Kyle hadn't expected to meet magical people here.
When he'd decided to go backpacking around for the summer, he'd decided to leave behind all the talk of prophecies for a while and go somewhere the Tower was far from visible. He'd always wanted to go to New Orleans, but there was a sizable magical community there, and the whole point was to get away.
So he went west, and somewhere not quite to Chicago got sidetracked, and he ended up at campground adjacent to a state park on Lake Michigan. By now he had a solo pop-up tent he could carry easily in his pack, and although he'd forsaken Esoteric Arts as a field of study, he knew enough to be able to keep warm all night long no matter how chilly the night air was, so long as he was somewhere private enough to touch himself. Hence the tent.
But other than that, and the occasional application of his knack for saying the right thing to bring opportunities his way, he didn't do magic. He did write in his journal, scraps of poems and sights and thoughts, philosophies and words and sometimes rhymes that caught his ear. He hitchhiked from place to place and began to realize just how large the country was, and just how small the magical population.
But there he was, sitting on a sand dune and watching the sun set over the lake with his journal on his lap, when he felt the flare of magic nearby. Below him, closer to the waterline, was a group of people gathering around a campfire. Someone had just lit it with magic, he was sure of it.
There were five of them, two women, three men, and they were laughing easily amongst themselves, pulling the fallen trunk of a tree closer to the fire to sit on, and passing around a bottle.
Quite suddenly Kyle felt a pang of loneliness. Much of this summer he'd been alone and hadn't minded it, but the feeling swept him up without warning and he shivered.
He was on his feet and making his way down to the little group before he quite knew what he was doing. He breathed slowly and evenly as he went, mustering the unspoken words in the cage of his teeth, getting ready to say whatever it would take for them to accept him.
But he didn't have to say anything, apparently. They saw him coming, and whispered a little to each other, and had just burst into laughter as he stepped into the light of the fire.
"You see?" one of the women said, the one with dark hair spilling over her shoulders. "It doesn't work, Jeremy!"
"It works perfectly!" a stocky man with glasses and a short blond beard said. "He's got the Sight, is all, isn't that obvious? But seriously, Travis, you couldn't have wished for a woman?" He went and held out his hand to Kyle. "Welcome, stranger. I'm Jeremy."
They were in their mid to late twenties, Kyle guessed. The other woman, a blond, was holding hands with one of the guys and looking up at him curiously. Kyle shook Jeremy's hand, and for no rational reason he could discern, lied. "My name's... Frost. Benjamin Frost."
"Oooh. Any relation to the poet?"
"Not directly," Kyle said. "There are a lot of Frosts in New England."
"New England. Veritas then?"
"Er, yeah, just finished my second year." No reason to lie about everything. "Didn't expect to run into... anyone... out here?"
Jeremy beckoned him to come sit and the blond woman, who introduced herself as Gretchen, passed him the green, unlabeled bottle. Kyle shook her hand and then took a swig and discovered the liquid inside to be much sweeter than wine, maybe a dessert wine? And it tasted of roses, too. He wondered if perhaps there was more than just alcohol in it, recalling Randall's many concoctions.
Gretchen's partner was Kenneth; the dark-haired woman was Bea, or maybe just B. Travis broke out a bag of marshmallows. Kyle took another swig from the bottle as it came around again and this time asked what it was.
"Mead," Gretchen said. "Travis makes it himself. This might be your best yet, Travis."
"Thanks." Travis had short dark hair, an athlete's slouch, and a day or two's growth of beard. "Okay, so Ben, can I call you Ben?"
It took Kyle a moment to realize he was being addressed. "Oh, sure."
"I gotta ask how things are going at my old stomping grounds. We all heard about the quake and stuff..." He took a swallow from the bottle, his eyes on Kyle as he waited for an answer.
"Oh, yeah, everyone was in a tizzy for a while, but it's all back to normal now, pretty much. They had some arcane explanations about what had gone wrong to knock things off-kilter in the first place."
"All Bell's fault, eh?" Travis went on.
"When were you last there?" Kyle asked. "Bell had some kind of magical... indigestion or something. But he was a symptom, not a cause, I think."
"Circe's left tit," Jeremy said. "Was it really seven years ago we left school? I hardly know anyone there now. I mean, besides Madeleine."
"Madeleine Finch?" Kyle asked. "She's still House Master at Camella House. Were you a Cam?"
"I was," Jeremy said. "Travis here though was a Glad."
Gretchen pulled a marshmallow out of the bag and speared it. "We were all Cams, except for Travis."
Travis just shrugged. Kyle wondered about that. Were he and Travis alike somehow, Glads who had all Cams for friends? "I'm in Gladius House myself."
That provoked laughter from the group, and some kidding about Travis conjuring up someone of his own kind. The bottle had gone around a few more times, and Kyle had burned himself slightly on a hot but delicious marshmallow, when Travis asked, "So what can you do?"
Kyle looked up. "What?"
B tittered. "You sure you're a Glad?"
Travis's eyes glittered across the fire. "Everyone's got a party trick or two. B, show him yours."
"Tsk, it's not that good."
"Sure it is. Come on."
"I need a piece of pap-- oh, all right." She took the piece of paper that Gretchen was waving at her and held it flat in her palm. The paper folded itself into the shape of a bird. "There. But Travis can do it one better..." She tossed it to him.
He held it up and then suddenly it fluttered like a butterfly, rising up into the air, then flying toward Kyle, battling the updraft of the campfire, abruptly banking back and diving into the flames. "Travis!" Gretchen admonished.
Kenneth snapped his fingers as the paper burned and a shower of sparks flew up.
"It must have been you I sensed," Kyle said, "lighting the fire."
Kenneth nodded, then kissed his girlfriend on the cheek. "It's all right, Gretch. She can make another one."
Gretchen still threw Travis a look and took another marshmallow from the bag.
Travis looked back at Kyle again. "Well? What's yours?"
Kyle shrugged. "Not much of a conjurer, really. Applied enchantment hasn't really been my strength."
"But you must be able to do something," Travis said, taking another swig.
I know what you're doing, Kyle thought. It's a Glad thing. The Cams wouldn't give a damn about it, but for you to accept me I have to prove myself somehow, right? It's a test.
But maybe it was a test to see if he could gain acceptance without playing Travis's game. "I bet I can pull the Ace of Swords out of any Tarot deck you hand me," he said, half-joking.
Jeremy snorted. "What about Master Zoltan? Does he still do that magic show in Harvard Square?"
"Yeah, sometimes," Kyle answered.
"Card tricks aren't that hard even for mundanes," Travis said.
"Oh, leave the kid alone." B poked Travis in the shoulder. "He's out here all by himself."
Travis just shrugged as if asking the question, why? What's wrong with him?
"What's your major?" Jeremy asked, innocently enough, but here Kyle had just said he wasn't related to Robert Frost, that was as good as having admitted he wasn't a poet, so he couldn't really say poetry here, could he? He wasn't used to lying and this was why he didn't do it often.
Well, something close to the truth was probably safest then. "Esoteric Arts," he said with a little smile.
Travis barked a short, skeptical laugh. "Nice. But B here's taken." He edged closer to her.
Kyle just shook his head while grinning. "I didn't mean it as a pickup line."
"I don't believe you. No one goes into Esoterics anymore. Are you still a virgin? Going to lose it for your senior thesis?"
Kyle took another swallow from the bottle. "Nah, not a virgin. Don't believe me?" There wasn't really any way around playing the game now. Kyle didn't even have to touch himself to draw energy, his cock filling with blood as he did. B rubbed the back of her neck as if the hairs there were rising. Kyle pointed his index finger at Travis like a pretend pistol, then "shot" him by dropping his thumb.
"Circe's tit!" Travis stood up, stumbling backwards, as if a hand had just tried to grab him by the balls. What he'd felt, of course, was his cock coming to attention so quickly his ballsac contracting practically felt like a hand squeezing him. "Oh fuck." He bent over like someone having a stomach cramp, but it wasn't his stomach he was grabbing. The others were all laughing now, Jeremy slapping Kyle on the shoulder. "You pigfucking son of Circe, that hurts!"
Kyle laughed too, when he saw Travis was grinning as he swore. He limped back to the campfire, the boner in his shorts quite obvious.
Gretchen snickered appreciatively. "That is some party trick."
"Awww," B said to Travis with a wicked smile, "want me to kiss it better?"
Travis grimaced, then looked around. "Um, you guys mind if we...?"
He and B went off into the darkness, showered by a chorus of good wishes. Kyle stayed and talked with the others for an hour or so, then all the honeywine and the late hour started to make him yawn. Camping had made dawn his usual waking time, quite the opposite from his usual schedule at school. This far north the sun set late and rose early, making for a short night. He said his goodbyes before the other two had returned, thinking he would probably never see these people again, unless maybe they came to campus for a reunion or something.
He was deeply asleep, the night warm enough that no spells were needed, when something jostled him awake. It took him a few moments to rouse enough to realize it was someone climbing into his tent, which was only big enough for two if the two were pressed against each other.
"Frost," came Travis's voice. Hearing that name chilled Kyle and he cursed himself for using it as an alias. "You gotta help me."
"It won't go down." Kyle felt his hand in Travis's and wasn't surprised when it was guided to a hot, bare boner.
Kyle stroked it in the dark, still trying to rid his mind of the cobwebs, but maybe he'd drunk more than he thought. It didn't feel bad to be holding onto a man's cock, a thick one, curved somewhat to the left, but what Kyle couldn't quite connect why. "Shouldn't still be hard. Just from me zapping you."
"Maybe you don't know your own strength," Travis volleyed back.
No, that wasn't right. If B had made him come, he would go soft like normal. Oh. But maybe B hadn't made him come? Or maybe he'd got hard again, and had some problem like Frost's where he couldn't come? Kyle was seeking answers as he stroked, his thumb crossing through a large drop of precome. He brought it to his mouth without thinking. Whether it was the connection brought on by fluid to fluid or just Kyle's common sense waking up, he didn't know, but what he did know was that Travis was there because he wanted sex.
"Why me?" Kyle asked.
"Because it's your fault I'm like this. Don't they teach taking responsibility for your actions at that school anymore?"
There were a thousand reasons to say no. Travis wasn't a student, cleared by medical for Esoterics as free of disease. And Kyle wasn't attracted to him. He wasn't attracted to men in general, a few notable examples excepted. But a handjob didn't seem like too much to ask. Kyle owed him for the mead, maybe. "I can get you off just like this," he said. "I can add extra fireworks if you want."
"What do you mean, extra fireworks?"
"I mean, blow your mind with some energy transfer when you come," Kyle said.
"Oh. I was hoping you meant something more. Can I suck you?"
Wait, what? Kyle tried to wrap his head around what Travis wanted and decided he was probably working from faulty assumptions. "Why don't you tell me what you want?"
"I thought you Esoteric cats did just about everything, don't you? You don't know how long it's been since I fucked a guy." Now Travis's hand had found Kyle's cock and he made lipsmacking noises. "You feel nice. Big. You have lube? If you do, man, they say getting fucked by one of you is enough to turn a guy gay."
Kyle groaned as Travis's hand--warm and rough and the only other person's touch he'd had since saying goodbye to Marjory over a month ago--brought him to full hardness. He barely registered the sound of gathering thunder. "Sounds to me... like you're already gay," he said.
"You think it's easy out in the mundane world? Circe, you have no idea how good you have it in school. None." Travis shifted position and sucked on one of Kyle's nipples, then lifted his head to continue speaking. "My friends and I, we're all trying to make it in the mundane world. And it's fucking hard. It's why we have these little reunions. At school though, man, yeah, you can fuck anything that moves, can't you? But once you go out there, if you like cock, you're... God, it's hard."
He had to be a foundling or raised as mundane, Kyle thought. He used a mix of magical and mundane swears for one thing, and it didn't seem like those raised magical could hang onto such a level of internalized homophobia. Or denial. Or whatever it was this guy had. "I don't... actually like cock," Kyle said.
"Coulda fooled me," Travis answered. "Look, don't take this the wrong way, but all I'm looking for is to get off."
"But you want to suck me."
"If you want. I mean... give me a break, will you? I don't get many chances like this."
"All right." Kyle could pretty much feel the pulse of the truth in the guy's penis. It wasn't a technique like Moonlight Rose or anything; he just knew. And he knew then just what to do to give the guy something beyond a simple handjob with a little Esoteric zap in it.
Kyle rolled Travis onto his back, pushing his own shorts down until their bare groins met. "Can't fuck," Kyle said, as he dragged his cock up the length of Travis's. "Not safe. For either of us. But this. Probably okay."
"Ohhhhh fuuuuuck." Travis tried to hump upward but Kyle moved with him, trapping his arms under Kyle's palms and teasing them both with lighter and lighter brushes of cock on cock. Rational thought ceased and Kyle felt as if he were a sculptor or a painter, and his cock had to touch the canvas just so on each pass in order for a work of art to emerge. Eventually it reached the point where what the piece wanted was a firmer stroke, and he found it easy to get extra precome to flow, lubricating the way, so that hard flesh could slide against hard flesh, hot and slick.
He was tempted to throw caution to the wind, to hitch Travis's knees up and penetrate him, to fuck him and spill inside him and leave some kind of mark on him--but no. Not a good idea for either of them. In fact, probably none of this was a good idea, but it was too late to turn back now.
Thunder rumbled above and Kyle was suddenly awake, alive with the storm that was his. Travis shuddered under him, feeling the energy in Kyle's skin almost like a live current. Kyle was awake now and remembering that he couldn't just call up this much energy and not direct it somewhere. The ground. He had to be the true lightning rod then and just ground it.
"You better come first," he said, eager to feel the hot spill all over his own cock. "I'll hold back until you do. When I come... close your eyes."
When Travis came, he bellowed, and then when Kyle came, he screamed. The bolt lit up Kyle's eyelids but he didn't need his eyes open to "see" Travis had ignored or forgotten the advice and stared wide-eyed and wide-mouthed at Kyle as the lightning came down around them.
And then, as it always was, the noise and effort and light were done with, and they were lying in the dark, panting.
"Had enough?" Kyle said.
"Uh huh." Travis sounded a little scared, a little awed, and very spent.
Kyle unzipped the tent flap and didn't even have to urge Travis to leave. He beat a hasty retreat, most of the mess still smeared on his stomach. He went barefoot across the sand, his clothes clutched in his hands.
Kyle zipped the tent closed again. He didn't actually need it open to be able to "see" the water, the waves, the moon rising, the shreds of clouds dissipating. He was completely connected to the shoreline here, to the shifting dune under him. Travis felt like nothing more than a mosquito skimming the surface of the water, while Kyle could feel all the way to the bottom.
Sleep didn't return that night, but when the sun rose, he felt rested. The others were gone. Even the spot where the campfire had been was gone, but Kyle assumed that must have been part of the charm they had used to hide themselves from anyone without the Sight.
He felt sorry for Travis, but not conflicted. Travis wasn't someone he could help.
Maybe next time he would meet someone he could.