Aaron shows up at the Mitchell house before his rookie camp with two suitcases, a bag of hockey gear, and a jar of Ontario dirt. It’s supposed to help ease the transition, even though it won’t hold the smell and energy of home for long. He wants to be here, he’s eager; if the team asks him to stay he’ll settle in to Florida’s ley lines really quickly. He won’t need much help from home, he’s pretty sure.
If they don’t ask him to stay, well… he’ll figure out how to adjust to wherever he goes. He’s a hedge-witch, attuned to the earth. He’ll be okay.
The taxi drops him off at the curb, and even from there he can feel that this house belongs to more than one strong witch. The energy is shivery-intense when he walks past the property line and it judges him as of benign intent; once he’s inside the boundary, it feels safe, and nice, even nicer than his last billet house. He closes his eyes and just breathes for a minute before he rings the doorbell, letting the sense of calm goodness touch him inside and out.
When he steps inside, there’s even more good energy, a warm hazy glow that gets in his head so fast he doesn’t hear anything they’re saying to him. He feels like his nerves and veins and bones are all lit up. It’s so nice here, and so happy to meet him, the whole house is just—
“Will,” Megan says, sharply enough that it cuts through the glow. “Would you please shield that before he passes out?”
“Whoops!” Willie—Willie Mitchell, his captain, two-time Stanley Cup champion, and Aaron’s just been standing here staring off into space like an idiot—laughs and the energy dims, settling under a layer of shields that leaves Aaron feeling a little bit cold and alone.
“Sorry about that.” Willie puts his hand on Aaron’s shoulder and warmth flows through him again, but more gently this time. Not so overwhelming. “We’ve got a ley line junction right under the house. It’s awesome, but it can kind of get in your head if you’re not ready for it.”
“Oh.” Aaron’s brain snaps back into logical thoughts with a thud. Of course the house doesn’t want him, that’s not how it works. Energy has no meaning beyond what’s given by the witch shaping it. The Mitchells are housing him for camp—they don’t want him here either. What a kid move, reading so much into a stupid energy spill.
He pastes on a smile. “Where should I put my stuff?”
Willie shows him to the guest room, which has a window overlooking the yard and, of course, the garden. Just being this close to growing plants is grounding. “Do you tend it?” Aaron asks, leaning close to the glass to look down at the tangle of leaves and flowers. “Or Mrs. Mitchell?”
“Please call her Meg, she prefers it.” Willie sits down on the end of the bed. “We do it together. This is all brand-new, the last owners weren’t witches. When we moved in, it was all non-native plants.” Aaron’s nose wrinkles automatically, and Willie grins. “Yeah. We could barely even sleep in the house until we pulled all that up and replaced it with stuff that should be growing here. It’s much better now. You’re earth-oriented, right? You wouldn’t even be able to sit here if we hadn’t replanted. Meg and me, neither of us is earth. She’s a weather witch by nature, all air. The garden and kitchen work she does is all training.”
That makes sense. The feeling around Megan really didn’t have any earth in it. “You’re sort of earth,” he says, as much to himself as Willie, as he tries to sort through the energy playing around Willie’s aura. “But not completely, and it’s not hedge-craft anyway.”
“Water and stone,” Willie says cheerfully. “The ocean mostly, and deep down under the soil, the bedrock. I can’t do anything with the stone, just feel it. Earthquake season in LA was a nightmare. But I’m good with grounding energy and directing spillover and all. Comes in handy for a locker room, eh? We might need it in this one.”
The constant flow of words might be overwhelming from someone else, but Aaron doesn’t mind it coming from Willie. Then again, maybe it’s not him, maybe it’s the good energy of the house, the warm happy glow grounded in the ley line junction and held in the circle of the house’s boundaries. It’s nice. Comfortable.
“That’s why they got you to captain?” he asks.
“That and my charming personality.” Willie grins again and stands up, punching Aaron lightly in the arm. “Let’s go find Meg. She’ll take you out and introduce you to the garden. I can tell you need to get your hands on those plants and some dirt under your nails. You’ll feel at home in no time.”
Aaron settles into the house pretty quickly. Meg is glad to have him help tend the garden, and it likes him; the plants are getting noticeably bigger and stronger just by the end of camp. He gives some extra love to her kitchen herbs, too, and dinners that were already amazing turn spectacular with that tiny bit of magic woven in.
“I think you’re a kitchen witch more than a hedge witch, Aaron.” Meg smiles at him across the table while Willie wipes his plate clean with a slice of rosemary bread. “Imagine what this would taste like if you did the cooking, too. If you put your energy and care into it the whole time? Incredible.”
Aaron ducks his head to hide his own smile, and his blush. “I’m definitely not a cook. I can make toast, that’s about it. Oh, and smoothies, I guess.”
“You can learn. You’re a fast learner, or so Willie says.”
“On the ice. I don’t know anything about cooking.”
“That’s why I said you can learn.”
Aaron looks at Willie for help, but he’s still eating his bread and gazing off into space, his eyes dreamy and unfocused.
“It won’t emasculate you to learn how to cook.” Now Meg sounds like she wants to laugh. Aaron turns his attention back to her in a hurry.
“No, I didn’t mean that! I just don’t want to waste your time.”
Meg takes Willie’s plate from in front of him and starts stacking the dishes. “I wouldn’t offer if I thought it might be a waste of time.”
“Give it a shot, kid,” Willie says before Aaron can come up with a response. “It’s good to have a hobby. With cooking you don’t even have to buy a boat.”
He reaches out and rests his hand on Megan’s butt while he says it, and Megan swats him away with an eye-roll and a smile that Aaron just barely catches when he makes himself look up.
Megan has books about kitchen-craft, in addition to just regular cookbooks. Aaron has to admit, after just looking through a few of them, that this feels right. The way things fit together, the way energy is used in cooking—it all just makes sense.
The first time Megan walks him through making guacamole, it comes out tasting perfectly good but full of his anxiety, and he wasn’t even trying to put an emotion into it. “You’re a natural,” Megan tells him, carefully scraping it into the trash. “Let’s try it again, and this time focus on what you’re putting into it on purpose.”
The next batch is happy, makes-you-smile-to-eat-it guacamole. All three of them sit down in front of the TV with it and a bag of chips, and giggle their way through a Will Ferrell movie. It’s awesome, because Willie and Megan are letting him sit all close to them like he belongs there, and because he did that. He made food that made people happy.
He wants to learn everything, right away. He wants to go after it the way he does with hockey: endless drills until he bends his body to his will. But this isn’t just his body, it’s all the parts of his mind and spirit and concentration that go into shaping energy into magic. That wears him out a lot faster. Instead of shaky legs and hands, he straight-up falls asleep, right there in the middle of the kitchen.
Willie wakes him up and walks him to his room, one arm around Aaron's waist to steady him. “It's okay,” he says when Aaron mumbles an apology. “Just make sure you don't wear yourself out before a game day.”
Balancing magic and hockey isn't something Aaron's ever worried about before. He kind of let them flow around each other, and he didn't really work at the earth magic either, just lived it. This is different.
But it's good. He feels good about it, and he feels good when he does it. There's the click inside of him that means this is what he's supposed to be doing. What he's meant for.
He feels that on the ice, too, the click of being where he's supposed to be. Florida is his place, for now and at least for a while. He can feel it.
Most of the team is amagical, but there are a few witches and a handful of guys with sensitivity. Gudbranson has an affinity for stone that runs even deeper than Willie’s; the sense of bedrock around him, the feeling of how the whole planet is connected, makes Aaron dizzy at first. Guddy can’t do anything with his affinity, he just carries it with him, knowing the rock beneath the ground wherever he goes.
Huby’s a hedge-witch and Bjugy has a fire affinity that’s just strong enough for him to create little flickering sprites that follow him around, if he concentrates. If he gets distracted, though—like by Kuli snapping a towel at his ass—they might get loose and set things on fire—like a whole set of Thorty’s twigs. There’s a new rule about no fireplay in the locker room after that.
Thorty himself is an earth-witch, with abilities that run way deeper than Aaron’s ever will. Aaron feels bad about it, at first, that he’ll never be able to do what Shawn does without even trying, but the shift to kitchen-craft helps. Thorty can bring a field from bare dirt to full bloom in wildflowers with a few hours of prep and concentration, but he can’t bake a loaf of bread that brings everyone who eats it a memory of the time they were happiest.
Aaron can’t do that either, yet, but he’s working on it. It’s a tricky spell, there’s a lot of energy to manage and balance out, and hockey leaves him pretty tired. He only feels up to trying the spell once a week or so. They eat a lot of strange and mixed-up feelings at the Mitchell house, with lots of salted butter and their personal shields in place.
He wakes up one night groggy and confused, his heart racing, his skin covered in goosebumps, and his dick rock-hard against his stomach.
It takes a minute before he can even try to sort through the energy swirling around the room; it’s not the normal steadiness, warmth, and comfort he associates with the house. Willie and Megan’s combined work on the boundaries of their home circle makes it stable and grounded, a haven. But right now it’s holding in a maelstrom of energy that’s almost…
Aaron blinks and drags his hands through his hair, pushing it back off his forehead while he settles himself and really intentionally feels the energy again. It’s not a dangerous kind of wild, he decides after consideration. It’s playful.
His hand moves to his dick before he really thinks through the implications of that. He’s circling his thumb at the head, rubbing pre-come over sensitive skin, when he finally realizes what’s going on.
Sex magic. Willie and Megan are fucking, and it’s lighting the whole house up.
Heat rushes to his face, but he doesn’t stop touching himself. What he should do is obvious: shield himself, get a cold glass of water, go back to sleep. It’s rude to wander into somebody else’s energy work, even if they’re broadcasting it by accident.
(It must be an accident. They’re just not used to having somebody else in the house. They forgot that they can’t do this whenever they want. That’s all. That has to be all it is.)
The energy feels good, dancing along his skin and sending little tingles and sparks off his aura. Instead of putting his shields up more strongly, he lowers them even more and lets himself bleed over into the spell. Just a little bit, Willie and Megan probably won’t even notice, but he joins in enough that the air in his bedroom glows when he comes.
He rolls over onto his stomach and buries his face against the pillow while his pulse and breathing come back down. Shit. He should not have done that. Total failure of control.
Willie and Megan are apparently still going, because the energy in the house hasn’t broken at all. Aaron forces his shields up, blocking it out, and turns onto his side, staring blankly at the wall.
Just fix it, he tells himself. In the morning tell Willie that they maybe need to be more careful with stuff. It’ll be embarrassing, but he’ll apologize and you’ll say it’s fine and it won’t happen again. Easy.
It still takes him another hour to fall back asleep.
In the morning he totally fails to execute his plan. He doesn’t say anything to Willie or Megan. He just eats his breakfast and listens to their married-people conversation about what they’re going to do that day after Willie gets back from practice.
He also keeps peeking at their auras, which are all shiny and pulsing and almost too much to look at, they’re so full of sex energy and partnership-energy and healthy happy witches doing well in life. It’s so pretty he doesn’t want to look away from it, but if he stares too much they’ll figure him out.
He mumbles an excuse and drives himself to practice, so he can try to talk himself into being less of an idiot. But that doesn’t work, either; the whole rest of the season, he wakes up every time they let sex turn into a spell. He lies in the dark and jerks off and weaves himself into the energy, just a little bit, like he’s leaving a mark to say he was here.
He doesn’t realize how much he had woven himself in until he leaves for the summer. At home in Ontario, all those miles away, he still finds himself aware of the two of them, like they’re just at the edge of his field of vision.
He knows when Meg is deeply engrossed in something she’s cooking; she doesn’t work spells into her food but he can feel her interest, her excitement and concentration. He knows Willie’s moods, the ebb and flow of joy and disappointment and deep, shuddery fear of the future. He knows when they’re working in the garden and he knows when Willie’s out on the boat connecting with the water. He knows when Meg calls a bit of rain in or sends it away.
And he definitely knows when they’re having sex. Even if it’s not deliberate sex magic work, he just feels it now. The energy swirling around, filling up the house’s shields to their limits. From Canada it’s just a warm, pleasant buzz at the limits of his awareness, not a frantic need. He only gets hard because he’s nineteen years old and he gets hard at everything even remotely sex-related. He could ignore it if he wanted to; he can push it away if he tries.
He doesn’t know if they can feel him, too, if they’re at all aware of him over the summer. They’re both definitely strong enough witches that they could, if they wanted to. Probably not, though. There’s no reason to think that they’re thinking of him at all.
Before he left for the summer they mostly agreed that he would get his own place in the fall, so he’ll have a year of learning to stand on his own but with people he trusts nearby if he needs them. If he fucks things up.
Midway through August Willie texts him and asks if that plan is still good to go. Aaron shoves his feelings down under three layers of shields and answers yes, and should he get a hotel to stay in when he comes down to look at places?
Willie tells him not to be ridiculous. Aaron is too shielded to know what emotions come with that, and too chickenshit to drop his shields and check.
He arrives at the house edgy and anxious, jittering in his seat in the Uber and almost tripping on the walk up to the front porch. Meg texted him that the key code is the same, but he knocks anyway, because being nervous makes it hard to think and what if they don’t want him here anyway, what if they’re eager for him to move out—
Willie opens the door, rolls his eyes, and pulls Aaron into a hug. “Idiot. It’s still your house too.”
Aaron can feel that, feel the house welcoming him back and pulling him into the shared energy like he never left. He wants to close his eyes and sink into it, maybe light a candle and meditate for a while. He wants to slip out of his head and into the ebb and flow that mimics Meg’s clouds and breezes, and Willie’s sea tides, and just a little bit of his own plants growing and bread rising.
He also wants to hold on to Willie forever. The stone in Willie is speaking to him, underneath that endless restless sea, holding him steady and grounded in a way he hadn’t realized he missed until right now.
“Hey,” Willie says softly, and the concern in his voice cuts through Aaron’s helpless turmoil of conflicting wants. “Hey, bud, it’s okay.”
Aaron realizes that Willie’s shirt is wet under his face, that he’s crying, and pulls back, scrubbing at his eyes with his hands. “Sorry.”
“No, don’t do that.” Willie shakes his head and tugs Aaron into the house, pushing the door closed and then steering Aaron down the hall toward the kitchen. “Let’s get some food in you and then get you outside in the garden. Hey, Meg! Babe, can you throw together something gentle? Kid’s worn himself out.”
That isn’t how Aaron feels; overwhelmed, and tangled up inside, and confused, but not worn out, exactly. He isn’t going to argue about it, though. For a few more days, maybe a couple of weeks, this is still home. He wants to soak up as much of that as he can, to get him through what has to follow.
When he moves into the new apartment, he has to hold a housewarming. It’s unthinkable not to invite friends into the new space and weave positive energy into his connection there from the beginning. Even if he was moving somewhere he didn’t know anyone yet, he would bring something from home to carry well-wishes.
His parents sent him some of the family books and spellcasting tools. He arranges them carefully on the bookshelf, gently nudging them with his mind to get them to bloom the energy built up in them out into the apartment as a whole. His brother gave him two bottles of rainwater, purified and moon-charged, and he puts those on the shelves, too, fussing with the arrangement for half an hour before it all feels right. There’s something missing, something he hasn’t found yet, but this is a good start.
Megan comes over early to help him set up the food and drinks. He bought most of the food pre-made, only baking fresh bread and preparing a spinach dip himself. He meant to only put optimism and welcome into them, but from the way Megan’s eyes widen when she takes a bite, he knows he screwed up again.
“What?” he asks, wiping his hands on a towel and flipping it back over his shoulder. “What’d I do?”
“Nothing bad,” she says quickly, licking a bit of dip off her fingers. “Just. You’re pretty nervous, aren’t you, honey?”
He eyes the loaves of bread regretfully. “I guess. Is everyone going to panic if they eat the bread?”
“No, no. Not panic. They just… they’re going to be very awake.” She pats him on the shoulder. “Don’t worry. Let’s mix up a little extra punch and bend it toward soothing. It’ll be fine.”
And it really is fine. Willie arrives with bags of loose ice and a ridiculous amount of beer, along with coolers to hold all of it out on the balcony. He also brings the housewarming gift from himself and Megan: a water-shaped piece of driftwood, carefully set with dark, smooth stones.
Aaron’s eyes widen when he touches it; there’s enough pure earth and ocean energy in it for a skilled witch to level a building. “This is from your island?”
Willie grins with pride. “Yeah. Ocean, wood from the earth, volcanic stones. We found it in a little shop while we were back home this summer. It called both of us right to it. We knew it was for you.”
Aaron shakes his head, but he can’t stop smiling. They had to be thinking of him for something like this to call them. They have to really care. “It’s amazing. It should be with someone stronger, though. I could draw on this for a year and not even break the surface.”
Meg shrugs cheerfully and kisses his cheek. “You’re the one it wants, no point arguing with it.”
He doesn’t have time to argue anyway, because the guys start showing up. They all have gifts, of course; the witches all bring something small but reflecting their strengths and the non-witches bring little herb pots. Half an hour into the party he has a whole garden lining his kitchen counter. It’s more mint and rosemary than he’ll ever need, for sure, but it’s the thought that counts. The sheer amount of pure energy coming from living things given with open hearts makes him a little dizzy. He can feel the apartment attuning itself to him more by the minute, weaving all of this energy into the walls, the floor, the ceiling, building the house-circle and then spreading out into sphere that marks off his space from the shared world.
Jags and Guddy both arrive late. Jags brings some kind of fancy Czech brandy that almost knocks Aaron over just from sniffing it, and Guddy brings the missing piece that brings the house energy together. It’s a heartstone, a piece of Canadian bedrock, literally the bones of home, and Aaron can’t say anything for a moment after Guddy shoves it at him.
“I don’t know,” Guddy says irritably, but Aaron can see his aura glowing with relief and pride. “I was out walking and it just called me to it and I knew it was for you. I got it cleaned and polished up and I hauled it all the way down here on the damn plane, I hope you appreciate it.”
“I do! I really do.” Aaron holds it to his chest like it’s a baby. It feels steady and comforting, like it’s already tied into the core of him, like it can ground him forever. He already knows exactly where it fits on the shelf in the relation to everything his parents gave him and the Mitchells’ gift. The balance of all of it is going to be the best energy pool and meditation point he’s ever had.
They were thinking of him. His teammates. His friends. If he looks too hard about all the networks and connections and patterns in this room, he’s going to tear up.
Lu saves him. “Let’s drink,” he says from the balcony, throwing open one of the coolers. “I know this setup, this is a Mitchie special, which means this is good shit. And he’s probably got some extra in his truck, which he should go get right now, because we’re gonna crush all this in no time, my friend.”
Willie moves past Aaron to go bicker with Lu, his hand brushing over Aaron’s arm and giving his wrist a gentle squeeze. Aaron smiles, standing there hugging his rock. It’s a great party. An awesome beginning.
The first part of the season is good. The team plays pretty well—not great, but solid, and they’re gelling together faster than anyone expected. Jags is amazing to have around. He knows everything, handing out advice to defensemen and goalies and the equipment staff, even, not just his lineys and the other forwards. When he and Thorty and Lu and Willie get going, it’s like a hundred years of hockey experience talking, and Aaron just wants to soak it all up into his skin and process through it for days.
He’s more aware of what Willie does in the locker room, too, how he levels out the energy produced by so many people running on emotion in such a small space. Sometimes Aaron licks his lips and can taste salt spray and a hint of stone, just from the air in the room—that’s how hard Willie is working to keep them balanced.
Personally, he’s not setting the world on fire or anything but he didn’t do that as a rookie, either. He’s good. He’s solid. It’s fine. He’s got a lot to do keeping himself from being hyperaware of the idea of a sophomore slump following him around all the time. He doesn’t want to end up a cliche like that.
Plus he has to keep feeding the circle in his new apartment to make sure it’s settling good and strong, and there are all the spellbooks from his parents and Megan to study, plus the cookbooks, and taking care of his balcony herb garden, and remembering to leave tips for the cleaning service because wow can he not take care of the place himself, and… it’s just a lot. There’s a lot going on. The weeks go by really fast.
So it doesn’t really make sense at first when, in December, he gets the call from Claudia saying she thinks they need to break up.
It’s a long phone call. He had no idea he’d been ignoring her, but she lays out some pretty indisputable facts and timelines, and… well. He fucked this up.
Brendan sends him a “sorry dude” text a little while later, which probably means she talked about it on Facebook. Dating his best friend’s sister was a dumb idea anyway.
He sends back a bottle of champagne emoji, which is both kinda rude and not how he feels, but Brendan doesn’t take the bait.
Aaron sits there for a few minutes, staring at his phone, then sets it aside. He takes a deep breath and closes his eyes, reaching for the energy circle of the house and letting his own feelings reflect into it. Seeing them like that, sketched out in a larger scale, he can tell that they’re a mess and he needs to do something about it.
He’s got two foolproof ways of soothing his emotions: he can go skate himself into a stupor, or he can cook something. Given the ache threatening in his hip after he slipped at practice this morning, the kitchen seems like a safer bet.
He grabs one of Megan’s books about kitchen-craft and flips back through the stuff he’s already read, pretty sure he saw a spell relevant to this the other day. Turbulent feelings and putting an end-marker on something. Getting rid of the bad feelings around saying goodbye.
He finds the page and has to laugh, pressing his hand over his mouth to stop the sound. Laughing is disrespectful. It’s not how he feels. But it is funny that he didn’t remember this. Of course the way to say goodbye and work through the rough feelings is bread.
So he follows the steps, mixing his dough and kneading all of his unhappiness and confusion into it, then setting it aside to rise. He lights a candle while he waits, does some meditation, goes through all of the pieces on his altar and dusts them off, letting their positive energy slip into his aura through his fingertips.
On the second kneading, he thinks about forgiveness, and the future, and learning and moving on. He puts all that into the dough and lets it rise again while he tidies up the herb garden and touches his fingers to soil and living things.
While the bread bakes he showers and shaves and dresses in clean clothes. That’s where the guidelines in the spell end, but he knows what he wants to do next. It’s a strong and clear enough desire that he goes with it, wrapping the loaf in a towel and driving over to Willie and Megan’s.
Meg answers the door, her eyes widening at either the look on his face or the energy coming off him and the bread. “Okay, honey, tell me what happened.”
“Claudia broke up with me.”
“So you baked some bread?”
Aaron looked down at the loaf, which kind of looked like a baby all wrapped up in the towel and cradled in the crook of his arm. “Um. Yeah. From the kitchen spell book? It’s sadness bread.”
“Honey.” Meg sighs and takes the loaf, then gestures him inside. “I’ll get some candles and herbs. Go get Will? He’s out on the dock.”
It’s so nice how Meg always gives him direction. He cuts through the house to the back door and makes his way down to the dock, where Willie is sitting with his feet swinging in lazy arcs over the water, his fishing pole at his side.
“Anything biting?” Aaron asks, stopping a few feet back.
“Nah, not tonight. I’m just…” Willie gestures vaguely and smiles back over his shoulder. “Communing, I guess. What brings you over here?”
Aaron shoves his hands in his pockets and shrugs. “Got dumped. Made bread.”
Willie blinks slowly but keeps smiling. Aaron can almost see the hazy energy flow from the water, up around him, and back again. “I guess that makes sense for your skill set.”
“Meg said to bring you in. She’s got a ritual.”
“Of course she does.” Willie laughs softly and gets to his feet. “You doing okay with it? Not gonna act out and go through every girl in Lauderdale?”
“I’m sad.” Aaron shrugs again. “But not acting-out sad, I guess.”
“You wouldn’t let yourself act out. They trained that out of you good.” Willie throws his arm around Aaron’s shoulders and starts walking them both back to the house. He’s swaying a little on his feet, and Aaron ends up holding him up as much as the other way around. He must have been deep in connection with the water.
“No point acting out,” Aaron says when he realizes Willie’s watching him from the corner of his eye. “It doesn’t do any good, you know?”
“It’s okay to feel your emotions sometimes, kid. That’s all I’m saying.”
Aaron isn’t totally sure that’s true. If he felt all of his emotions, they might eat him alive. “I guess. Watch your step.”
“It’s my house, I know where the steps are.” Willie doesn’t pull away from him, though, just lets Aaron guide him into the house and down the hall to the kitchen.
Megan has the bread arranged on its towel at the center of the table, with a row of three candles on one side and a little cup of butter on the other, the top of it covered with a few pinches of dried herbs.
“Salt water for the knife,” she says when the come in, offering her bread knife hilt-first to Willie. “All you have to do is touch it, old man of the sea.”
Willie sticks his tongue out at her and obediently takes the knife, touching his fingertips to the blade. “It smells good, kid. Nice little snack.”
“It’s sadness bread,” Aaron reminds them. “It might not be nice at all, if I didn’t do it right.”
“You did,” Meg says, taking the knife back and cutting the loaf into six even slices. “I can feel it just touching the crust, you did great.”
“Oh.” It’s nice to have that confirmed, even if he doesn’t know how he did it. “What do we do now?”
“Eat.” She uses the tip of the knife to smear a bit of butter on the first three slices and handed them each one. “With a clear and hopeful mind focused on the future, not the past.”
Aaron does his best, looking into the candlelight and letting the butter melt on his tongue. It’s hard to think about the future, though; all he wants to think about is Willie and Megan, and being here right now.
The rest of December and the beginning of January are good on the ice, and okay off of it—he’s not ready for another girlfriend, but he picks up a couple of times and they’re all fun and no big deal. He’s growing up or whatever. Moving on.
The concussion is like hitting a wall; it throws off his plan for the season and his life at home and his ability to even take care of himself like a goddamn adult.
He just wants to sleep if he can and hide in the dark sulking if he can’t, because his head hurts and his stomach feels disgusting and he’s bored. He can practically feel himself losing muscle tone by the hour.
Meg comes over to the apartment to check on him and mostly rolls her eyes at his dramatics. “I know all about concussions, Aaron, and you’re not anywhere near as badly off as you think you are.”
“I feel awful.”
“I know. But you sound like yourself and you can carry on a conversation, so I’m not all that concerned yet.”
He sighs and flops back on the couch, glaring at the ceiling. “My head hurts.”
“I know.” She walks around the room, holding her hand out in an absent way that means she’s feeling the energy currents in the room. “Did you take your medication?”
“Good job.” She tilts her head and frowns slightly. “May I tap into your circle?”
“I want to try something. I think it’ll make you feel better, it’s worked for Will before.”
“It’s not making tea, is it? I’m so sick of tea.”
She rolls her eyes, flexing her fingers against the energy. “It’s not tea. May I or not?”
“Yeah, okay, go ahead.”
She flexes her fingers again, her brow furrowing in concentration. Aaron doesn’t feel anything change, though. “What are you…”
“It’s not immediate. I’m moving a lot of air, here, there’s pressure to keep track of, moisture, all kinds of things.”
It takes a minute for that to make sense. “You—you’re changing the weather for me? Megan!”
“Calm down, I’m just making a bubble around the building. I don’t go around changing major weather patterns, what kind of witch do you think I am?”
She gestures again and now Aaron is starting to feel it--his head aches just a little bit less, like a weight that was pressing down on his skull has been removed.
“That’s better, right?” Megan nods and moves her hands like she’s tying off a knot. “A nice low-pressure zone around the building. It’ll settle in fully in an hour or so and last a day or two.”
“You’re sure it’s okay to do this? It won’t set off a hurricane or anything?”
She sighs and brushes her hair off her forehead. “Aaron, let people do nice things for you without panicking about it.”
“That wasn’t a suggestion.”
I love you, he thinks, and almost blurts it out, but—no, what? No. He can’t say things like that. He can’t think things like that. Where did that even come from? He lies back and throws his arm across his face.
“Is the light bothering you, too?” She sounds so concerned, so nice. He presses his arm down harder until it hurts across the bridge of his nose. “Maybe you should just come back to the house with me, so you’ve got someone around. I don’t like anyone being left alone after concussions.”
If he goes back to the house, into that circle that’s all full of echoes of himself and so much warm welcoming energy and all of that sex magic, Jesus, he will definitely do something stupid or let something slip or just die of mortification. “I’m okay, Megan. Really. I promise I’ll call if I start to feel weird.”
“You’d better.” He can hear her walking around, fussing with lamps and curtains. “All right, I’m just going to set up a pitcher of sun tea and then I’ll let you rest.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“Stop arguing with me, please.”
He does, but he doesn’t stop panicking, because those words came up out of somewhere in his head or his heart or his soul or something and he’s got to figure out where and dig them out before the team gets back. Before Willie gets back.
He has a lot of time to lie around and worry about it while his head heals up, but not a lot of time to actually do anything about—whatever this bad thought is. Wherever it came from. Getting rid of it will probably take a lot of meditation and maybe some spells to break off connections and stuff like that, and he doesn’t have time, between recovering and practicing and getting back out on the ice for games.
He’s so busy worrying about it that he doesn’t notice at first that the locker room is getting more turbulent. The calm, even atmosphere is choppy, jerking back and forth between mostly smooth and suddenly alight with strong feelings coming from different directions and battling it out.
He notices it when they come off a sloppy practice, bad passes and some near-collisions and okay, yeah, Kuli actually did clip Lu during the last scrimmage, but it wasn’t that bad. Definitely not bad enough to explain the burst of anger that almost levels the room.
Huby bumps into Guddy, who spins around and shoves him into Barkov, who says something angry in Finnish and throws his gloves down like he’s about to go, and Aaron just stands there gawking at all of them because he can’t even figure out where the anger is coming from. It doesn’t seem to belong to anyone in particular, it’s just a random noise run through a megaphone until it leaves them all bleeding.
Thorty claps his hands together with a little extra force, enough to startle the room into stillness. “That’s enough,” he says, and somehow it’s enough for everyone to pull together. That’s what a veteran presence in the room actually means, Aaron thinks dizzily.
“Get changed and showered and head home,” Thorty says, looking across the locker room. When Aaron follows his gaze he finds himself looking at Willie, and Jags, who’s already gone to Willie’s side and is talking to him softly. Willie has one hand pressed to the side of his head, and his face is twisted in an unhappy grimace.
Oh, Aaron thinks, and suddenly it’s like he’s looking at everything from very far away.
Nobody will tell him anything. The coaches and trainers obviously won’t, Megan keeps brushing him aside with “This isn’t a good time, honey,” and Willie barely responds to him at all.
It feels bad, really bad. Not just on the personal hurt-feelings level, but on the negative-energy-everywhere level that there is a bad thing going on, hurting someone he cares about, and he can’t get to them to help. He can’t do anything.
He walks the edges of his apartment’s circle a hundred times and spends hours in the kitchen, making things that come out steeped in worry and fear.
Finally he can’t take it anymore and climbs into his truck, a paper bag of dried herbs from the balcony beside him on the front seat. He drives to the Mitchell house and lets himself in, catching the dog’s collar in one hand to keep him from jumping as he makes his way through the entryway. “Megan? It’s me.”
It takes a minute before he hears her footsteps coming down the stairs. “Aaron? What are you doing here? Is everything all right?”
“I just wanted to see what’s going on. I’ve been worried.”
Her smile is tight and forced, but she comes over and hugs him, and that helps a little. “There’s nothing to worry about. Everything’s fine.”
She sighs and steps back again, brushing her hair off her face. “It’s difficult, and he’s definitely not happy, but it’s not as bad as he’s had it before. Honestly. I’m fussing, but that’s just because I love him and don’t like seeing him hurt. I’m not scared this time.”
Aaron chews on his lower lip and nods, looking down at the bag in his hands. “That’s good. I mean. That helps me feel a little better.”
“Good.” She catches his arm and squeezes it. “I know you love him, too.”
If he didn’t have a good grip on his shields, his shock at that might’ve knocked her back across the room. “What?”
“You idolize him. You two are so good for each other. It’s sweet, honey, it’s nice to see.”
Aaron forces a smile and steps away, turning toward the hall to the kitchen. “I brought some stuff. I’m going to make him some stuff. Just, like, herbal tea and some savory pastries. Is that okay?”
She glances up the stairs before she answers. “Yes… yes, sure, if you want to. Go ahead.”
“Does he not want…” He stops, catching the look on her face. “He doesn’t want to see me.”
“He’s being difficult. About being less than his best.”
“I know that it’s rough. I know concussions suck. I just had one.”
“This is more than that, Aaron. It’s the accumulation of a whole career.” She takes a deep breath. “He doesn’t want you to see him like that. He doesn’t want you to think he’s weak.”
“I don’t! I wouldn’t!” His fingers tear through the edge of the paper bag. “You know I wouldn’t.”
“I do know that. Yes. But he’s being difficult.”
“I can help.” Aaron pushes his energy toward her, clumsy and too strong, by the way she winces and steps back. “Two witches working together? We can make him feel better. I can help you.”
She glances at the stairs again. “Make the tea, okay? And pastries. That will help. It really will.”
“I’m going to burn a candle too.” He backs toward the kitchen this time, keeping his eyes on her. “Maybe cast some salt. The energy is all messed up here.”
For the first time, she cracks a little, sharp at the edges. “Well of course it is, half of its heart—”
She bites her lip and turns away, and he retreats alone to the quiet room he knows so well even though he doesn’t live here anymore.
He gets out Megan’s box of teas and the ingredients for the pastry dough. He mixes that first, cutting butter and flour together, adding the herbs he wants, working as much positive energy and hope for healing into it as he can. Once the pastries go into the oven, he turns to the teas, sorting through them and finding the one that feels the most aligned to his intent.
He focuses more energy into the water while it heats, though water barely absorbs anything at all. Adding the tea doubles the absorption of his will right away, and he concentrates as hard as he can while it steeps, wanting every molecule to buzz with healing and care and good wishes.
Once he’s put as much as he can into it, he lights a candle, reaching out with his mind and picking up the threads of the house’s energy circle. It’s easy to weave himself back into it, easier than he expected it to be. It feels like the house has been waiting for him.
He tunes up the house-circle gently, as best he can, combing through to remove some of the knots of anxiety and pain, soothing the rough places that process leaves, pouring as much of himself as he can into it to mend things. He feels shaky when he drops back into himself—maybe he drained off a bit more than he should have—but satisfied, too. He did good work.
The oven chimes that the pastries are ready, and he busies himself taking care of those, casting his last bit of spare energy at the tea to keep it warm until he gets everything arranged on a plate to carry upstairs. Glasses of wine for himself and Megan, the tea for Willie, pastries for all of them. He finds the nice tray Megan uses for dinner parties in the bottom cabinet and sets everything out on it, then heads upstairs.
The blackout curtains are up in the bedroom, which makes him wince in sympathy. His ears pop when he steps through the door—Megan must have pulled her weather magic down to a circle just around the room instead of the whole house. Willie’s sitting up in bed, and smiling, but the smile is strained and he looks ten years older than the guy Aaron knows.
“Hey, kid,” Willie says. “You really didn’t have to do this, but Meg told me not to be ungrateful, so I’m just gonna say thank you.”
Getting an answer out actually hurts, but he manages it. “Of course. You know I’ll do anything I can for you.”
“You’re a good guy.” Willie’s smile eases a little and he settles more comfortably against the pillows. “So, what’ve you got for me? I get the wine, right?”
“Wrong.” Aaron sets the tray down on the dresser. “I made you tea. Like, healing tea, so… you gotta drink all of it.”
“Listen to the kitchen-witch, Will.” Megan brushes her fingers over Aaron’s wrist as she takes the mug and one of the wine glasses. “He’s the boss of this kind of thing.”
“I’m not used to him being the boss.” Willie nods toward Aaron again. “There’s food, too, don’t pretend there isn’t. I smelled it baking.”
“Cheese pastries. Also healing, kind of. Good wishes, anyway.” Aaron brings the plate over to the bed. “I mean, if I did it right.”
“It’s always going to be good wishes from you. You don’t have a bad thought in you.” That’s not true at all. Aaron could argue about it for an hour, but before he can start Willie picks up the mug of tea and breathes in the steam.
Aaron doesn’t know what he did at first. He just knows that Willie’s eyes widen and that Meg sits suddenly upright, before Willie takes the first sip of tea and Megan’s circle around the room flares like a bolt of lightning.
“Holy shit,” Willie gasps, curling forward around the mug. “Oh my god, Aaron.”
“What? What did I do?” Even as he asks, he feels it, all that energy he put into the house flowing through the smaller circle and reaching for all of them, flowing between them on a net of bonds none of them even realized were there.
It’s so obvious once they’re lit up. The ones between Willie and Megan are strong, established, grounded in years of love and affection and sharing magic back and forth. The ones between each of them and Aaron are younger, more tentative, but they’re real, and undisputably there.
Some of the ones between him and Willie feel like camaraderie and team, which makes sense, but the rest of them—and the ones to Megan—
“Did… did you know?” Aaron asks, his throat dry. “Did you feel me joining into the, um.”
“We were usually pretty distracted when we were doing that,” Megan says, but Willie shakes his head at her.
“We knew.” He takes another careful sip of tea, and the energy between them shimmers. “We just… pretended we didn’t know. Like you pretended it didn’t happen. It was too awkward for any of us.”
“It wasn’t awkward,” Aaron whispers. “It was really beautiful.”
“Good sex magic always is.” Megan drags her hands through her hair. “Oh, fuck, Will, how did we let this—”
He holds the mug out to her. “Taste this.”
“What? No, I don’t need any goddamn tea, I—”
“Just taste it, Meg.”
She does, and her eyes widen, too, as another shimmering wave goes through the room. “Oh. Oh, Aaron.”
“What?” What the hell did he do to that tea? “What is going on?”
She cradles the mug between her hands, looking down into the liquid. “There’s so much love in this, honey.”
Oh. Oh, no. “You guys know I love you, that isn’t, like, a thing. It isn’t news, it’s just…”
“Stop,” Willie says, and Aaron does, because what else is he supposed to do? He’s such a terrible liar. Now everything is going to be exposed, everything, and there’s nothing he can do about it.
“I’m sorry.” He takes a step back, like that’ll help, like anything can help at this point. “I’ll make it stop. I’ll figure out how and I’ll… I’ll stop it. Okay?”
“You don’t have to stop it,” Meg says, and Willie glances at her with raised eyebrows. “Well, why should he? It’s a feeling. Feelings aren’t right or wrong. What you do with them is.”
Aaron doesn’t want to say anything else, but he can’t let that just stand. “Mixing myself up in your sex magic was wrong. And you’re married. It’s wrong to, like. Have feelings at you. I should respect your marriage.”
“Putting yourself into someone else’s spell is rude, but not necessarily wrong,” she counters. “And besides, we weren’t careful. We should’ve put up some more shields and taken more precautions. Shoving your way through our shields would’ve been wrong. Getting drawn in the way you were is just…” She trails off, frowning slightly. “I don’t know what it is, but not wrong.”
Willie steals the tea back from her. “The difference between overhearing and eavesdropping.”
Aaron slowly sinks down to the floor and sits, leaning back on his hands with his legs stretched out in front of him. “That maybe works for the first time, I guess, but after that…”
“Look, kid.” Willie’s voice sharpens, edging toward him being the captain, and Aaron’s eyes go to him automatically. “I get that you’re really determined to believe we’re mad at you, or we should be mad at you anyway, but we’re not. So get over it and deal with what’s actually going on, okay?”
“What is actually going on?”
Willie and Meg look at each other with matching consternation. Aaron would laugh if he could remember how.
“Your feelings,” Meg says finally. “Your feelings are going on, and that’s okay, and we think you should keep them.”
“I should keep loving you.”
“Both of you.”
“And just not… do anything with it.”
Willie’s eyes narrow. “Do you want to do something with it? Because if you do, you have to say so in words. Don’t expect us to guess. That isn’t fair.”
Aaron thinks for a minute, looking down at the carpet. He drags his fingers through it, raking the fibers this way and then that way, scratching down between them to the weave that holds it all together.
“Not during the season,” he says finally, his voice catching in his throat so what comes out is barely audible. “That’s… it would be…” He looks up and finds them both looking at him, and there’s just so much in their faces, their eyes, he wants to crawl to them and hide his face and let them protect him from all of this wild and scary stuff that’s inside him, in his head and his heart and his magic, reaching out to try to join with theirs again.
“Too much?” Willie supplies, and nods at Aaron’s relieved breath. “It is a lot. A big change for during the stretch run.”
“You get it.” Aaron looks at Megan again, hoping she gets it, too. It might not be something she wants to get, one of the pieces that outsiders can’t share.
She tucks her hair back behind her ear and smiles at him. “I don’t think anything’s ever been hurt by going slowly.”
He falls back on the floor in relief this time, and they both laugh, but he can feel the energy coming off them so clearly they must be deliberately projecting it at him, and it’s not mean at all. It’s warm.
“You need some tea, too, I think, after all that.” Meg gets up and brushes her hand over Willie’s shoulder, and nudges Aaron’s side with her foot as she walks by. “I’ll be right back. Get off the floor, too, you’re going to be covered in dog hair.”
Willie makes room for him to sit on the edge of the bed. It isn’t too much, but it’s more, about as much more as he can handle right then. Willie squeezes his shoulder like he gets that, and doesn’t press, just pushes more gentle warmth at his aura.
The tea Meg brings for all of them is so full of love and affection that Aaron has to close his eyes. He drinks the cup dry and wishes he could have more. He wants to feel like this forever.
The rest of the season is weird. Nobody’s balancing the energy in the room, so they have to keep order with a mixture of talking stuff out and just pulling physical intimidation on each other. Or yelling a lot. Sometimes they yell a lot.
Aaron keeps working on his circle at his apartment, building it up and feeding it and shaping the energy. It’s important to have a strong home base, somewhere safe and comforting where he can recuperate when he needs to and draw on energy reserves soaked into the space over time.
He knows he’s not fully present there, though. Part of him is always thinking about Willie and Megan, sending little tendrils of energy out toward their house. There’s just enough of him woven into their circle that he can reach for it, like seeking like.
He tries not to go over there too much. He really does need to stay focused on his game; he can’t let distractions in until after the season. And Willie is recuperating. He has bad days where having anyone around but Megan is a lot for him to deal with. Aaron doesn’t want to make anything worse. So he tries to stay away and only go by when he’s sure it’s okay.
He does a lot of cooking. A lot. He eats what he can, gives some of it away to the team, and takes other stuff over to Willie and Megan when he lets himself visit. Some of it’s worked with magic and some is just food. Everything he takes to the Mitchells is full of love and healing, but he tries not to go really overboard. None of his nervousness and hope and embarrassing longing. No lust.
Okay, from the way they glance at him and smile sometimes when they eat it, he doesn’t totally keep the lust out. But he’s trying. He’s doing his best.
They make the playoffs and it’s amazing, it’s the best thing, it’s really happening, they’re doing this.
And then it’s over.
He sleeps for two days when he gets home to Florida. He gets up long enough to eat and pee, then goes back to bed, burrowing down under layers of blankets and hiding his head under the pillows and just sleeping. That energy store he built up in the circle comes in handy, soaking back through his skin while he sleeps. When he wakes up and is ready to deal with life again, he’s not drained and shaky; he’s strong.
He showers, shaves, dresses, combs his hair. He looks at himself in the mirror for a bit. He doesn’t have anything baked, and he’s too impatient to wait and do it. But it would be wrong to show up empty-handed.
He takes one of the little pots of mint from the balcony garden. Small and symbolic, but that’s enough. Enough of a gift to cover the formalities, before he offers them his whole heart.
It doesn’t go quite the way he planned. They leave the mint on the table in the entryway, barely looking at it. Willie is distracted all through dinner, breaking off mid-sentence and staring out the window. Megan doesn’t seem worried, but her attention is pretty focused on Willie, without much left for Aaron. He tries to push his disappointment away—Willie’s health is more important than his feelings or whatever—but it’s quiet and awkward.
They move to the living room afterward, with wine and Meg’s really good cookies. Aaron eats four and drinks his wine way too fast, fidgeting in his seat and trying to figure out how to steer things around to what he came here to talk about. The playoffs are over, his feelings are still there, and if theirs are, too, well…
Before he can figure it out, though, Willie gets to his feet, a dreamy expression on his face. “I gotta go out for a bit.”
“Where, babe?” Meg asks, watching him closely. Aaron feels invisible, like maybe he was never actually here at all. Maybe he imagined everything.
“Down to the water.” Willie gestures in the direction of the dock. “Out on the boat, I think.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea. By yourself? After dark?”
“Not the big boat. Just a little… one of the rowboats or something.” Willie tugs restlessly at the hem of his t-shirt, and suddenly Aaron gets it. Oh. It’s a witch thing; he wants go out to his element, commune with the water.
Meg must understand, too, but she isn’t accepting it happily. “Will, no. It’s not safe.”
“I’ve got to.”
“I think it’s calling him,” Aaron says, his voice breaking the moment with an awkwardness that means yeah, they both had pretty much forgotten he was there. “The ocean, I mean. It wants to talk to him about something.”
Willie smiles at him, which is a little bit better—he might have forgotten about Aaron, but he was glad to remember, at least. “Yeah, exactly. I need to go down there and figure out what to do next. Can’t do it all on my own.”
“You’re not on your own,” Meg snaps, her voice wavering. That seems to cut through the ocean’s voice, because Willie turns to her, reaching out to touch her face.
“I know that, baby,” he says, and Aaron makes himself look away again; this isn’t his to be part of. “But you know how it works. Sometimes it calls and you just have to…”
“I get it.” She rests her head against his chest; Aaron is trying not to look but he can’t stop peeking out of the corner of his eye. “But I don’t have to like it.”
Willie kisses her, slow and deep. “Aaron? Can you stay? Take care of her while I’m gone?”
“Uh.” Aaron swallows hard as their attention turns to him. There are so many emotions swirling around the room, lighting up the circle, that them changing their focus makes energy hit him like a good surfing wave. “Yeah, of course. You’ll be back soon, though.”
“I’m sure I will.” His voice is going dreamy again, the ocean done waiting and reestablishing its call. “Don’t worry, Meg.”
Aaron knows that was a stupid thing to say—Meg is going to worry and there’s no way to stop it—but Willie doesn’t seem to notice. He just crosses over to the sliding glass doors leading to the porch, lets himself out, and disappears into the heavy air.
Meg sighs, a slow, unsteady release of air. “Oh.”
“He’ll be okay.” From the look she gives him, he sounds as uncertain as he feels. “I mean, I’m sure he’ll be okay.”
She shakes her head and closes her eyes, her shoulders tense and tight. They both know what a call like this means; it’s a turning point, a big decision. The decision could come up as yes, no, or the ocean calling Willie right over the edge of the boat and down into itself.
There’s nothing either of them can do about it. A call is a call, completely out of anyone’s hands except the witch in question and the powers that lie behind the energy of the world. All the two of them can do is wait.
“I’ll make tea,” Aaron says. He can’t just sit there and stare, and Meg definitely needs something. Tea might not be much, but it’s what he can offer.
He finds her box of tea leaves and chooses her favorite blend, going through all the steps of preparing the water and the leaves and setting it up to steep. He pours as much energy into it as he can, general positivity and calming thoughts. He knows he’s getting love all over it, too, he can’t stop himself; he let himself get all amped up about love before he came over here and now he can’t turn it off. Fear and love are pouring out of him and making his aura do a ridiculous light show, and he can only concentrate enough to block one of them from getting into the tea.
He takes it back to the living room and hands it to her, standing awkwardly in front of her while she dips her head to breathe in the steam. “I could bake some bread,” he offers. “Or, like. Cake. Something. I know you just made cookies so not those, but I could make something.”
“Just sit down with me.” There are tears in her eyes when she looks up. He’s not sure if he’s supposed to pretend that’s just from the steam or acknowledge them. He sits down beside her and stares at his hands, wishing he knew what the fuck to do.
She drinks slowly, sighing after a deep swallow. “Oh, Aaron. You’re so good.”
“I came over here tonight to tell you guys I was ready now.” He still can’t look at her, just focuses on his hands, the calluses and a little cut from where he nicked himself on a skate blade. “My timing kind of sucks.”
“Your timing is fine. Will’s timing sucks.” She slips her arm through his, tugging him closer. “We’ve been waiting for you.”
“I should’ve gotten over myself sooner.” He flexes his hand, watching the edges of the cut tug with the motion. “Maybe it would’ve set up more of an anchor for him? Changed things?”
“I don’t think so, baby.” Her voice wavers and she tries to cover it with another sip of tea. “A call is a call. It’s about making decisions inside, not what’s going on outside.”
“Still. I should’ve tried harder.”
She shakes her head and puts the cup down, turning to face him and catch his face in her hands. “You don’t have to try with us, Aaron. That’s the whole point.”
After about an hour of waiting, he convinces her to come to the kitchen with him and bake bread, because if they don’t do something they’re both going to melt down. The bread will probably be too full of anxiety to be edible, but they can put it out for birds or something. Birds don’t have human emotional problems.
Willie’s still not back by the time the bread comes out of the oven, though, and they’ve cleaned everything in the kitchen. Aaron doesn’t know what else to do.
Meg tries to smile at him. “You should go home. I’ll be okay.”
“I promised I would stay and I’m going to stay.”
“I’m not going to be much fun, honey, I’m just going to be waiting up for him.”
“I don’t care about fun, Megan. I just want to wait for him, too.” This is how love works, the awful flip side of love that’s all worry and fear. He can’t leave without knowing.
She drags her hands through her hair and looks around helplessly, then picks up the remote and fiddles with the TV for a moment. “Well, then you’re going to have to watch chef shows with me.”
“That’s fine.” Chef stuff is soothing. Not competition shows, those stress him out, but the ones that just follow chefs around while they talk about what they do—those are nice. Quiet. He can imagine the magic unspooling slowly and steadily under their hands.
Meg pulls up Netflix and finds the show she wants, then tugs her knees against her chest and wraps her arms around them, making herself tiny in the corner of the couch. Aaron can’t stand for that, seeing her look so small and scared while he’s just sitting here, doing nothing, not even able to figure out what to do with his hands.
He moves over to her side, looking at her seriously. “Is this okay?”
She nods and curls into him, resting her head on his shoulder and tugging at his arm until he puts it around her waist. It should feel weird, he expects it to feel weird, but instead it just… it’s right. The house circle is humming around them at a perfect, satisfied level. He feels like he fits. Some of the tension goes out of her shoulders, too, just enough to be clear that this is helping. He’ll stay there all night as long as that’s the case.
They run out of chef stuff and switch over to a documentary about horses before the porch door opens again and Willie comes inside. The house circle jumps when he steps in, lighting up like fireworks from the energy hovering around him. The whole room instantly smells like salt and ocean air. He’s carrying enough power to start a storm on his own.
“Will.” Megan’s voice is small and choked with relief. She holds her arm out to him, staying pressed close to Aaron. “Thank god.”
“I told you I would be back, baby.” His voice is different, rough and throaty. Aaron knows it’ll wear off in time, but for now, along with the power around him, it’s dazzling, like a true sea-god came back to the house.
“You can’t be sure with a calling.” She pulls him in and down onto the couch, half across her lap and the rest into Aaron’s. “There’s no way to be sure.”
“Not time for me to go yet.” He kisses her, deep and slow, and Aaron would feel shut out again except that Willie’s hand fumbles around until it finds his and squeezes tight. Megan’s arm is still around his waist, and his arm is around her shoulder, and they’re all just—connected. A smaller circle closed and flowing within the house-circle. There’s so much power here that he can’t think, can only feel. He’s sitting inches from the sun and instead of burning up, it’s bringing him into its glow.
Willie rests his forehead against Meg’s for a moment and then turns to Aaron. “So… the season’s over, and you’ve had a little bit of a break, do you by any chance want to talk some more about what we talked about back in—”
“Oh.” Aaron feels himself blush. “Yeah. Um. I already decided about that, I came over tonight to tell you guys. I already told Megan, while you were out.”
“Yeah?” Willie keeps grinning at him, eyebrows raised expectantly. Aaron isn’t really sure what else he wants him to say. “Did you decide yes or no?”
“Oh!” Aaron blushes again, even deeper. “Yes! Definitely, um. Yes. We should do that, I think. I decided. Yes.”
“Awesome.” Willie takes his hand again, and Aaron can feel the ocean rushing around him, coursing over his skin and roaring in his ears. “Let’s go upstairs and give it a test run?”
Meg rolls her eyes. “That’s the least sexy way you possibly could have said it.” She takes Aaron’s other hand and tugs him up off the couch. “But yes. Come on.”
Aaron follows along, holding on tight. “You guys better have some extra shielding or we’re going to scare the whole neighborhood.”
Willie and Megan glance at each other and smirk. “A little cocky there, eh?” Willie asks.
Aaron rolls his eyes. “You’re still practically glowing, that’s all. You’ll blow the roof off.”
“You’re overestimating me just a little bit. But I’m flattered.” Willie pushes the bedroom door open and he and Meg walk Aaron to the bed. “Finally.”
It’s Megan’s turn to tug Aaron around to face her, cup his jaw in her hands, and kiss him. “We’re glad you’re here,” she whispers against his mouth.”
“I’m glad to be here,” Aaron whispers back, swallowing hard against the way too many emotions rushing through him. He lets them channel out into his aura, though, and from Willie’s low whistle it’s pretty impressive. Aaron can’t see it, but he can imagine, a million shades of color and light.
Meg kisses him again, then gently pushes him down onto the bed on his back. They both let their auras go, too, and he’s never seen anything so beautiful.
This time when they touch him, all the energy flows together unimpeded, setting off a wave of heat low in his belly and making his blood start to thrum in his veins.
He’s never felt anything like this before, but he’s not nervous. He’s right where he’s supposed to be.
Going from the World Cup to training camp is a hard drop back into reality. Nobody at the Fort Lauderdale airport recognizes him or cares. There is nobody waiting to carry his bag. It’s weird but also kind of a nice kick in the ego; he smiles all the way out to the cab line.
He can already feel Willie and Megan, warm and present in his mind. Doing sex magic on purpose heightens awareness and strengthens bonds a lot. He hadn’t realized how much until he got to track their trip to Europe by little frissons of excitement and amazement and sleepiness, and then wade through the sorrow and nerves and hope coming from Willie over July and August while he went back and forth from Florida to Tofino figuring out his next steps. It was a little scary to feel Willie being so uncertain, but Meg was there, too, steady and loving and with no patience for any bullshit.
And now they’re all back, in the same place at least for a little while. Aaron can’t wait to see them.
They can sense him, too, because they’re both waiting on the porch before the cab even turns down their street. Aaron grins and waves like an idiot, swiping his credit card and tripping over himself to get out of the car. “Hey!”
“Hey, rookie.” Willie comes over and collects his bags while Megan hugs him, warm and tight and singing with soft sea winds all around her.
“Am I making dinner?” Aaron asks her, and she laughs, bumping her head against his shoulder.
“You’re helping me. And you’re doing the bread, because you’ll make it extra-amazing.”
“I’ll do my best.” With how good he feels right now, it should be at least amazing, if not extra. He’s confident about that.
They make their way inside and he gets his chance to hug Willie, burying his face against his shoulder and breathing him in. “How’re you doing?” he asks softly, right into Willie’s ear. Willie squeezes him around the ribs and just nods, but Aaron can feel that he’s okay. He bumps his chin on Willie’s shoulder and veers away from getting too sappy. “How’s life on a spousal visa?”
Willie rolls his eyes and pushes Aaron back. “Look at this. He’s here two minutes and he’s chirping me. Where did he learn to act like that, huh, Meg?”
“Three guesses and the first two don’t count,” she says dryly. “Aaron, you need a drink or anything? Tea? Freshen up?”
He laughs and holds his hands out, feeling how his aura flows easily up and out into the house circle. “I’m good. I’m really.. Yeah, I’m good.” How could he not be? He’s here, and that means he’s home.