Sometimes You Just Have to Find Common Ground with People
“This is really hard.”
“If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
“No, they wouldn’t. You can’t just learn how to do magic like that.”
“I suppose, but if it were easy, everyone would be able to fake it.”
“Can I fake it?”
“No,” James said to Isaac. “Your archmage is insistent that you learn witchcraft so you’re going to learn it.”
“I know, I know.” Isaac sighed. “I just don’t get it, that’s all.”
“You’re improving,” James told him. “Let’s take a break.” He held out his hand and Ron helped him stand.
“I’m worried if I do that I won’t be able to focus at all when we come back,” Isaac muttered.
“Is that a problem for you?” James asked. “Focusing?”
“Sometimes,” Isaac admitted with a shrug. He stood as well.
James looked at Ron. “I have an idea. Come with us to the forest. It’s more relaxing there.”
“Are…you sure that’s okay?” Isaac asked, glancing at the big academy tower as if someone in there could see them.
James shrugged. “I’m saying it’s okay.”
“I just shouldn’t leave the academy without…aw, fuck it,” Isaac said. He smiled. “Like that’s ever stopped me before. I’d like to see the woods.”
“Forest,” James corrected. “Woods are some trees that have animals in them. A forest is a living entity.”
Ron nodded as they headed for the portal. He’d figured they’d be inviting Isaac back eventually. “Yes. Be nice to it.”
“Try not to swear,” James told Isaac. “It doesn’t like that.”
“No,” Ron corrected. “You don’t like that.”
“It’s really not,” Ron said, earning him a look. He smiled and went through the portal, leaving the oppression of the capital. James followed him. Isaac didn’t. “Is he coming?”
“Give him a minute,” James said, standing with Ron and watching the portal. “He’s probably just nervous.”
“He doesn’t seem like the nervous type,” Ron muttered. He wasn’t hitting on James quite as much today. But he was still hitting on James.
“I think he is about certain things,” James said. “He’s having trouble with witchcraft because he’s afraid.”
“He’s afraid of witchcraft but not of trying to bang someone he barely knows?”
James shrugged. “No need to be jealous. It’s not like he’s going to succeed.”
“I know, it’s just…”
The portal shimmered and sang, and Isaac finally stepped through. “Oh, wow.”
“There you are,” James said with a smile. “I was worried you’d gotten lost.”
Isaac chuckled. “Just nervous.”
“No need to be nervous, it’s just the forest. Ron, could you go inside and make us something to eat? I think we’ll try again sitting over there.”
“Sure,” Ron said, giving James a kiss on the cheek before heading into the house.
It wasn’t that he thought James and Isaac were going to do anything. It just kind of bugged him that even after he’d made it obvious that he and James were together—in a way that was much more visible than he’d ever needed to do—Isaac hadn’t ceased his efforts. It was a bit inconsiderate.
“Hey,” Spike said after Ron had been rattling around the kitchen for a few minutes, putting some sandwiches together.
“How did you get in here?” Ron asked, glancing at the window, which was closed.
“I’ve been here all day. It’s fucking cold. Someone needs to learn the old lady’s summer spell. Who’s that outside with the kid?”
“Isaac, the chosen one from the academy,” Ron said, cutting tomatoes.
Spike stole the smallest piece and sat on the edge of a cookpot that Ron had washed this morning. “You sound so enthusiastic about that.”
Ron shrugged. “He’s nice enough.”
“But he won’t stop hitting on James.”
“Ah.” Spike bit into the tomato. “Offer a threeway?”
Ron frowned. “No.”
“Not really. Just tell him to fucking stop if you’re not going to tell him to start fucking.” Spike looked up at James came in the house. “There you are. Abandoned your new boyfriend, did you?”
“Don’t,” James warned. “I just came in to make sure you were okay,” he said to Ron.
Ron smiled. “I’m fine. Just doing the unnecessary jealousy thing, that’s all.”
“Mm.” James gave him a hug. “Okay.”
“Spike thinks we should have a threeway with him.”
James rolled his eyes. “Why?”
“Because he’s a horny piece of shit?”
“Hey,” Spike said, wings flapping. “So are you and I have your guys’ well being in mind, that’s all.”
“We know,” James said, shaking his head. “Anyway. If those are ready, let’s go. We can all eat outside. It’s probably one of the last days when we’ll be able to do that.”
It was already a bit too cold for that, but Ron nodded. “Sure.” He put the food on a big plate, readying to take it out.
“Kid, can you stay for a second?” Spike asked. “I just need to talk about the centaur stuff for a minute.”
James sighed, closing his eyes to express how much he didn’t want to do that. “Okay. Ron, can you take that out to Isaac—the politics of the forest aren’t any of his business so I’d rather he didn’t come in. I’ll be out in a minute.”
“Yeah, okay,” Ron said, nodding. “See you in a minute.”
And he went outside, shutting the door behind him with his foot, and frowning when he didn’t see Isaac. “Isaac?”
“Over here,” he called, voice a bit weak. At the same time, Ron felt a satisfied note come from the garden. Uh-oh.
He turned to look, and there was Isaac, near the back of the garden, legs and one of his arms trapped in the chokevine. “We left you alone for two seconds,” Ron said, setting the sandwiches down on the windowsill and heading over to help him. The plants all seemed way too satisfied with themselves.
“I just wanted to see the plants,” Isaac said, struggling as Charlie tightened around him. “I didn’t think they’d fucking attack me.”
“He’s just saying hello,” Ron said, kneeling down in front of Isaac and unwrapping one of the vines from his arm. “Stop that,” he said sternly to the plant.
“I didn’t, uh, learn about this in my botany class,” Isaac muttered, still squirming. One of Charlie’s vines was wrapped around his middle and under his shirt.
“Stop moving, it makes it worse,” Ron told him. “It’s a chokevine.”
“Why do you two have this?”
“To stop people from fucking around in our garden,” Ron told him, unwrapping more of Charlie. Then he glared as one of the vines started to move up his own arm. “No,’ he said, taking it off. “Don’t even think about it. That’s not funny.” And that last was punctuated with a finger pointed at the tendril moving up his ankle on the other side, which Ron hadn’t had to see to know was going to be there.
It withdrew, and Ron started unwrapping Isaac’s legs. He sighed. “Sorry about him,” he told Isaac. “He’s just excitable.”
“Plants get excitable?”
“Yeah,” Ron said, shaking his head. “Surprised me too when I first got here. They’ve got minds of their own.”
“Guess that’s fair,” Isaac said. “Sorry. Can’t seem to stop myself from getting in trouble.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Ron said, glaring at Charlie for a moment, partly because he was moving again, but partly because he was humming suggestively. “Charlie’s an asshole, it’s not your fault.”
“Yeah, but you didn’t want me here in the first place,” Isaac said with a smile. “And now you’re having to rescue me from your plants.”
Now Ron felt a bit bad. “It’s not that I didn’t want you here. I just…”
“Don’t like me very much?”
“That’s not it,” Ron said, though it might have been. “You keep hitting on James and I don’t like that.”
“Oh,” Isaac said, blinking. “Well. Sorry? I can stop.”
“Just like that?” Made Ron feel a bit dumb for not bringing it up before.
“Sure, I don’t want to make you guys uncomfortable. I just hit on everyone so I figured I’d give it a shot and see what happened.”
“Even after you saw we were together?”
Isaac smiled. “I figured I’d try for a threeway and see how that went. Thank you,” he added, as Ron got Charlie off him and helped him stand.
“It’s fine,” Ron said, blushing. “I swear, everyone’s a pervert but me. Don’t you start,” he said as Charlie rustled.
They made to walk away, and Isaac suddenly tripped with Charlie around his ankle, falling on top of Ron, who landed hard on the ground.
“For fuck’s sake,” Ron muttered, feeling Charlie moving around them, a tone of chastisement in his song. “Okay, okay. I was lying.”
“About what?” Isaac asked, trying to get up and not succeeding.
“Doesn’t matter. Charlie, just let us go, you fuckhead.”
Charlie tightened around their legs, which Ron probably could have predicted. “Fuck.”
“Language,” James said, approaching them. Ron hadn’t noticed the plants’ song changing to accommodate him. “Glad to see you three getting along.”
Ron rolled his eyes. “Yeah, we’re all best friends now. Can you…” he gestured vaguely at Charlie.
“No,” James said, sitting down beside them with the sandwich plate.
“Why not?” Isaac asked.
Ron sighed. “Because I’m not supposed to swear.”
James smiled and patted his head. “There you go.”
“You could…let me out?” Isaac asked.
“No. I think we’ll do your lesson like this,” James told him. “I think you’ll feel more comfortable in a less formal setting. This is pretty informal, right?”
Isaac snorted. “The only way it could be less formal would be if I had my clothes off.”
“Hm,” James hummed, moving Ron’s sandwich to his mouth for him to bite. “Maybe next time. The first time I met Ron he was stuck in this plant with his clothes off, you know.”
“What, really?” Isaac looked down at Ron. “I want to hear that story.”
“Ron will tell it to you after your lesson,” James told Isaac, and there was no way he missed how Ron’s face flushed with embarrassment, and no way Isaac missed Ron’s other physical reaction to the embarrassment. “Now, I want you to feel the flow of power inside the forest and see if you can make yourself part of that.”
“Sure,” Isaac said, closing his eyes, head resting on Ron’s chest as he tried to do that. There was music coming from him, but it was totally discordant with the rest of the forest. This was going to take a while.
So Ron just lay back, let James feed him his lunch, and let them do it. He felt a lot better about this whole thing now.