The call had ripped Techie from the deepest slumber, knocking books off in the process of his cluttered bedside table he had fumbled to silence the shrill sound of his ringtone. Cringing at the obnoxious light, Techie glanced at the flashing emoji con, a red fox and the corresponding name of Armie.
“Lo?” he asked, slumping into his pillow. Still fighting waves of sleep that were threatening to lull him into a deep slumber, Techie struggled to understand what was being said by the agitated voice on the other line. Squinting at the screen, he double checked that it was Armie’s number. Instead of his calm controlled measured tone, this was jittery and clearly being pulled into more than one conversation.
A distant voice said, “Hold on hold on I'll ask. Techie?” followed by a more coherent, “Are you there?” Techie frowned into the pillow, was that Kylo?
“It’s four in the morning,” he pointed out, turning over to rub his face, attempting to clear the fog of sleep that was threatening to pull him under. “What’s wrong?” As much as he liked Kylo well enough, he wouldn't say they had reached a level of friendship that allowed for four in the morning conversations.
“It’s Hux, I think he’s coming down with something. He’s delirious keeps asking for your mum. Is he taking something? I’ve never seen him like this before?”
Techie sat up quickly and cursed under his breath. Powerful witches like Armie didn't get sick. Without seeing him he couldn't make a concrete conclusion, but he could make an educated guess that Armie had somehow cursed himself or (more likely) been cursed by someone.
Kylo’s breath sounded broken as if he was on the edge of panic attack, having Armie as a stable figure in one's life to having him suddenly start to dance with the devil would have been jarring for anyone, especially to Kylo who was already of a nervous disposition.
“Should I call an ambulance?...He’s so pale and isn’t drinking anything.”
“No,” he replied abruptly. The last thing they needed was a delirious articulate Hux hexing the entire London’s A & E unit. Grabbing his well worn khakis from the mess of his floor, he hobbled to the dresser, using his phone as a torch, he snatched a striped shirt from one of the overflowing draws that was threatening to spill the contents of his wardrobe.
“Just keep him calm, don't let him frash about so much, keep Millicent with him and maybe give him a cool cloth for his head.” He could practically here Kylo’s hands wringing with nervous energy. “I shouldn't be long,” Techie said reassuringly, “It's probably allergies or something.” The cloth wouldn’t do anything but it would keep Kylo busy and make him feel valuable.
“Allergies right,” Kylo mumbled, sounding unconvinced.
Perhaps trying to attempt to taper down his unbridled panic,Techie could hear him shifting from foot to foot as though uncomfortable with sitting still. Techie bit down on his tongue, he hated lying, but how did you explain the complexity of a hex to a mortal?
Grabbing his ragged hoodie from the back of the door, Techie hastily stumbled through the mess that was his small living room/kitchen. Unlike Armie who had a luxury city slick penthouse suite with floor to ceiling windows and expensive handmade furniture, where every book, every table coaster had a home. Techie’s flat was crammed to the brim with knick knacks, bits of paper with hastily scribbled recipes spilled out of draws, day old cake mix that was splattered across his hob and at least an inch of every available surface was coated in a flour.
Wrenching the cupboard open, Techie quickly started to pull bottles from the shelf. If it was a Hex then he would need Cayenne and if he later developed into a Revenge Spell than surely some black yarn would come in handy. But Kylo said he was sweating , pausing to glance at the window , Techie hesitated before diving over the backseat of the sofa and lunging at the window. Leaning out he grabbed a handful of his freshly grown mint and thanked Danu that it had been a full moon.
Satisfied with the contents of his bag, Techie snatched his keys out of the bowl and headed for the door. Quickly and quietly ambling down the shared living staircase, he reflected on the fact that it had been Kylo to call him; It wasn’t completely unusually for Kylo to stay over, it was just that usually Armie’s space was sacred, even to to Techie who he loved dearly.
Poor Armie struggled to keep the cringe of disdain of the mud under Techie’s nails, but Techie wouldn’t have it any other way. He saw working with the ground as being close to mother, compared to Armie’s magic which was as cold as steal, like lines of code, full of Staccato clicks and impersonal beats. Techie’s was warm and hearty like a comforting stew on a cold day, like the pluck of sweet harp string, reverberating through his chest thawing him out right to his toes.
Stepping out into the crisp cold night, Techie watched the air puff around him as he reflected on the Kylo conundrum. Armie liked to think he was impenetrable, but you had to look at the way he gazed longingly at Kylo to see how big his heart was. Statistics and complicated algorithms Armie could handle no problem, but when it came to a bit of self reflection and dreaded “feelings”, Armie was a mess.
Unlocking his second hand bike from the flat’s outer railings, Techie braced himself for a quick bike ride. Knowing the path he would take as well as the back of his hand, he figured he could get there in under 20 mins, this time of night the streets only occupants would be foxes and stumbling home drunk students, which is just as well as toxic curses could set in quickly if not treated immediately.
Copper strands of hair whipped around his face as he set off into the night, backpack bumping lightly against his spine with every cobblestone that his bicycle wheel hit. Cringing as the wind wrapped against his exposed knuckles, Techie wondered how Armie would explain this sudden illness to Kylo, his main goal in life seemed to dote on Kylo regardless of the cost and he would no doubt be highly embarrassed to be on the receiving end of such caring behaviour.
Knowing his brother so well, they had talked, argued and debated the problem back and forth to still no avail. Armitage was as stubborn as an imp who had found a fresh batch of milk to spoil, when it came to matters concerning his feelings for the tattooed soft hearted giant.
If Armie was ever going to stand a chance of happiness, Techie believed there could only be two courses of action; One tell Kylo no matter what Kylo’s feelings, Armie had to let it out regardless of how he felt. Techie could see it was boiling up within him and with no outlet it was just eating away at him.
Option two: If the thought of damaging Kylo’s friendship with him, then Techie supposed he had to leave, start a fresh, meet some new people, find a shred of happiness that didn't involve being distracted by Kylo. It would be hard but Armie was entitled to some form of happiness and not the crumbs that Kylo offered when Armie resolved a crisis.
In a drunken stupor Armie had confessed that it was like being abandoned at sea, desperate for a drink but unable to indulge in the waters below for fear of poisoning oneself. When Armie had collapsed pitfully into drunken tears, Techie had internally cursed the blight that Kylo was on Armie’s life.
Techie bit his cheek, leaning to the side to swing by the corner of Fenchchurch Street, wind whistling in his ears, he decided the last comment was a bit unfair. He liked Kylo well enough. They had both sat next to each other in GCSE Art and had shared an enthusiasm for vegan cheesecake recipes, but as for personality tastes, Techie was much more reserved and found Kylo’s outburst a bit alarming.
There was no doubt Kylo was fond of Armie, he was just so short sighted in his ability to get bogged down by his family's expectations, if he could just see how adored he was, he might seriously benefit from bathing in the sunshine of Armie’s autumn smiles. And in turn Armie would equally flourish by having Kylo’s steady presence, no longer trying to actively fight for a place in Kylo’s life. And dear god did he deserve some happiness. After losing their mother so young Armie had taken the burden of raising Techie all on his own.
Letting out a low whistle, Techie cocked his head to the side as he waited to hear a predictable soft woosh of wings. Glancing ahead he saw the shadow of his familiar sparrow Grámhar , g lide soundlessly ahead of him. Pleased that she hadn’t been too far out of range, Techie felt more confident in treating whatever trouble Hux had landed himself in.
The road that Armitage lived on was empty and still when Techie arrived, the only thing to disturb the peace was a distant rustle of a fox, emerging curiously from a garbage bin to see who was the new arrival in his territory. Observing Techie dismount from his bike, the fox deemed him harmless and went back to his search for the allusive rat that had been lurking around.
Parking and chaining his bike hastily against the iron railings, Techie glanced up and watched his familiar fly up and perch on Hux’s window sill, close enough for him to draw his magic from and far away that Kylo wouldn't think it was odd that Techie let a bird into the house.
Letting himself in Techie jogged up the helical staircase, cringing as his well worn converses squeaked against the polished floor, disturbing the peaceful slumber of the building. Winded, Techie rubbed at the stitch in his side as he raised his fist to knock on the door. A scuffle soon met his ears, quickly followed by the door opening in haste with Kylo’s white washed face on the other side.
“Oh thank God you're here.” As predicted there was a tremor running through him as he hastily made way for Techie to enter. Hands wringing Kylo slowly followed Techie as he made the familiar walk to Armie’s bedroom. Techie noted that the living room which was usually impeccably tidy, was littered with Kylo’s clutter, blankets thrown haphazardly over chairs, crumpled up tissues and unwashed cups, made Techie wonder how long Armie had been ill and when did he cave and call Kylo for assistance?
Despite the guilt that gnaws at his stomach for not reaching out to his brother sooner, Techie concedes he was in the right to distance himself from Armie’s smothering behaviour. Usually he would shrug off Armie’s comments about his life choices, dismissing them as brotherly concern. But Armie had overstepped his mark when he had a conjured a deterrent enchantment, after Techie had expressed a quiet interest in the kind and dependable Matt.
Matt who sold flowers and seeds opposite Techie’s own bakery stall, down at the cobblestone market every rainy Sunday. Matt who had hair that was kissed by sunshine and smiles that felt like a soft hello. Armie had cursed the very person who was the first outside of family to offer him a hand of friendship and was not deterred by Techie’s stuttors or lack of eye contact. He was everything Techie had wanted.
Armie had disagreed. The insidious deterrent enchantment aimed to distract and fog the mind of the victim, thus losing interest in their amore. The spell hadn’t worked since the antidote was a true heart, which Matt had in spades. The redundant spell had hung around for days like a bad smell, clouding the air with violet stratocumulus clouds, making the very room Matt stood in unbearable to anyone gifted with the magic arts. It had climaxed with a colossal argument, where they had eventually ceased talking...until now.
Even before he enters the room Techie can see the sheen of sweat that is coating his brother. Blue silk pajamas sticking to his skin, his fists grasp at his blankets, a permanent frown tattooed on his face, eyes closed and mouth set in a hard line, with Millicent attempting to paw at his chest. Techie’s heart pangs in sympathy.
Despite his size, Kylo squeezes into his peripheral vision making him jump. Hair tied back in a high ponytail, worry lines litter his face, bottom lip wobbling with stress. “I did what you said about the wash cloth but his temperature is still up. Do you think it's food poisoning? We had kale crisps for-”
Techie lets Kylo prattle on as he surveys his brother. It had been 6 weeks since they had seen each other and another 2 since they had actually spoken. Techie couldn't help be startled by the dramatic change in his appearance. Usually pale anyway, the fiery red head which often looked half starved with his disinterest in regular meal times and his habit of for consuming copious amounts of coffee that left him talking in stacciou clicks, now looked even zombie esque, waxy faced, sweat pooling at his brow, eyes moving erratically side to side behind his eyelids. Armie looked ready to dance with death.
Kneeling next to the bed, Techie placed his hand over his brother’s forehead and closed his eyes. Black smokey fog clouded his vision, mushrooming into clouds of grey, a distressed bird ducked and weaved aimlessley through the stifling air, omitting out sounds of distress, trying to find a patch of light.
Techie quickly removed his hand. Hypno’s Nightmare Hex. The sign of a black heron.
Opening his eyes again, Techie glanced down and leaned forward and took in the appearance of Hux’s nails. Usually trimmed and filled with razor sharp precision, they were uneven and dirty. So unlike his brother to have unclean hands, meaning the sickness had come on quickly that Hux had been so ill that he couldn't even care for himself.
Letting out a weary sigh, Techie straightened up and started to yank strands of his own hair out.
“So what's wrong with him?” Kylo asked, breaking the silence.
Biting his lip, Techie avoids looking at him, he was a rubbish liar at the best of times let alone under Kylo’s unrelenting heavy gaze. “It looks like a fever or something he’s picked up”, Techie lied, busying himself with straightening Armitage’s blankets, “If you want to help, you could stick the kettle on and make him a cup of peppermint tea?”
Relieved to have something to do, Kylo quickly shuffled out of the room. Waiting to hear the banging of cupboard doors and rattle of the kettle, Techie quickly got to work entwining strands of his hair into the buttonhole of Armie’s pjays.
With the black yarn he had brought with him wound around his fingers Techie hovered his hands above Armitage's face, and prayed,
“By Earth and Water, Air and By Fire,
May you hear this wish.
Sources of Life and Light,
Sources of the day and of the Earth,
I invoke you here. Heal his body and mind.”
Satisfied, Techie pocketed the yarn and absentmindedly stroked the back of Millicent’s head. It was clear to Techie what had happened, unhappy with her restricted diet Millicent had evoked the wrath of a neighbouring witch due to probably pilfering their own familiar’s food supply. The fallout had clearly been considerable with Armitage suffering the brunt of this nasty curse.
“You pest Millicent.” There was no bite to his tone as he continued to thumb at her silky ears.
“Please restrict your name calling around my cat,” came a throaty reply. Although his eyes were still closed, Armitage’s colour had returned with a dusky pink settling on his cheeks.
Techie rolled his eyes and bit his lip in an attempt to hide his relief. “If you don't shut up we will take your temperature rectally.”
Answering with a half snarl half purr, Armie turned his back to him, “How flagitious of you. I hope you never enter the hospital profession because some attributes are clearly lacking.” Coughing into his fist, he asked feebly, “Where is Kylo?”
Techie’s tongue itched to poke fun of his neediness, typical Armie near the brink of death and all he cared about was Kylo. Instead he settled with a snort and an eye roll. “He’s in the kitchen, he thinks you have the flu.”
Armie responds with a quiet hum, followed by some steady breaths, that Techie guess is his que to leave. Gathering his things, Techie shuffles into the kitchen and meets Kylo half way, despite his size Kylo seems to have shrunken with worry over night; Shoulders slouched and eyes droopy, Techie’s heart squeezes with sympathy. Kylo Ren does really care for his brother, not in many words perhaps but his actions speak of true heart. Maybe there is hope for them after all?
Summing up his inner courage he braced himself, “ Look I have to tell you something,” he bit out.
Kylo’s jaw clenched and the blood quickly drained from his face, “Oh my God he’s dying isn't he?”
“He’s on drugs, he’s in trouble with some bad people, let me know who they are and I’ll take care of them.” By now Kylo had cupped Techie’s shoulders and was aggressively shaking him, leaning into his personal space.
“Stop! No its nothing like that, its just a bad case of the flu, he’ll be fine in 24 hours.” Pushing Kylo’s hands off his shoulders, he took a deep breath, it was now or never. “He’s in love with you.” Kylo looked as if he had been slapped, taking the silence as a blessing Techie pressed on, “ Look I’ll make you a banana vegan pudding cheesecake, just don't tell him I said anything. I just thought you should know. It’s better this way.”
Techie watched with trepidation as a series of emotions flickered over Kylo’s face. Surprise, concern and bemusement. The latter winning out.
Eyebrow raised, Kylo asked, “Since when?”
“Since forever,” Techie insisted, “Since you partnered up with him in P.E when no one else would, since you invited him to go camping in your back garden, since you drew that picture of him when you were 10, which he still has by the way hidden in his diary. Meeting you after losing mum and everything that we held dear, meant the world to him.”
Techie knew he was rambling, but now the he had started he couldn't stop, almost as if he had drank a babbling baboon beverage. “ He cares so deeply he would do anything for you and he has given up his life.” At the sight of hurt that flashed across Kylo's face, Techie quickly added, “Look I’m not blaming you, but he has to move on somehow and your not letting him. I mean to cause no ill intent by telling you this but you have to stop depending on him so much.”
He adds quietly, addressing his scuffed shoes, “Maybe it would be good for both of you.”
Kylo would have looked less surprised if Techie had smacked him.
“He loves me?” He asked dubiously.
“Yes, most passionately and ardently so and perhaps bordering on unhealthy.” Techie replied earnestly, “ I think he loves you so much it's just constricting him and love shouldn't be like that.”
Thinking back to Matt who was such an easier smiler, always finding something to be happy about, and Techie’s heart skipped when he realised some of those smiles were because of him. He couldn't imagine the sorrow that would engulf him if he had to taper down his feelings like Armie did for Kylo. Techie had promised not to get involved, but all those vows had been thrown out the window the minute Armie had cursed Matt. Deciding it was a blessing in disguise Techie took the plunge.
“He would walk on broken glass for you and you've just been so blind,” shouldering his bag more securely on his shoulders, Techie reached for the front door, “Look do want you want with this information, but don't hurt him anymore. My brother deserves some form of happiness. It’s not my place to say, but have you ever considered it? Have you been so bogged down on all the awful things that have happened in your life that you’ve forgotten something so crucial, that you’re loved. I’m not saying the bad things haven't caused you pain, but have you considered the source of happiness might have been hiding in plain sight?”
Techie took a deep breath. Kylo looked clearly taken back. Techie barely spoke in Kylo’s presence, let alone give him a hard dressing down, no wondered he looked so flummoxed. With a half shrug, Techie left a speechless Kylo in Armie’s flat. Taking the steps two at a time, he wondered at his own sheere nerve at his behaviour.
Desperate to get away from the sleek lines and well polished surfaces of Armie’s home, Techie fished out his old battered Nokia, the one that made his brother cringe as it has ‘God awful buttons’, sending off a quick text to Matt that he’s coming over, whilst barging out of the front door, not caring in the slightest that he might wake somebody up.
Half jogging half skipping to his bike, the rise of the sun bleeds a orange light across the pavement stones, warming the back of Techie’s neck. Before setting off he quickly glances up to note that his familiar has already left, no doubt on the hunt for some morning worms.
Pleased at his new found bravery, Techie speeds off, weaving his way through early morning commuters and dustbinmen, wind tickling his face, eagerly anticipating Matt’s pillowy lips and reassuring steady thumping heartbeat under his ear.
Armitage and Kylo would be all right, they would find their way. Techie was sure of it.