I'm so sorry that it took so long for me to update. I'm even more sorry that my chapters seem to be getting progressively smaller. That isn't intentional and wont become a pattern or anything. This chapter was actually supposed to be several more pages, but as I was writing it this just seemed like a good place to end it. So I did. As a result I'm a little disappointed in it, the legnth not the content, but I am happy to move on to bigger and better chapters :) The good news is that I actually have the next chapter mostly worked out, so it shouldn't take as long for another update. Thanks again to all of you who read this, and I hope you enjoy!
He didn't know if the smooth little stone actually caused calming or not, at this point he wasn't above ruling anything out, but he steadfastly refused to press it to his throat. After passing out a couple hours before his test he'd just shoved the thing in the pocket of yesterday's rumpled jeans before dragging his half-conscious ass out into the bleak November morning. It was drizzling, which he took as a personal affront from the sky. Overall it did not bode well for his Shakespeare final, which did indeed prove to be the Holocaust Natasha had declared it was.
Walking in he could have sworn he heard the cries of crushed souls telling him to "turn back" and "get out while you can." He'd shrugged them off, wresting Natasha's second cup of coffee from her grip and practically swallowing it whole. Two hours later he was left with a depressingly empty cup, staring down at five pages worth of writing, only about half of which made any discernible sense to him. He might have cared more, had he not felt as if his spirit had just been forcibly removed through his nose like some kind of satanic twist on a mummification ritual. As it was, he just scrawled his name on the top, shoving the tattered looking pages at his teacher and shuffling out the door. Natasha followed not long after, looking tired but considerably better put together than he did. She didn't pause for him as she shook out her umbrella, opening it up and all but powerwalking down the walk, trusting him to fall into step beside her. He did not disappoint, sliding closer than usual to walk under her cover.
"God, I need a cigarette."
"I didn't think you smoked."
"I don't. But seeing as how I just spent the last two hours getting fucked by Billy S. it seems like a good time to start."
"Mr. S if you're nasty."
Oliver wasn't sure what was worse, the actual content of their exchange or the fact that it was delivered as lifelessly as if by unusually witty, decaffeinated zombies.
"Hm. I'm impressed. He's pretty old. Good for him."
"Well, at least it was good for one of us. How'd you do?"
"You were saying something about fucking…"
She smirked. "Twice in one week huh? This must be a new record for you or something."
"Ha Ha. No really, you're hilarious." His acerbic wit might have come off slightly harsher without the flush slowly creeping up his neck. He could spout all the sarcasm he wanted, but it just didn't carry the same weight with his ears glowing red. From the smug look on her face, she knew it.
He gave her a halfhearted shove, pushing her towards a row of tightly packed buildings, only to chuckle as he dove after her and the umbrella she still carried. Grinning she threw an arm around him, allowing him to brood in silence. Which he did, perfectly content to let her lead him wherever it was she was going, following along without complaint as she led him further and further away from the brutal massacre of his overall grade- Hopefully still a respectably passing D at least- but as he looked around, their destination was seeming uncomfortably familiar.
"Where are we going?"
He stopped dead in his tracks, all but digging his heels sharply into the pavement. "We can't. I can't."
She stumbled a bit. With her arm still looped over his shoulders she had been completely unprepared for his sudden stop. She arched a brow expectantly.
"I can't go there. Here." He was getting all twitchy again, looking around nervously. They were already downtown, the narrow streets looking particularly menacing in the gloomy weather. They were already close to Starbucks which meant that they were entirely too close to that damn psychic and his unusually existent powers. He quickly scanned his eyes over the alleyways, jumping at shadows and rubbing at his crossed arms to alleviate the crawling feeling beneath his skin like a million frustrated ants. The little charm weighed heavily in his pocket. "Look, can we just go somewhere else?"
Natasha just stared blankly as if his words did not compute, unable to process this request in her current mental state. Finally she just slowly shook her head. "No. No, we really can't." He shifted a little, completely unprepared for this argument and not exactly firing at all cylinders himself, but his brief moment of hesitation was taken as acquiescence and he was dragged around the corner and into Starbucks before his brain even fully realized what had happened.
"I'm sorry sweetie," she said while he floundered for some kind of response, "I love you, but this is no time for your neurosis."
It wasn't until ten minutes later, the two of them curled up in two almost-comfortable plush chairs, each nursing a hot cup between their slowly defrosting hands that he worked up the gumption to be upset with her. Even then, it was halfhearted at best, his ire worn away by exhaustion and the feeling slowly returning to his limbs. It was mostly just a sleepy glare shot at her from beneath weighted eyelids. She took it like a trooper.
"I hate you." He muttered, sipping at his drink.
"I know. But desperate times call for desperate measures." She downed the rest of her coffee like a shot, something that would have scalded the throat of a lesser man but which had Natasha humming contentedly and snuggling back into the cushions. "But, now that I am awake and fully-mostly-cognizant, I am free to listen." She waved her hand in an inviting little gesture. Oliver kind of wanted to smack it. Instead he flexed his fingers on his cup and tried to glare harder. He wasn't sure if it was working or not, but it was starting to give him a headache and he was starting to think that forgiveness might just be better in the long run. Or at least save him money on pain killers.
It wasn't like it was doing anything anyway. Natasha just tucked her feet up under her, tapping her nails against her knees patiently. She was like a cat, content to curl there for hours in her warm, dry, patch of fluorescent faux-sun. Resistance was futile, and while he would usually at least make a feeble attempt, he didn't really have it in him today.
He sunk down into his chair a little bit, glancing around the suspiciously inviting coffee shop for any trace of dark magic or floating candles or whatever it is he expected to see moving in the shadows. To be honest, he wasn't really sure what dark magic was supposed to look like, but he kind of figured he would know it when he saw it. He didn't though, didn't see anything that jumped out at him as particularly dark or magical, and that probably should have been more reassuring than it was. Quickly averting his eyes from the register in hopes of remaining unseen from the angry gaze of that goddamn barista -who was so working today, Jesus, didn't that guy ever go home?- he began to relay the events of the previous night. His hands refused to still, tapping anxiously on anything they could reach, beating out nervous little rhythms against his cup, his pants, the arm of the chair. Natasha had that look in her eyes, like she wanted to reach out and physically restrain his fingers, but she respectfully declined. He was glad, not sure how he would make it through the story if he had to actually hold still.
He finished on an exhale, breathing heavy as if he'd been doing something much more strenuous than talking softly in a coffee shop, his heart pounding out of his chest. Natasha was still sitting exactly like before, her only concession being that her brow had arched and the appropriate moments. Oliver wasn't sure if he should be calmed by her steady presence or worried at her seeming lack of concern over his otherworldly stalker. She didn't even seem surprised, simply nodding once and standing, venturing over to the counter. When she returned she had two large coffees in her hand and a determined look in her eyes that Oliver was unsure how to interpret.
He was unsure about an awful lot these days.
He was, however, correct in his assumption that at least one of those cups was for him. He chugged the cooled remains of his first cup and eagerly accepted the second, watching as Natasha calmly rearranged herself back on her chair, removed the safety lid from her cup and blew across the foam, her lips a perfect little O like in the commercials. She frowned when she caught him watching her, gesturing for him to sip his own, smiling as he obeyed and doing the same.
"Is it good?"
It really was. It wasn't what he usually got, but it was sweet, with hints of cinnamon and pumpkin spice. He had a feeling it was one of those seasonal drinks, the kind he mostly avoided out of fear of craving them during the off season and being unable to sate his thirst, forever doomed to unfulfilled cravings. She had probably just ruined that for him. But at the moment, with his nerves shot and delicious drink in his hands, he could bring himself to care.
"Mm, yeah. What's this at the top?"
"Some kind of vanilla cream I think?"
"I know right?" She smiled, watching him take greedy sips, periodically burning his tongue in his attempt to drink more at once. After a few moments she spoke again. "So, feel better?"
He blinked, surprised to find that yes, she had suitably managed to distract him from his mounting panic with surprising ease. In place of a rapid heartbeat and tightening throat he was instead enjoying the warm curl of coffee in his stomach, stretching out in little tendrils throughout his body. He nodded. She jumped in before he could remember to panic.
"Okay, great. So just, hold on to this feeling and try not to freak out on me okay?" His eyes widened a little and she quickly gestured for him to sip some more. "So, I think that maybe this isn't as big a deal as you think it is. Drink!" She ordered hurriedly at his reaction. He reluctantly obeyed, but his hands were getting fidgety. "Okay so yes, you've got the attention of some "magical stalker" as you like to call him, but really, if you didn't want his attention maybe you should have kept your hands off his dick? Just maybe? Moving on" she continued, barreling right through his indignation, "it's not like he's done anything to hurt you. You have a supernatural being who wants to help you pass your finals. All things considered, that's really not so bad."
Oliver took desperate little sips of his drink, willing the soothing notes of cinnamon and pumpkin to quell the torrent of emotions swirling inside of him. He didn't know what to feel, was too wrung out to want to feel anything at all. Mostly he just wanted to shove all his emotions in a jar and shove it under his bed somewhere to open on another day. Maybe. If he felt like it.
The drink was a yummy distraction, but only really served to make him sloshy inside. Putting it down, he took a deep breath, trying to focus on one thing long enough to comment on it. What he picked was:
"You believe me?"
He'd been trying to focus on righteous anger or something at her dismissal of his plight, but it had been overpowered by his shock at the fact that she actually believed him. He had expected her to laugh or shake her head, telling him that he was crazy or needed sleep, both of which were true but neither of which were very helpful. Instead she had bought him a drink and then calmly sat down to discuss his problem, as if this were a natural occurrence.
She was giving him a look now, however, that familiar one she usually gave him when he missed something right in front of his face.
"Oliver, I've been there before. I have talked to this guy, you know. I mean, he's usually not there, he's just subbing right now, but still, the magic is real. I gave you the address of the place. Why would I send you somewhere phony?"
"Why would you send me there at all?"
"Because you needed help. Forgive me for assuming you'd just pay the $19.99 for the charm and be on your way to perfect test grades!"
Oliver blinked. "$19.99? What like the shit on TV?"
"No. The charms actually work…what?"
"Nothing, nothing. I just kind of assumed phenomenal cosmic powers would be a little more costly, is all."
"Well Oliver, if you haven't noticed we are in a recession. Psychics have got to make a living too." She paused. "And don't think I didn't catch that Aladdin reference. I totally caught that." She sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose between her fingers. "Look, the point is you were just supposed to be a customer. I didn't expect you to get all…involved. But for what it's worth, I really don't think he'll hurt you. Maybe he just thought you needed a tip." She ended on a grin, but Oliver's face fell as her words sunk in. He crumpled in on himself, face falling into where his arms lay crossed on his knees.
"Oh my god…I really am a cheap whore…"
"Aaaand we're back to this." Natasha sighed, leaning forward to rub a hand over Oliver's back. "Shhh, c'mon Sweetie. You're okay."
"I'm a $20 whore Nat! How is that okay?"
"Maybe you don't want to yell that…" Natasha said. She did her best to shoo off the stares of the other customers, but Oliver could feel them anyway. He just groaned.
"What, your mom doesn't send you spending money?"
Oliver froze, his shoulders tight as bowstrings as the voice washed over him, deep and rumbling, and the last voice in the world he could possibly want to hear right now. It was also the last voice he'd expected. He lifted his head with the darkest glare he could muster, praying with little hope that it was more effective here than against Natasha.
"What do you want StPatrick?"