid I’d never see you again.”
“I thought I’d lost you,” he said, and moved to gather him up in a huge bear hug. Toby’s arms passed through air, and he gasped as a bone chilling cold seemed to pass through his body, chilling him to the bone marrow, making him shudder uncontrollably as he stumbled, almost losing his balance as Kevin was suddenly not there at all.
Toby froze in place, the shock making him feel numb. No.
But Kevin was suddenly there again, standing in front of him, hands dug in his pockets. “She said this was the only way I could be truly separated from Ambrosius, the only place I’d be truly safe from him. Beyond the veil of death.”
“She?” he repeated, knowing damn well who he meant.
“Grace. Of course, I wish she’d told me before she …” he grimaced and looked away, not wanting to finish the sentence. But Toby could fill in the blanks.
“Ambrosius brought you back once,” he said, grasping desperately for the only chance they had left. “He could do it again.”
Kevin shook his head, and Toby finally noticed he was slightly translucent at the edges, as if he was only some kind of supernatural projection. Was that what a ghost was? “I wasn’t killed with a spell this time; I was killed with a knife. Even Ambrosius can’t bring me back.”
A knife? The one that had sliced his hand this morning? He felt sick to his stomach, but he only collapsed to his knees as his legs gave way, tears filling his eyes. He should have known it wouldn’t be that easy. He should have known there was a catch.
In Dante’s Cove, it seemed the devil was always in the details.