Putting a tie around his neck, Jackson asks, “Are you sure you don’t mind?”
Reaching over to tie it, Ethan nods. “It’ll be fine. Try not to insult your dad’s boss.”
Jackson scoffs. “I still maintain he slept his way to the top. It’s the only explanation that makes any sense.”
“Would you sleep with him?”
“If I were suicidal, there are far less painful ways to die.”
He laughs. “Good answer.” Moving over, he nuzzles his nose into Jackson’s hair. “I’ll get the magic kit for your kid cousin’s party.”
“You need to start-”
“Look, I like her, but there is no way I’m going to call a ten-year-old girl ‘Candie Hart’. What in the hell was your cousin thinking naming her kid Candice with the last name Hart?”
“Actually, it was her dad who picked the name. One of his grandmothers was named that.”
“That’s both sweet and much worse.”
“I think they expected her to want to go by her middle name. Like you said, she’s ten. She thinks about heart-shaped, colourful, sugar-filled candy with sappy sayings printed on them, not hookers.”
“I hope, somehow, that manages to last her until she’s old and on her deathbed and realises she definitely owes her parents a stern lecture.”
Laughing, Jackson brings his hand up to Ethan’s neck, and leaning away slightly, Ethan kisses him. “It’ll be fine on my end. See that it’s the same on yours. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
Somehow, he makes a wrong turn and realises he has no idea where he is.
He’s just about to call Jackson when he finds himself looking at Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. He could have sworn it wasn’t there before, but maybe, he did somehow manage to miss the building with a large robotic head and arm and a disappearing rabbit when the arm puts on and removes a hat.
Going inside, he’s sees it’s almost empty and somewhat drab in decoration, but he will give the saleswoman in a ridiculous magenta robe doing a demonstration for some customers this: She’s incredibly talented; if he didn’t know better, he’d think she was a druid doing some actual low-key magic.
Finding a cheap, starter magic kit, he’s about to go pay for it when a man wearing a cloak and black robe passes him, opens a door he hadn’t even realised was there, and slips inside.
The instinct to run wars with the instinct to investigate. Something about this whole place feels- off. He’s not sure if it’s bad, but he definitely doesn’t feel right.
Edging towards the door, he jumps when he hears, “Sorry, mate, but only real witches and wizards are allowed past that point.”
Guessing this means employees, he resists making a quip about being a werewolf and asking if this is enough to grant him access.
Looking over, he sees a man in regular clothes with a beanie covering his ears. A little bit of red hair has managed to escape from underneath, though, and rests against his forehead. Offering his hand, the man continues, “George Weasley, one of the founders and owners. Anything I can do to help you?”
Shaking the hand, he holds up the kit. “I was just getting ready to pay for this.”
“I’ll ring you up. Interested in magic?”
“No, not really. My boyfriend’s cousins are throwing a party to reward their daughter for getting straight As all year, and she’s always loved magicians. We thought she might like to start learning magic tricks herself.”
“Wicked,” George says with a small smile. “Is she American, too?”
“Yeah. We’re flying out tomorrow.”
Ringing the purchase up, George withdraws something from underneath the counter and tosses it over.
Looking down, Ethan sees it’s a small figure of a man.
“Bubble machine. Go on, squeeze it.”
He does, and the figure’s head leans back, opens his mouth, and beautiful, multi-coloured bubbles come out.
“How does it work?”
“Trade secret. When it doesn’t produce bubbles, she’ll just need to pour some water into his mouth, though, mind you, she might have to actually pry it open at times.”
“On the house. If she can figure out how it works, I reckon she’ll either be a great witch or something along the lines of a brilliant scientist or engineer. How old is she?”
“She just turned ten. Thank you.”
“Have a safe flight.”
A little boy with red hair runs through the door with his hands full of stuff. “Uncle George, Mummy said that-”
Seeing a telescope slip through the boy’s arms, he grabs it, hears a panicked, “No, don’t,” and then, suddenly, pain goes through his head and his left eye is swelling.
Unlike his healing, he manages to restrain the family unfriendly phrases going through his now pain-free head.
“Cool!” The little boy, who Ethan knows isn’t a werewolf, looks up with impressed, non-scared eyes. “Are you a healer? Even with the bruise removal paste, it takes about an hour for-”
Soon enough, George manages to get the little boy to go back into the mysterious room.
“Er, I’m guessing you aren’t a wizard? But are something?”
“Werewolf. You’re telling me wizards exist?”
“But muggle werewolves- Oh, wait. Uh, look, mate, why don’t we go somewhere where there aren’t No-Majs around, yeah?”
“Is that not the right term? What d’you call muggles, again?”
All he can do is repeat, “What?”
They go into the strange door, and there are things he can’t comprehend. They go upstairs to an office, and there are pictures that are moving, an actual owl napping on the desk, and the strangest clock he’s ever seen.
George withdraws an honest-to-God wand, and soon enough, he's forced to admit, George is doing real magic with it.
“So, we have werewolves. But they’re all witches and wizards. If a muggle, someone who isn’t magic, is bitten by a transformed werewolf, they almost always die,” he says with a frown. “They’re have been a few cases where one managed to survive, but it’s hard to impress how rare these instances are. Most magic people, they die from werewolf attacks.”
Shifting, he lets George study him. “Only certain werewolves, alphas, can turn a human into a werewolf. They have red eyes.”
“Our werewolves, during the full moon, they literally can’t stop themselves from turning into a wolf. There’s a potion they can take that’ll keep their human mind present. If they don’t, they’ll go on a rampage until morning comes. Is your boyfriend’s cousin like you?”
“No. We have born and bitten wolves. My brother- I’m a born wolf. When I started puberty, my werewolf abilities began to manifest. My boyfriend was a human who had an alpha bite him when he was seventeen.”
He decides there’s no need to make things even more confusing by going into the fact Jackson is a werewolf-kanima hybrid.
“Do you ever transform into a wolf?”
“A few werewolves, usually alphas, have the ability to do a full shift, but it’s rare. They keep their human mind when they do it.”
George nods. “Is your brother not a born werewolf? Some magic families, they’ll have a kid born with no magic. We call them squibs.”
He knows George didn’t mean anything hurtful by the question, but he has to keep from growling and clawing at him. He was born first, but Aiden was always stronger. Aiden started manifesting his wolf, first. Aiden was a born wolf, but the question of is he-
“Oh, I’m sorry,” George’s quiet, sincere voice breaks into his thoughts. “I’ve had some experience with losing family.”
“He was my twin,” he finds himself saying.
To his shock, tears fill George’s eyes, sad pain fills the air, and drawing a ragged breath, George digs a wallet out of his robes, takes out a picture, and hands it over.
He can’t tell which is George. They both look to be somewhere between seventeen-to-twenty, and they’re smiling, dancing, waving their wands, and doing clumsy gymnastics.
“His name was Fred. We called ourselves Gred and Forge.”
Laughing slightly, he takes a calming breath, too. “Aiden. I’m Ethan. We were identical, too.”
George’s response is a sympathetic wince.
“This place,” George gestures, “it was our dream. Troublemakers, we were. He was always a little bit braver, and well, I used to say that I was a little bit smarter. And we loved to invent things. We had it for a little over two years before he died. Now, well, sometimes, I’ll see a customer smiling, and it’ll be almost like it used to be. Mainly, though, this place keeps his memory alive and gives me a steady income.”
Looking back down at the picture, Ethan fills a pang. There’s nothing wrong with a person doing work they don’t love-
Despite the bank accounts that Deucalion transferred to him after Aiden died, when he and Jackson started getting serious, he decided to get a job, and he works as a waiter at a café near their apartment. It fills his time during the day, and sometimes, interesting people will come in. If he hated it, he knows he could quit without worry, but he doesn’t have any passion for it.
Looking at the joy-filled, mischievous-eyed young men, though, he finds it easy to imagine their passion for playing pranks and inventing things to help facilitate these pranks. He can almost imagine the pride and love they had for this place.
“I know it’s not much, but I’m sorry,” he offers.
George nods. “Was he your only close family? Sorry if I’m getting too personal. It just seems like that.”
“Yeah.” He feels a new pang go through him. “We always sort of knew I was gay, but it didn’t matter until I got my first boyfriend. He was human and younger than me, and we were supposed to be focused on something for our alpha. He didn’t approve of the relationship for all those reasons. The thing is, though, I’m- I wouldn’t have called him homophobic, but I wonder, sometimes, if he’d have ever approved of me having a boyfriend.”
“That’s rough. I’m not sure how much this compares, but me, I come from a large family. Eight of us in all, seven boys.”
“Yeah. One of my brothers, he was always the odd one out. Still is, really, but we all loved to give him hell, me and Fred especially. Then, things got serious. The British magical world was at war. And-” George pauses for a long moment. “He took a job for someone on the opposite side of ours. Looking back now, we did all react too hard and fast. If we’d been calm and logical like him, convinced him what was really going on, why him taking the job was a bad idea, he likely would have come around.”
“Instead, we insulted him, tried to make him feel bad for being proud of being a brilliant, dedicated worker, and none of us but our mum had anything to do with him for several years. When he did realise what was happening, he fought with us, but he’s never truly forgiven any of us. If not for some of us having children, he’d cut ties completely.”
Slumping down, George sighs, “Merlin, what I wouldn’t give for my brother to just talk to me without there having to be a reason.”
Clasping his fingers through George’s, he gives a gentle squeeze. He can’t use the pain drain to take away this particular pain, but maybe, the gesture itself will help ease it a little.
George squeezes back. “Well, if it helps, I’m glad you’ve found a boyfriend. That is, I’m assuming he’s a good man who makes you happy? Treats you right?”
Taking out his phone, he shows a picture Mrs Whittemore took of the two of them sitting on their couch.
“His name is Jackson, and yes. We were sort of- not enemies, but you could say we were on different sides of certain things when I first came to London. He’s American, too, but his family had moved here during his junior year of high school. But somehow, we went from that to being in love. It wasn’t exactly smooth getting here, but we’re in a really good place right now.”
“Good.” George gives him a genuine smile.
“So, uh, I don’t know your brother. Obviously. And maybe you already have, but have you ever explained to him that you see how you mishandled your side of things and that you want to try to have a better relationship?”
“Sort of. Percy is- When he’s determined, there isn’t much that can stop him. Anytime anyone tries to bring up his estrangement, trust me, he’s out the door. Even when there are no doors, he’s out of them. Like I said, he’s only around for the children. He’d never blame them for what we did, and most of them, they’re smarter and kinder than we were and can appreciate him and all his more trying qualities.”
“Play dirty, then." At George’s look, he explains, “You and Fred used to get whatever you wanted most of the time, right? You’d torture, trick, or whatever you needed to do to manipulate situations and people. Stop trying to make nice, and do what you have to get him in a position where he’ll have to listen. Once he does, you can’t make him forgive or even believe you, but until you get him to listen, you haven’t done everything you can.”
A contemplative look settles on George’s face, and Ethan knows he’s truly considering the words. “Thanks, mate.”
“Uh, if you say no, I won’t. I know what it’s like to need to keep who and what you are a secret, but I know this banshee who’s a brilliant scientist. Would it be okay if I told her about witches and wizards and gave her directions to this place?”
“A banshee? Are yours different from ours, too?”
“What are yours like?”
George tells him.
“No. I mean, usually, her screams just clear her head and let her realise someone is about to die, but it can be turned into a weapon when she needs it to. And her hair isn’t as red as yours or your nephew’s, but she’s a redhead, too. Her grandma was a banshee. Her dad and mom don’t have anything supernatural about them.”
“Sure, I’d love to meet her.” George produces a card from his wallet. “Here. Sometimes, our concealing charms are a little wonky. We want to sell to muggles, but we have to keep them separated from the actual magical products. Unfortunately, that means, occasionally, the shop will end up completely hiding itself from muggles. But it can detect the cards and will show itself to anyone who has one. Part of how we help squibs out, too. Just try not to lose it, yeah?”
Outside, George puts a hand on his arm, and taking a deep breath, he says, “They’re both gone. Nothing we can do about it, and it’ll always hurt. When it comes to your boyfriend, try to make sure you never let your fears and doubts about what Aiden might have felt get in the way of your relationship with Jackson.”
He nods. “I hope you and Percy can manage to be close someday.”
“If we don’t, it won’t be for lack of trying on my part,” George promises.
After he drops the stuff of at the apartment, he goes to work, and when he gets back home, Jackson is dozing in bed.
Stripping down to his underwear, he crawls into bed.
Mumbling, Jackson blinks at him, and pulling Ethan against him, he greets, “Hey.”
Giving him a quick kiss, Ethan says, “You wouldn’t believe what happened to day.” Pressing closer against him, he asks, “But first, how was your day?”
Letting out a soft groan, Jackson says, “Every time I help my dad out around the office, I find myself wondering why I decided to be a lawyer. It’s not too late. I can change my major.”
“You love lawyering.”
“It’s not a career I thought I’d ever pursue,” is the stubborn retort.
“If you want to drop law school, I’m behind you. But I’m really not sure there are that many other viable career options that involves you getting to argue with people, and then, having people practically worship you for arguing on their behalf.”
Jackson sighs dramatically. “I guess that’s true. It was fine today. I’d just like to know exactly who my dad’s idiot boss slept with and what positions and the like were involved.”
“Sometimes, I feel like maybe you do want-”
“Finish that sentence, and I’m paralysing you,” Jackson warns. Shifting onto his side, he plays with a strand of hair on Ethan’s forehead and holds Ethan’s eyes with his own. “I’m the best you’re ever going to have, and part of that is due to the fact I reserve some of my most important parts and talents just for you.”
Grinning, Ethan kisses him.
When it breaks, Jackson wraps his arms and tail around him, and he closes his eyes against the pleasure. “So, what unbelievable thing happened today?”
Opening his eyes, he wraps the bottom half of the tail around his wrist, starts stroking the rest with his other hand, and tells him.
Setting the card and bubble machine down, Jackson comments, “I thought we were as caught up as we could be when we stole the Calavera bestiary.”
“Yeah. Want to invite Lydia to your kid cousin’s party? She could probably fly back with us.”
Jackson studies him. “Would you be okay with that?”
Rolling his eyes, he says, “You weren’t the best she’s ever going to have, and besides, I trust you.”
Thankfully, Jackson is engrossed in the honest-to-God magical items to pay attention to any chemo signals he can’t completely control. It’s times like this when he can almost hear Aiden’s sarcastic disdain.
He trusts Lydia, too. He knows she doesn’t want Jackson in such a way anymore, and even if she did, she wouldn’t act on it.
His insecurity and worry stems partly from the fact Lydia managed to break Jackson out of his full kanima state. Her love for him and his love for her made that possible, and no matter how much Jackson loves him and he loves Jackson back- well, hopefully, Jackson is never going to be controlled and go into full kanima state again. If Jackson did, though, would he be able to do what Lydia did?
The other thing is: When he and Jackson were trying to deny how much they were falling for each other, he’d gotten the bright idea to find another man to hook-up with, and an angry Jackson had stopped him. Everything had ended with neither being completely honest about their feelings but agreeing to monogamy.
He hadn’t gone through with it, but the fact he’d tried is always going to be there. Jackson is a natural flirt and more appreciative of coming across good-looking people than he is, but he’s fairly sure Jackson’s never even been tempted. If Jackson did actually want his dad’s boss or someone else, it might put them on a little more equal footing.
As much as he wants Aiden back, he’s glad he doesn’t have to listen to his brother lay out in blunt, excruciating detail how messed up both he and, in Aiden’s opinion, his relationship is.
“What was this wizard like?”
“Nice. He was a twin, too.”
Immediately coming over, Jackson wraps around him. “You okay?”
“Yeah.” Resting his head in the crook of Jackson’s neck, he says, “When I say ‘was’, I mean he lost his brother, too. There was this wizarding war…”
When they go to bed, he finds himself listening to Jackson breathing and heartbeat change and feeling the pulse of the tail resting on top of him. “Hey, Jackson.”
“Don’t paralyse me. Have you ever been tempted?”
“No.” Yawning, Jackson becomes a little more alert, and he presses against Ethan. “Why would I want anyone else when I have you?”
There’s none of Jackson’s normal teasing or sarcasm, but even though he believes Jackson’s sincerity, he doesn’t understand it.
Until he and Aiden met Danny and Lydia, he never thought either of them would ever have a true romantic relationship with anyone, and at first, Danny and Lydia were just supposed to be humans they used to gather information and achieve their goals for Deucalion. Aiden tried to insist it was different in Lydia’s case due to her being a banshee, but the truth was, they both found themselves falling, and maybe, if they weren’t both scared of this and what it meant, maybe, Aiden would have been more willing to support what he had with Danny.
When flies sent by an ancient Japanese spirit had possessed them, he’d accused Aiden of holding him back from finding a proper pack due to Aiden’s impulsiveness and tendency to rely on violence. In that moment, he’d meant it, but usually, he knew he’d have been dead a long time ago without Aiden.
Aiden was legitimately smarter. He was braver. His brother didn’t have much use for it, but Aiden had some genuine artistic talent. He and Deucalion had a genuine bond, and Ethan knows it hurt Aiden deeper than usual when Deucalion left them high-and-dry after getting his sight back. If Deucalion had still wanted them, Aiden would have insisted they keep following him.
They made a habit of making enemies, but if they hadn’t, he could see why and how people would want Aiden.
Danny was a teenage boy who liked how he looked. He never hurt Danny and actively worked to make him happy.
Jackson is a grown man who has seen all of his bad sides, and they have hurt one another.
“I almost did."
Jackson shrugs. “And I could have reacted better. Ever been tempted since then?”
“No,” he answers. “I wasn’t even really- I thought sleeping with someone else would take my mind off you and how hard I was falling. But what if I was? Tempted now?”
“Then, I’d hope you’d be smart enough to not choose them over the best you’ll ever have,” Jackson answers. “People find themselves wanting people besides their significant other for a variety of reasons. What matters is if they want the person they’re with more or not. Should I be worried?”
“No, of course not.”
Remembering George’s words, he half-wishes he hadn’t brought this topic up now.
He’ll never be brave the way Aiden was, but he takes a deep breath. “Believe it or not, this has nothing to do with Lydia or worries about temptation on either of our parts. What would you think if I said I wanted to marry you? Because, I do.”
Surprise is the main emotion flooding through Jackson. He sits up. “This is unexpected.”
Sitting up, too, he nods. “I’m not sure where the thought came from, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I don’t know how Aiden would feel, and there’s a chance he might not approve, but he’s not here, and he’s not coming back. I want to be yours forever, and I want to stand in front of all the people we care about, tell them how much I love you, and promise to always be yours. Have you promise to always be mine.”
There’s nothing wrong with ‘boyfriend’, but it’s gotten to a point where it almost doesn’t feel right to call Jackson that. Boyfriend was what he and Danny were, sweetness and teenage drama, finding time to sneak away and fool around, having largely separate lives despite their relationship. What he and Jackson have is this bed they bought together, this flat he insisted on decorating, not being able to sleep well when Jackson’s working late and isn’t here to wrap his tail around him, knowing Jackson has the capability of physically forcing him to do certain things but never would, and so many other things that make his life and Jackson’s almost as intertwined as his and Aiden’s were.
“If I say yes, am I going to have to be part of the wedding planning?”
He scoffs. “I know better.”
Laughing, Jackson lies back down and pulls him along. “I’d think it’d let me off the hook. See, the thing is, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, too. I’ve been working on arguments to get you to say yes. Most of these fictional discussions end with me paralysing you.”
“You could just call your mother, tell her you want to marry me.”
“I wouldn’t sink that low.”
Smiling, Ethan kisses him. “Is that a yes?”
“It’s not a no.” Jackson curls his hand around the back of Ethan’s neck. “Let’s wait until after the party. In a few weeks, if you still feel the same, you can call my mom and tell her you’re going to marry me.”
“Okay,” he agrees.
Lydia is living with George’s parents, and he still isn’t sure how this came about.
It doesn’t matter. The good thing is, with her living in the UK, he won’t have to listen to her grumble about having to take another plane ride or paying for oversea shipping in addition to what she spent on her wedding gift.
They get to the shop, and Jackson heads off to the bathroom.
He's playing with a pack of cards when he hears, “Hiya, mate.”
Looking over, he greets, “George.”
With George is a tall, thin freckled-faced redhead with glasses. Pulling him forward, George says, “This is Percy, one of my older brothers. Perce, this is Ethan, the American werewolf or whatever you lot in the ministry call his type I told you about.”
Percy offers his hand. “It’s a pleasure to meet you- Mister?”
Shaking it, he says, “It’s going to be Whittemore, soon.”
George’s eyes widen. “Oh, congratulations, mate.” He reaches over, and Ethan happily returns the hug. “I guess I won’t be meeting your boyfriend, then, but you are going to bring your fiancé or husband around soon, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, he’s in the bathroom right now.” Breaking the hug, he shows George the engagement band and concentrates on Percy.
There’s no homophobia to Percy, but Percy is outright surprised by George’s reaction.
“I wish another friend of mine could find someone special,” George sighs, and Percy has an even stronger inner reaction to this. “He’s been seeing this bloke I’ve never even met for a long time, but despite him going on about it being casual, I can tell he really likes him. But I don’t reckon it’s as serious on mystery bloke’s end. Ollie’s a catch, he deserves someone he has a chance at building a proper life with. And that I can properly hex six ways to Sunday.”
Percy’s voice is mild when he asks, “Have you ever considered your determination to hex someone simply for dating your friend might be a reason this person steers clear? Or that, perhaps, this person has a family he’s not sure would welcome the news he’s dating another bloke?”
“If you ever get another girlfriend or a boyfriend, I’d threaten hexing them, too,” George informs him. “It’s not like I’d actually do it, not unless they gave me a reason such as hurting my mate or brother. Besides, I’m sorry for this man if he doesn’t have a good family, but if he’s not willing to place what he could have with Ollie over what they’d think, again, Oliver deserves better.”
He knows he and Jackson need to leave quickly. Percy is realising he does have a good family, or at least, a good brother, and hopefully, once he and Jackson are gone, Percy will get up the courage to lay out why he does deserve Oliver and why Oliver deserves him.
Coming over, Jackson kisses him and slings an arm over his shoulder.
“George, Percy, this is my fiancé, Jackson Whittemore. Jackson, this is…”