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fairest of them all

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It begins, as these things generally tend to do, with Patrick.

Unpleasantly present warmth. Cloying, almost sweet air dripping with moisture. The miserable weather has taken its toll on the whole Polygon workspace, and Brian is distracted from his work for a moment by how everyone deals with the sweaty conditions. Not that he's been working, not past half-hearted research and a barebones PowerPoint that he'll have to finish tomorrow anyway.

On his left Clayton seems unbothered, but his cheeks bulge with stress fangs and Brian spares a thought for what it must feel like to not be able to sweat in this heat. Zuko hisses in feline sympathy under the desk; the warm air on his leg is definitely some kind of torture somewhere. Cats, man.

The boys are clearly not the only ones feeling frustrated. Apparently unable to bear the heat in her own tiny office, Tara paces back and forth by the floor-to-ceiling window and sighs. Her wings, limp and bedraggled, judder with irritation every time the phone rings, every time she has to glamour friendliness into her voice. He smells her magic (acrid and smokey, like burnt lemons) billow through the room with the effort of it. Then he resolves to stay out of her fucking way.

Jenna locks eyes with him from the next desk over and grins encouragingly, clearly in her element. Her scales have been doing much better since she started accepting his poultices, and without a sore neck to worry about she's definitely having the best time of everyone in the heatwave. Her smile is toothy and warm.

Brian quietly points out that her hands are singeing the table, and twin wisps of smoke curls from her nostrils as she rushes to find a wet cloth that isn't already in use. Karen slips away after her, looking less concerned than relieved to have an excuse to dip out of the soupy heat.

And then there's Simone.

She...well. She's having the worst time of everyone, truth be told.

Pat grabs everyone's collective attention before Brian can ask if she's okay, tumbling from his seat and squawking in exaggerated pain as he sprawls on the floor. The chair squeaks miserably to a stop in the middle of the room. Everyone gazes at him with varying degrees of amusement. For Pat, this is downright frivolous.

"Don't be dramatic, Patrick," Tara grumbles without turning, muffled by one clammy hand, and he nods, visibly ruffled. He's not the only one; the odd tension stays unbroken by his goofing, which is unusual.

Brian shoots him a quick DM in an attempt to lighten the mood, and after a few clattering keyboard sounds the peppery smell of Patrick's magic drifts over. Good. That should make things that much easier.
 
bdg: heyyy bird brain, do you want to come furniture shopping after work?
patza_gillex: Damn Gilbert you got me
How'd you guess my dream plans for a muggy Wednesday night
bdg: sorry
you dont have to come haha
patza_gillex: Jokes! Of course I'm coming but where are we going??
bdg: har har funnyy
uhhh west elm maybe? i don't massively have a plan
it's just i've been saving up to decorate my room
patza_gillex: Say no more
I used to have a mermaid girlfriend brian, and not to be rude but she was a mermaid mermaid
You know? Like how sometimes you look at someone and hoo boy that's a dryad or something
She literally had like
bdg: awww dont say it
patza_gillex: Clamshell bras
bdg: no! :(
patza_gillex: Yeeah u called it
Yeah*
Anyway my point is I am now basically an expert in eclectic interior design
So let's get down to business
bdg: to defeat bum bum the coven!
patza_gillex: Lol ok see you there
 
Loud. Sterile. Cavernous. Silly as it is, the sanitary uniformity of what is just another West Elm saddens Brian to a degree. The woods have never felt so far away. He twiddles a stick of cedar between finger and thumb in his pocket, trying not to look too pathetic in the entrance as he waits for Patrick. The old twig is comforting, even when he's too tired to push serious magic into the protection wards. He'd never tell her, but the best part is that it kind of smells like his sister's magic.

On the dot of six he only has to incline his head a little to see Pat arrive, maybe a tad windswept but certainly cheerful enough. Optimism wells up in Brian at that, and he lets go of the cedar. He's not a kid, after all.

"Ladies first," he sing-songs with a flourish, holding open the door, and Pat waltzes through with all the feminine grace he can muster. There's a silent puff of magic, and then they're both wheezing with laughter against the wall.

"Sorry, sorry." Pat murmurs the words behind a grin when the peppery cloud clears, when other customers stop giving them dirty looks. Like always, Brian waves away the apology like cobwebs in a cauldron.

"So, Madmoiselle, what exactly are we looking for?" He shrugs. Now they're actually here, among so many people and displays and ironwrought sculptures that make his nose itch just looking at them, no possible choice feels like the right one. A single glance at his coworker confirms that the fear is evident in his face already. Which is great, that's just great. "Don't wig out on me now, Brian. I'm missing an incredible night of lonely pizza and videogames to be here, you know."

There's a smile behind it, and that sucks. He doesn't need Pat's pity; he is in fact an adult, age gap be damned, and he can do adult things like everyone else. In fact, he reaches out for the shelf to their right and picks up the first thing on it, intending to make a mature and mundane comment- "Shit!' -and immediately drops it.

Pat catches it, because he's Pat, but Brian barely notices over the overwhelming tingling sensation in his right hand. It doesn't melt or anything, and doesn't hurt that much, and genuinely isn't that big of a deal, really, Pat Gill, you can let go of my arm now.

"I thought you were a witch," Pat offers as they both stare dumbly at the rising welt.

"Mmm...Quarter pixie on, on my mum's side," Brian mumbles absently, kneeling on the semi-clean flooring and scrabbling through his satchel for comfrey to chew. It won't do much without his wand (why did he leave it with Zuko again?), but it's infinitely better than nothing. Pat, to his credit, stubbornly holds the conversation as Brian tries not to have a breakdown in the middle of an aisle in fucking West Elm. It actually kind of helps.

"Explains a lot, actually. Is that why you can, like, jump so high?"
"Eh. That...that and ankle weights. The occasional breeze charm."
"Surely that's cheating."
"I'm...versatile."
"You saucy minx," Pat deadpans with both eyebrows raised, and they both collapse again into hysterical giggling. Things are so...comfortable, Brian decides is the word. He wants to stay in today, for all its awfulness and awkwardness, and he never wants to leave.

A disgruntled assistant trots around the corner, clearly not impressed by their tomfoolery, and gets straight to his stentorian point.

"Are you buying anything, boys?"

A quick glance confirms that Pat isn't going to be any help; he's visibly short-circuiting after being referred to as a 'boy'. So Brian simply points in a random direction and murmurs something about how they were actually looking at that and maybe they do in fact want to buy it and such. The sentence fizzles out pitifully under the centaur's flat glare, so Brian cringes and doubles down and jabs again towards the nearest display.

"I'm wanting a look at that...that right up there. If that's okay." In the few heartbeats it takes to actually look where his hand is gesturing, the lie becomes truth.

Three faces stare down at him from the mirror: his own, pale and anxious; Pat's, owlish and dark with concern and the assistant's, furrowed deeply and thoroughly unamused. Around the edges, the glass is frosted with little feathers and leaves, and the polished wooden border is carved to the nines with oddly ornate patterns. Brian immediately wants it above his bed more than anything else in the world.

Considerably cheered by the prospect of a sale, the centaur lashes his tail and calls a sprite over to bring the mirror down. When he catches sight of the price tag, conveniently tucked under the frame as if to hide its extortionate cost, Brian sucks in a breath through his teeth. If he had a tail of his own, it would have given him away instantly.

"It's so heavy!" the sprite grumbles loudly through his internal monologue. "And this dude won't leave me alone!"

Pat seems determined to help them, but they don't appreciate him flitting around their work experience and he backs off back to Brian's side with both palms raised.

"Sorry," he says with minute dejection, and Brian briefly wonders if it would be socially appropriate to pat him on the head. Heheh, pat.

After that, purchasing is relatively painless. The only damage done is to Brian's savings, and as they step outside into a brewing rainstorm he tries to force down that worry. It's done now.

"Meet you at mine?" he mouths to Pat through the droplets, weighing up their options. "You can hitch a ride if you-"

"Nah," Pat grins, already jogging. His hair is wet after only a few seconds in the tepid downpour. "Bet I'll get there before you do."

By the time Brian stops spluttering about unfair advantages, Pat is gone. He knows, simply because he can smell the effort behind the magic, that it's going to be quite the race.

He unties his temporary racecar from the broom rack, swings a leg over it and wills it to life between his knees. It's going to be a pain without his wand or Zuko, but that's magic for you. The old-fashioned way sometimes works the best.

To that end, politely, he asks the broom to rise. This one's always been a little temperamental, especially in poor weather, but when he explains there's a race on it springs into action beneath him like there's no tomorrow.

It's kind of fun, honestly. Scraping the speed limit with clear disdain for such limiting concepts as traffic laws, the broomstick barrels down the road between carriages and other brooms and the occasional car. The twin scents of verbena and mint spiral sharply through the air, and Brian breathes it deeply as the warm rain sluices against his jacket. The witch's high.

A mermaid in a taxi gives him the middle finger, powerless to pursue a licensed broom, and for once Brian doesn't even feel the need to apologise. God, New York is such a beautiful, awful city.

Of course Pat's already there when he gets to his apartment, dripping, looking out of breath but not out of wit.

"Your magic stinks like dish soap," he points out.
"It does not!" It kind of does.
"Are we in The Body Shop?"

Instead of offering a riposte, Brian picks grit from his hair and presses his thumb to the door. Zuko all but claws him in excitement, and the image Brian receives from him is one of his black-and-white familiar lounging in front of a round shiny mirror.

"Not quite," he corrects, opening the box and pulling out the mirror. Zuko mews excitedly and tries to bat it, but is easily distracted by the wispy threads of magic that protect it from shattering. Wary of smashed glass and the pain of an injured familiar, Brian motions for him to step off and he very politely does. Cats, man, seriously.

"Better without roommates?" Pat enquires from the corridor with wide and curious eyes, reminding Brian of his existence with characteristic quiet abruptness.

"Mmmmnah." Brian dodges the question deftly, or so he thinks until he turns to see Zuko and Pat's matching disbelief. "Okay, sure, it's a little odd to be myself. I've got Zuko, though!" He grabs his wand from the counter absently and spells the mirror to float behind them into his room.

"A little odd," Pat echoes, pensive. He steps inside, gives Brian's new room a onceover. "Right. Well, seeing as that shopping trip was such a success," - Brian shoots him a half-lidded look of amusement - "I'm sure it'll look more homely."

He tucks his tongue into the corner of his mouth and nods. The moment lingers long; he wonders what Pat is thinking about, until he remarks that Brian 'smells worried and is that rude to say because he's not sure if it is' and perches on the end of the bed. Neither of them make the obvious joke, so it just kind of floats there between them.

Zuko hisses in tired exasperation and paws again at the mirror's wards. You are such a disaster gay. Emphasis on the disaster.

"Alright, alright," Brian acquiesces with a pointed look at his cat, and within a few minutes of wandplay it's hanging rather majestically over the dreary single bed. He crouches down to look up at his handiwork and decides that the purchase was worth it. If not for the lovely mirror, then the amorphous this it's given him with Pat. A nice day, at least.

"We could have just picked it up and put it on the hook," Pat points out from the edge, affecting a crotchey old voice and leaning over to honest-to-god invade Brian's personal space like someone twice his age. "All you young witches, can't do anything without your wands!"
"Pffft. I hear enough of that at ho-I mean, at my parents' house."

A beat.

Hopefully Pat ignores the slip-up and they can just keep on riffing. They're right up in each other's faces now, at any rate, when Pat says-
"Sonny, back in my day-"
And Brian chortles and lurches forward with the force of it-
And suddenly they're touching noses-
And the heady hilarity in it all is enough to send him sprawling backwards into the wall.

He's not an idiot. After a lifetime of dancing and jumping and leaping around like his ass is on fucking fire, Brian knows when he teeters past the point of falling. Pat looks horrified and guilty, all grabby hands and apologies, but it's rather too late for that. He reconciles himself with the fact that he's going to smash the mirror, and probably take some of his scalp with it. On instinct, he slams his eyelids shut and curls up tight.

And then, impossibly, he keeps falling. Through nothing. Through an absence of existence, it feels like. His eyes won't open, his lungs won't work, everything is pitch black soundless darkness and Something with a capital S is curling around his left ankle.

If you told him to describe it, Brian would first ask if you've ever had a panic attack. Ever felt the insistent, vice-like grip of fear, felt it clog up your insides and slow every thought to a terrified crawl. And then he would say it was worse.

Trapped in the instant before his eyelids finally obey, he can feel rough carpet under his cheek. When they eventually do, he can see a sliver of the ceiling and also the shocked silhouette of Pat. Pat who looks like he's just witnessed a murder, but still Pat.

"What happened?" he asks blearily. Pat's nervous energy intensifies, and he just shakes his head in bewilderment.

"Your head just...bounced off the mirror, I dunno, just...are you okay? Because there was a cracking sound, and I swear to God my heart dropped out of my ribs, wow, God."

Damn.

"Damn."

As Pat goes, thats practically wordy. Brian laughs and shakes out his limbs and riffs off everything he says in an effort to convince him that he really is fine. When he's nominally satisfied, the evening resolves into something softer and nicer.

Two bros, sitting on the sofa, five feet apart to play some Smash. Pat doesn't even joke about magical cheating for once, and Zuko leaves them to their own business for once, and it's all-around pretty fucking nice for once.

But when it's time for Pat to leave, something breaks. The conversation is just slightly off, in a way that makes Brian's stomach churn unfavourably. Even though the rain has stopped and the air has cooled, there's a kind of pressure in his ears that just won't dissipate.

It's fine. He's fine. He worries too much anyway. It begins, as these things generally seem to do, with Patrick.

"I'll just call an Uber," he says, tapping at his phone, which is in itself weird because Brian has never heard the word "uber" said like a proper noun in his entire life. But he rolls with it, and tells Pat to have a nice night before heading back inside.

"And you, Mademoiselle!" he hears behind him, and snorts. But his heart isn't in it. Something feels...fundamentally wrong.

He grabs for his wand on the counter and it isn't there, which is fucking impossible. He calms himself down.

He checks his satchel where he left it for something to scry for the wand with, but to his dismay it's filled with paperwork and tissues and the like. That's also intensely impossible. He calms himself down, to some extent.

Finally he calls for Zuko, who barrels predictably around the corner. Accepting, adoring, the love of his familiar is the cornerstone of mundanity. But something's wrong with him, too. Their shared awareness is...broken. He sends an image of worry and fear directly to Zuko, and nothing comes back. In fact, he doesn't seem alert to Brian at all. His familiar is just pottering around like a non-magical cat would on a Thursday morning.

Which is, just, incredibly impossible.

Brian's done. He feels sick. His head won't stop spinning, and he's dimly aware of sliding down against the kitchenette with a fist to his mouth. What the fuck is going on?


 

It begins, as these things generally tend to do, with Patrick.

Unpleasantly present warmth. Cloying, almost sweet air dripping with moisture. The miserable weather has taken its toll on the whole Polygon workspace, and Brian is distracted from his work for a moment by how everyone deals with the sweaty conditions. Not that he's been working, not past half-hearted research and a barebones PowerPoint that he'll have to finish tomorrow anyway.

On his left Clayton seems unbothered, but a vein ticks in his temple and Brian spares a thought for what it must feel like to have a full beard in this heat. His sweaty moustache agrees. Nasty.

The boys are clearly not the only ones feeling frustrated. Apparently unable to bear the heat in her own tiny office, Tara paces back and forth by the floor-to-ceiling window and sighs. She judders with irritation every time the phone rings, every time she has to force friendliness into her voice. Her misery billows through the room with the effort of it. Then he resolves to stay out of her fucking way.

Jenna locks eyes with him from the next desk over and grins encouragingly, clearly in her element. Blatant optimism and adaptability define Jenna in his eyes, so no doubt she's definitely having the best time of everyone in the heatwave. Her smile is toothy and warm.

Brian quietly points out that her coffee is spreading over the table, and her smirk drops as she rushes to find a wet cloth that isn't already in use. Karen slips away after her, looking less concerned than relieved to have an excuse to dip out of the soupy heat.

And then there's Simone. Simone is quieter than normal, which is really just everyone else's "slightly loud", but she's getting on with her work and that's enough. With minimal makeup and tired rings around her eyes, she looks possibly the least like herself that Brian's ever seen her.

Pat seizes everyone's collective attention before Brian can ask if she's okay, tumbling from his seat and squawking in exaggerated pain as he sprawls on the floor. The chair squeaks miserably to a stop in the middle of the room. Everyone gazes at him with varying degrees of amusement. For Pat, this is downright frivolous.

"Don't be dramatic, Patrick," Tara grumbles without turning, muffled by one clammy hand, and he nods, visibly ruffled. He's not the only one; the odd tension stays unbroken by his goofing, which is unusual.

Brian shoots him a quick DM in an attempt to lighten the mood.
 
bdg: heyyy class clown, do you want to come furniture shopping after work?
patza_gillex: Damn Gilbert you got me
How'd you guess my dream plans for a muggy Wednesday night
bdg: sorry
you dont have to come haha
patza_gillex: Jokes! Of course I'm coming but where are we going??
bdg: har har funnyy
uhhh west elm maybe? i don't massively have a plan
it's just i've been saving up to decorate my room
patza_gillex: Say no more
I used to have a hippy girlfriend brian, and not to be rude but she was a hippy hippy
You know? Like how sometimes you look at someone and hoo boy that's a goth or something
She literally had like
bdg: awww dont say it
patza_gillex: Tie dye shirts
bdg: no! :(
patza_gillex: Yeeah u called it
Yeah*
Anyway my point is I am now basically an expert in eclectic interior design
So let's get down to business
bdg: to defeat bum bum the huns!
patza_gillex: Lol ok see you there
 
Loud. Sterile. Cavernous. Silly as it is, the sanitary uniformity of what is just another West Elm saddens Brian to a degree. The woods have never felt so far away. He twists his watch around his wrist, trying not to look too pathetic in the entrance as he waits for Patrick. It's comforting, in a silly way.

On the dot of six he only has to incline his head a little to see Pat arrive, maybe a tad windswept but certainly cheerful enough. Optimism wells up in Brian at that, and he lets go of the watch. He's not a kid, after all.

"Ladies first," he sing-songs with a flourish, holding open the door, and Pat waltzes through with all the feminine grace he can muster. There's a beat, and then they're both wheezing with laughter against the wall.

"Sorry, sorry." Pat murmurs the words behind a grin when other customers stop giving them dirty looks. Like always, Brian waves away the apology like cobwebs in an attic.

"So, Madmoiselle, what exactly are we looking for?" He shrugs. Now they're actually here, among so many people and displays and ironwrought sculptures that make his wallet ache just looking at them, no possible choice feels like the right one. A single glance at his coworker confirms that the fear is evident in his face already. Which is great, that's just great. "Don't wig out on me now, Brian. I'm missing an incredible night of lonely pizza and videogames to be here, you know."

There's a smile behind it, and that sucks. He doesn't need Pat's pity; he is in fact an adult, age gap be damned, and he can do adult things like everyone else. In fact, he reaches out for the shelf to their right and picks up the first thing on it, intending to make a mature and mundane comment- "Shit!' -and immediately drops it.

Pat catches it, because he's Pat, but Brian barely notices over the overwhelming sharp sensation in his right hand. It doesn't bleed excessively or anything, and doesn't hurt that much, and genuinely isn't that big of a deal, really, Pat Gill, you can let go of my arm now.

"That's bleeding excessively," Pat offers as they both stare dumbly at the wound.

"Mmm...bit of an iron deficiency at the moment," Brian mumbles absently, kneeling on the semi-clean flooring and scrabbling through his satchel for a plaster. It won't do much, but it's infinitely better than nothing. Pat, to his credit, stubbornly holds the conversation as Brian tries not to have a breakdown in the middle of an aisle in fucking West Elm. It actually kind of helps.

"Explains a lot, actually. Is that why you've been so tired?"
"Eh. I've been...been working out a lot recently. Taking iron supplements to make it up."
"Surely that's cheating, in the world of muscly macho gym rats."
"Never say that again. I'm...versatile."
"You saucy minx," Pat deadpans with both eyebrows raised, and they both collapse again into hysterical giggling. Things are so...comfortable, Brian decides is the word. He wants to stay in today, for all its awfulness and awkwardness, and he never wants to leave.

A disgruntled assistant marches around the corner, clearly not impressed by their tomfoolery, and gets straight to his stentorian point.

"Are you buying anything, boys?"

A quick glance confirms that Pat isn't going to be any help; he's visibly short-circuiting after being referred to as a 'boy'. So Brian simply points in a random direction and murmurs something about how they were actually looking at that and maybe they do in fact want to buy it and such. The sentence fizzles out pitifully under the man's flat glare, so Brian cringes and doubles down and jabs again towards the nearest display.

"I'm wanting a look at that...that right up there. If that's okay." In the few heartbeats it takes to actually look where his hand is gesturing, the lie becomes truth.

Three faces stare down at him from the mirror: his own, pale and anxious; Pat's, owlish and dark with concern and the assistant's, furrowed deeply and thoroughly unamused. Around the edges, the glass is frosted with little feathers and leaves, and the polished wooden border is carved to the nines with oddly ornate patterns. Brian immediately wants it above his bed more than anything else in the world.

Considerably cheered by the prospect of a sale, the guy smiles widely and calls a murderous-looking teenager over to bring the mirror down. When he catches sight of the price tag, conveniently tucked under the frame as if to hide its extortionate cost, Brian sucks in a breath through his teeth.

"It's so heavy!" the tall kid grumbles loudly through his internal monologue. "And this dude won't leave me alone!"

Pat seems determined to help them, but they don't appreciate him flitting around their work experience and he backs off back to Brian's side with both palms raised.

"Sorry," he says with minute dejection, and Brian briefly wonders if it would be socially appropriate to pat him on the head. Heheh, pat.

After that, purchasing is relatively painless. The only damage done is to Brian's savings, and as they step outside into a brewing rainstorm he tries to force down that worry. It's done now.

"Meet you at mine?" he mouths to Pat through the droplets, weighing up their options. "You can hitch a ride if you're careful an-"

"Nah," Pat grins, already jogging. His hair is wet after only a few seconds in the tepid downpour. "I'll get the subway. I'm versatile too."

By the time Brian stops spluttering about unfair advantages, Pat is gone. He knows that it's going to be quite the race.

He unties his temporary racecar from the bike rack, swings a leg over it and wills it not to stiffen. It's going to be a pain, but maybe he'll win. The old-fashioned way sometimes works the best.

To that end, he pushes hard on the pedals and sets off. This one's always been a little temperamental, especially in poor weather, but after a few worrying moments it springs into action beneath him like there's no tomorrow.

It's kind of fun, honestly. Scraping the speed limit with clear disdain for such limiting concepts as traffic laws, the bicycle barrels down the road between cars and trucks and the occasional other bike. The twin scents of petrichor and sunshine spiral sharply through the air, and Brian breathes it deeply as the warm rain sluices against his jacket.

Some asshole in a taxi gives him the middle finger, powerless to pursue with this much traffic, and for once Brian doesn't even feel the need to apologise. God, New York is such a beautiful, awful city.

Of course Pat's already there when he gets to his apartment, dripping, looking out of breath but not out of wit.

"Your hair looks fresh out of the Lion King remake," he points out.
"It does not!" It kind of does.
"Sure thing, Disney-oh-seven."

Instead of offering a riposte, Brian picks grit from his hair and unlocks the door. Zuko all but claws him in excitement, which is nothing new.

"Shhhh," he soothes, opening the box and pulling out the mirror. Zuko mews excitedly and tries to bat it, but is easily distracted by the bubblewrap coating. Wary of smashed glass and veterinary bills, Brian motions for him to step off and he very politely does. Cats, man. Smarter than you'd think.

"Better without roommates?" Pat enquires from the street with wide and curious eyes, reminding Brian of his existence with characteristic quiet abruptness.

"Mmmmnah." Brian dodges the question deftly, or so he thinks until he turns to see Pat's obvious disbelief. "Okay, sure, it's a little odd to be myself. I've got Zuko, though!" He absently picks up one end of the mirror, and Pat instinctively goes for the other. In this way they shuffle awkwardly into the bedroom, Zuko seemingly determined to trip them up and break their necks.

"A little odd," Pat echoes, pensively. He gives Brian's new room a onceover. "Right. Well, seeing as that shopping trip was such a success," - Brian shoots him a half-lidded look of amusement - "I'm sure it'll look more homely."

He tucks his tongue into the top of his mouth and nods. The moment lingers long; he wonders what Pat is thinking about, until he remarks that Brian 'looks really worried and is that rude to say because he's not sure if it is' and perches on the end of the bed. Neither of them make the obvious joke, so it just kind of floats there between them.

Zuko hisses with tired exasperation and paws again at the mirror.

"Alright, alright," Brian acquiesces with a worried look at his cat, and within a few minutes of adjustment it's hanging rather majestically over the dreary single bed. He crouches down to look up at his handiwork and decides that the purchase was worth it. If not for the lovely mirror, then the amorphous this it's given him with Pat. A nice day, at least.

"We could have just picked it up and put it on the hook together," Pat points out from the edge, affecting a crotchey old voice and leaning over to honest-to-god invade Brian's personal space like someone twice his age. "All you young 'uns, can't accept help from anyone!"
"Pffft. I hear enough of that at ho-I mean, at my parents' house."

A beat.

Hopefully Pat ignores the slip-up and they can just keep on riffing. They're right up in each other's faces now, at any rate, when Pat says-
"Sonny, back in my day-"
And Brian chortles and lurches forward with the force of it-
And suddenly they're touching noses-
And the heady hilarity in it all is enough to send him sprawling backwards into the wall.

He's not an idiot. After a lifetime of dancing and jumping and leaping around as if his ass is on fucking fire, Brian knows when he teeters past the point of falling. Pat looks horrified and guilty, all grabby hands and apologies, but it's rather too late for that. He reconciles himself with the fact that he's going to smash the mirror, and probably take some of his scalp with it. On instinct, he slams his eyelids shut and curls up tight.

And then, impossibly, he keeps falling. Through nothing. Through an absence of existence, it feels like. His eyes won't open, his lungs won't work, everything is pitch black soundless darkness and Something with a capital S is curling around his left ankle.

If you told him to describe it, Brian would first ask if you've ever had a panic attack. Ever felt the insistent, vice-like grip of fear, felt it clog up your insides and slow every thought to a terrified crawl. And then he would say it was worse.

Trapped in the instant before his eyelids finally obey, he can feel rough carpet under his cheek. When they eventually do, he can see a sliver of the ceiling and also the shocked silhouette of Pat. Pat who looks like he's just witnessed a murder, but still Pat.

"What happened?" he asks blearily. Pat's nervous energy intensifies, and he just shakes his head in bewilderment.

"Your head just...bounced off the mirror, I dunno, just...are you okay? Because there was a cracking sound, and I swear to God my heart dropped out of my ribs, sorry, God."

Damn.

"Damn."

As Pat goes, that's practically wordy. Brian laughs and shakes out his limbs and riffs off everything he says in an effort to convince him that you he really is fine. When he's nominally satisfied, the evening resolves into something softer and nicer.

Two bros, sitting on the sofa, five feet apart to play some Smash. Pat makes an odd joke that Brian doesn't get about how he better not cheat magically, and Zuko ignores them both for hours on end. Despite the weirdness, it's all-around pretty fucking nice.

But when it's time for Pat to leave, something breaks. The conversation is just slightly off, in a way that makes Brian's stomach churn unfavourably. Even though the rain has stopped and the air has cooled, there's a kind of pressure in his ears that just won't dissipate.

It's fine. He's fine. He worries too much anyway. It begins, as these things generally seem to do, with Patrick.

"I'll probably beat the rain going as, uh, as the crow flies," he says, laughing, which is in itself weird because Brian never misses the joke and he has twice now, just today. But he rolls with it, and tells Pat to have a nice night before heading back inside.

"And you, Mademoiselle!" he hears behind him, and snorts. But his heart isn't in it. Something feels...fundamentally wrong.

He opens the door to say something, but Pat's not there. Which, after only a few seconds, is fucking impossible. He calms himself down.

He checks his satchel where he left it to see if he's taken his supplements, but to his dismay it's filled with crushed flowers and leaves and the like. That's also intensely impossible. He calms himself down, to some extent.

Finally he calls for Zuko, who barrels predictably into the kitchen. Accepting and adoring: the unquestioning love of his cat is the cornerstone of mundanity. But something's wrong with him, too. He seems on high alert, and Brian somehow knows that he's confused and scared. Which makes no sense. Zuko looks up at him and tilts his head suspiciously, and in Brian's head he hears something.

Brian, are you okay? Are you mad at me?

Which is, just, incredibly impossible.

Brian's done. He feels sick. His head won't stop spinning, and he's dimly aware of sliding down against the kitchenette with a fist to his mouth. What the fuck is going on?