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The Etiquette of Magic

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The third time Jack woke up floating six inches off his bed, he lost his patience. Sure, it was a bit less startling than books flying across the room or rain clouds manifesting in the kitchen, but to charm him without his consent—well, it was mostly only criminals who did that.

Jack didn’t think his new neighbor was a criminal though. As near as he could tell, they were just really bad at spells. In the three weeks since they showed up, Jack figured he had to clean more messes than he did in three years of living in a frat house in college. He’s tried putting up wards. He’s even had Lardo come over and strengthen his wards, but whoever this was, was powerful.

Powerful, out of control, and thus, really fucking dangerous.

As soon as he fought his feet back onto the ground, Jack yanked a t-shirt on over his boxers and stormed out into the hall barefoot. He reached the offending neighbor’s door in a few strides and pounded on it.

Nothing happened. Jack waited as long as his frustration would allow, then knocked again, this time at a volume more considerate to others on the hall, but with no less urgency. The nerve of this person, putting a spell on Jack then trying to pretend like they weren’t there.

“Listen, I know you’re in there, so you might as well— “

The door swung open, catching Jack mid-sentence with his fist still raised. The man standing on the other side was clearly the troublesome magician in question. His shirt was sooty and his hands were dotted with wax. Also, despite often being ignorant of current trends, Jack was fairly certain that the purple spots in the guy’s blond undercut were not intentional.

In another situation, Jack might have described this guys as cute, but right now he was just too pissed.

“Listen, asshole,” he started, “I don’t know what you think you are doing, but you can’t just go casting unrestrained spells in populated area.”

“Oh goodness,” the guy responded with a mildly embarrassed chuckle, “have I been rattling your shelves? I am so sorry.”

Rattling his shelves—how clueless was this guy? Jack’s temper flared.

“Hey, you think this is funny? Levitating someone without asking is a big deal.” At least the guy had the decency to look shocked at that, but ignorance wasn’t an excuse. “Focusing the effect of your magic is the first thing any parent teaches their kid. What the hell?“

Jack found himself moving forward to get in the guy’s face and then—

He came around to find a pair of big brown eyes staring at him. Disoriented, Jack felt a moment of panic and looked around frantically. Recognizing the halls of his apartment building, the situation came back to him. He was on the floor with his back against the wall opposite the errant magician's door with the magician himself looking nervously over him. Jack tried to get up, but ended up just groaning. It felt like he’d been hit by a truck.

“Oh my Lord, are you hurt?” The man cried out and started running his hands over Jack, checking for injuries. “I didn’t mean to put so much force behind that ward. It’s just, you came towards me and I reacted without thinking. I really am sorry”

Most of Jack’s anger had been drained out of him with the shock of that spell, and the rest dissipated when he thought of how he’d acted earlier. He had seen that the other man was scared by his yelling, yet he’d kept at it. Shit.

“I’m okay, and I’m sorry too,” Jack said with a sigh. “I had a pretty good idea weren’t doing it on purpose and I shouldn’t have come at you like that. That really was one hell of a ward though. You pack a lot of punch for a little guy”

“Ugh, you’re right though,” his neighbor huffed, stepping around Jack to slide down the wall next to him. “I’ve got no control. My parents can’t do magic, no one in my family can. So none of those ‘first lessons’ you were talking about for me.”

Christ, but Jack was making an ass of himself today. Magic did usually run in families, but not always. He turned his head to study the man next to him. This close Jack could see that his cheekbones were dotted with tiny freckles and that his forehead was wrinkled with worry. Oddly, Jack found himself wanting to reach out and smooth those concerned lines from his face.

Instead, he asked softly, “They didn’t send you to a teacher or anything?”

The other guy let out a laugh, but it was a bitter one. “No, my parents prefered that I just act like ‘a normal kid.’ So, now here I am, meeting my neighbors by accidentally throwing them across the hallway. I’m Eric, by the way.”

Jack shook Eric’s extended hand and introduced himself as well, dumbfounded. Keeping the kind of power Eric had suppressed would have been almost painful. No wonder he was creating hailstorms in Jack’s pantry. “ I...uh...might be able to help you? I don’t think I’m as powerful as you, but I did have to learn to keep it focused. I could show you some exercises, if you want?”

“Really?” This seemed to excite Eric so much that he popped to his feet.

Absently, Jack thought he might say yes to a lot of things just to see that smile again. Instead he said, “Well, I don’t want to have to buy another set of glasses, do I?”

“Oh, honey...” Eric extended his hand to pull Jack to his feet. “Why don’t you come in, I’ll make you breakfast—it’s the least I can do. Has your apartment really been that bad?”

Eric looked so earnest, Jack really wanted to be able to tell him no, but their initial interaction had clearly given that lie away. “ I...uh...I still have one of the original glasses.”

Eric’s eyes went wide. “Oh no, I am the worst neighbor ever!”

“It’s kind of hard to argue with that, but breakfast will help make up for it,” Jack teased.

“Dear Lord, I’m going to have to make apology pies for the whole building aren’t I?” Erick froze with his hand over his mouth, probably calculating the sheer tonnage of butter he was going to need to accomplish that feat.

Jack couldn’t help but chuckle. Apology pies? Eric seemed to be full of surprises and hopefully he was going to get the chance to unravel more of them.