Carl had been working too hard. Not that Tom hadn't been working hard, but he, at least was able to set his own schedule. Carl had needed to take vacation days from his job at the CBS flagship station in the city in order to work on some major wizardry.
And trouble was still coming. He wasn't sure how he did it, but he managed to clear most of a Friday afternoon. It was going to get a little tricky--Nita had called, she'd run up against some kind of mental block in her research on the Speech, and with what was coming, he didn't want to let it wait. Not if the worst happened.
Just in case Nita really, really needed it. It would've been fine if her appointment with Mr. Milman hadn't gone over. Nita was kind enough to message him, so he at least knew he had some time.
It was just going to cut things rather close. Tom thought for a moment, then realized the trick was just rearranging things a bit: he put the lasagna in early, left the DVD on top of the player, and put out the the good table cloth. He set the table for two, forgoing the good china in favor of their everyday plates. The dishwasher safe ones. Because as pretty as china was, cleaning it up was not romantic.
He set out the candles in the sticks, didn't light them, just laid a book of matches next to them. Then he heard Nita quietly rapping on the back door.
"Hot date?" Nita asked. "We can reschedule, I mean..."
"It'll be fine," Tom interrupted, "we've got enough time, why don't you show me where you're having trouble." He led her to the porch; it was nice enough outside, and the smell of baking lasagna was making his mouth water.
They still had their heads bent over the finer points of the Binding Oath--which Nita had a better grasp on than she thought, but he supposed he had over-hyped it a bit--when he heard Carl's car pull into the driveway.
Tom made a face.
"Is that my cue to leave?" Nita asked, curiously.
"Tom?" Carl's voice came in from the side door. "Where are... What have you been up to?"
"I'm on the back porch helping Nita with the finer points of the pre-Enactive and the Binding Oath," Tom replied. "You're home early."
Carl appeared in the doorway. "It's nice to see you too. There was a lull, and with all the overtime lately, the boss actually sent me out the door. Hi, Nita."
"Um, hi, Carl," Nita said.
Tom could practically see the wheels in her head turning. He raised an eyebrow at Carl, who shrugged.
There was a general cacophony of sound as the dogs realized that Carl was home and came gallumphing towards the backdoor, begging for dog biscuits.
"I'm sure you had enough to eat, you little beggars," Carl said.
Nita chuckled and Tom couldn't blame her; much like Kit's dog, Ponch, Annie and Monty were obsessed with food. And getting extra treats. Carl leaned in the doorway, smiling at Tom appraisingly.
"Were you planning on staying in that suit all night?" Tom asked. Then regretted it, as he had just left himself wide open.
Carl just raised an eyebrow.
Nita squirmed, and muttered something that sounded vaguely like "I am epicly dense".
"I'm sorry, Nita, what did you say?" Carl asked.
Nita wouldn't notice, but Tom could tell that Carl was fighting a smirk.
"It's nothing," Nita said. "Look, this can wait, I know you guys have been really busy lately; I'll just get going and let you get on with your evening. I'll call you tomorrow afternoon so we can set up a time to finish?"
"Yeah," Tom said, suddenly feeling as though he'd been hit by a teenage whirlwind as Nita hopped up, grabbed her manual, and bounded into the backyard. The main question being...
"Nita, are you okay?" Carl asked.
It wasn't frequent, as wizards were fairly open minded as a rule, but sometimes it took their wizards a little while to get their brains around it.
"Fine," Nita said, sounding very much like a teenager who didn't want to talk about something. "I'll talk to you tomorrow!"
She shook her charm bracelet, activating her transit spell, and then disappeared.
"Told you she'd get it before Kit," Carl said.
"Think she's really 'fine'?" Tom asked.
"I think," Carl said, stepping out onto the porch, "that she really just needs some time to process and you can talk to her about it when she calls tomorrow. In the meantime," he stepped closer, "I think we should take advantage of the quiet moment while we have one." He leaned in, kissing Tom tenderly.
Tom returned it, putting his arms around Carl's shoulders.
"What is the dress code for tonight, anyway?" Carl asked breathily when he finally came up for air.
"It's dinner and the Empire Strikes Back on DVD. Disc 2 of course."
"Well, yeah, Luke doesn't scream like that," Carl said.
"And then you know... whatever, so I'd go with... well, comfortable. Not that I mind the suit, per se, just..."
Carl grinned jauntily. "It's not..."
Tom jabbed him playfully in the gut before he could finish that sentence. "It's too early in the evening to be thinking with that head."
Carl snorted. "I'll surprise you." And he went upstairs to change.
* * *
The next morning, Carl woke tangled in Tom's arms, with his arm across Tom's bare hip. After about half an hour, he decided that he just wasn't going to get back to sleep, and gently, quietly slipped away. After all these years, he was pretty good at getting out of bed without waking Tom--the natural consequence of one partner that works from home.
He showered, pulled on some clothes, went downstairs to make some breakfast. Tom's manual had been moved from inside to one of the kitchen counters. He touched it gently, asking it to redirect any calls for Tom so he could get some rest.
Carl wasn't surprised when his manual buzzed a few minutes later. He was, however, pleasantly surprised by the message. "Hi, Tom. Let me know when you're awake and it's all right to call you. Nita."
Carl knew what she meant, really, but he had this thing where he didn't want his wizards thinking it ever wasn't OK to call. At least that was his excuse. Work had gotten so busy that Tom had taken a few of the more mundane wizarding tasks lately, such as a couple of brain melt downs when their wizards figured out why it was their seniors actually lived together. They were careful never to lie, but they usually left it for the kids to figure out on their own.
Carl kind of wished this had waited a few more months after Betty Callahan's death. Still, he was more worried about the look on Nita's face last night than anything else he knew about her. He asked his manual to send a video message.
Nita opened her manual, eyebrows raising in surprise when it was Carl's face, and not Tom's that greeted her.
"Hi, Carl. How are you?" Nita asked brightly.
"Funny, that's what I was calling to ask you," Carl replied.
Nita raised an eyebrow. "And that couldn't wait for Tom to be up because..."
"He's been taking the brunt of the senior duties lately, I figured he could use a rest."
"Oh, OK," Nita said, clearly confused. "I just wanted to talk to him more about the parts of Speech we were discussing yesterday. It seemed like it had turned into a bad time."
"It could've waited," Carl said.
"So could the Speech," Nita said.
"Were we making you uncomfortable?" Carl asked. "It looks like you finally figured out why it is we live together. Did you want to talk about it?"
"Oh, that. Actually, I'd rather not. I'd prefer to file it in my brain right next to 'my parents had sex more than twice' and not think it ever again."
"Um, that wasn't, I mean..."
"Well, I feel a little old now, but I can live with that," Carl responded with a grin.
Nita blushed. "Have Tom call me whenever he gets a chance. It's really not urgent."
"All right, bye Nita," Carl said.
"Bye Carl," Nita said.
Carl closed the manual and smiled to himself. It was hard to be insulted when Nita wanted to file that information right next to personal information about her parents. Especially because she'd mentioned her mom without flinching or tearing up.
His manual buzzed, and he found a text message from Nita. "I take it I should let Kit figure it out for himself."
Carl chuckled, texted back. "Don't lie for us, but we would prefer that, please."
He could hear the sounds of stirring upstairs, so he went to find the pancake mix.