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by threads

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  Tuesday was Owen’s favorite day of the week, and Tuesday afternoon was his favorite time of the day. Generally speaking, there wasn’t much to like about a Tuesday, but that was why Owen had a very important tea on Tuesdays. It had been his godfather’s idea - to balance out the week, he’d said. In Owen’s mind, it heavily skewed the week in favor of Tuesdays, but he couldn’t have known that.

  “Go on up,” Papa said. “Mâmân will be here to walk you home at six thirty.” He put his hands in his pockets and smiled. “Tell Matthew we said hello.”

  Neither of Owen’s parents ever went up to Matthew’s flat. Once upon a time, Owen had tried to ask why, but Papa had gone quiet and pensive, and Mâmân had looked sad, whereas Matthew had become even more of a whirlwind, charming Owen past every attempt to ask. Tea was just for them.

  Matthew’s flat was on the top floor, the third floor, and Owen took them at a quick clip, bounding up two steps at a time until the familiar lacquer door came into sight. He stood on tiptoe to ease the spare key Matthew kept for him out from behind the hall light and let himself in, as he always did.

  He was met with a pair of brown and white wings, like that of an eagle, taking up most of the sitting room, which was not as he always did.

  “Owen?” Matthew sang. “Is that you, my darling?” The wings folded and shifted aside, revealing that they belonged to a warlock, who turned to look quizzically, and that the feathers continued from their shoulders and neck to mid-forearm. Matthew stood before them in an impeccable grey suit, tape measure around his neck and pincushion on his wrist, fitting them for a dress - an intricately-beaded brown silk number Owen recognized, specifically tailored with slits for wings. It had been a work in progress the last time he visited.

  “You finished the dress!” he said, delighted, shutting the door behind him.

  “So I did.” Smiling, Matthew pulled a pin from the dress and tucked it into the pincushion. “I’m sorry about running over into tea time, but I’m almost finished up. June, may I introduce my godson, Owen? Owen, this is Madame June Harrow.”

  “A pleasure,” June murmured. Her curious round eyes fell on Owen’s Voyance rune and narrowed, just a little.

  “How do you do!” said Owen cheerfully. He put his coat over the arm of the sofa and flopped down. “I like your wings!”

  “We can take this off now,” Matthew said to June. “Owen, I’ll be just a minute.” He whistled, and a mass of golden fur came trotting out from the bedroom.

  “Ernest!” Owen cried, dropping to the floor to accept his welcoming kisses.

  Ernest was Matthew’s dog, a loyal, very silly retriever. Matthew said that if you looked into Ernest’s eyes, you could almost see the empty room behind it with all its lights on. Owen loved him almost as much as he loved Matthew.

  “He can have a biscuit, if you’d like,” Matthew called, guiding June into his workroom. “You know where they’re kept.”

  Owen did know where they were kept. As Ernest followed him to the cabinet where people usually kept drinks but Matthew never did, he heard June say in a disapproving whisper, “A Shadowhunter?”

  “You know well I used to be one, June,” Matthew said, sounding tired and amused. The door closed behind them.

  Matthew’s flat was a strange collage of eras and aesthetics that should not make sense but did, manifesting in teal and gold damask wallpaper, Turkish rugs, and a collection of velvet-upholstered furniture. Owen sat down on the squashy ottoman and made a game out of tossing biscuit chunks for Ernest to catch in his mouth. He was on the verge of sneaking Ernest a second biscuit when June came back out, now wearing a day dress in rose with an overcoat thrown over her arm. Beneath her dress, Owen could see the shapes of her wings folded tightly against her back. She glanced at Owen apprehensively but did not say anything, merely adjusted her hat and left.

  Matthew came out a moment later, having divested himself of his jacket and waistcoat in favor of his smoking jacket. “Well, now the festivities begin!” he said brightly, clapping his hands. “I’ll get our tea.”

  “Papa and Mâmân say hello,” Owen volunteered, burying his fingers in Ernest’s silky fur as Ernest, having gulped the last of his treats, put his chin on Owen’s knee.

   Matthew leaned down to give Ernest’s ears a rub as he passed by. Ernest ignored him, accurately judging that only one set of hands was here to stay for the moment, and Matthew’s indignant, laughing voice trailed after him into the kitchen. “Every week Owen shows up and I cease to exist to you, you big goof! Your very owner!”

  Oblivious to the wonders of human language, Ernest thumped his tail happily against the floor as Owen scratched him behind the ears. Matthew proclaimed every week in a fit of dramatics that his dog had forsaken him for Owen, but it was not even remotely true. Ernest loved Owen almost as much as he loved Matthew. They had that in common.

  “Give me the latest, Owen Thomas,” Matthew called from the kitchen. There were the sounds of china being set out, cupboards opening. “What’s the news?”

    Matthew called Owen all sorts of different names - Owen Thomas, Owen Hezekiel, so on and so forth - and, so far, had yet to repeat a single one. It was a running joke; Owen’s name was Owen Alastair, after Mâmân’s favorite brother, and Matthew took great pleasure in poking fun at Uncle Alastair.

  Owen told him “the news” - how Aunt Lu and Uncle Jesse were considering moving to Cornwall, where the Blackthorns ran the Institute, that Uncle Alastair had traveled to Paris with Uncle Tom (“Paris again?” Matthew murmured. “Good for them.”) and sent back a beautiful dagger for Owen’s collection. Owen’s uncle Reza, Mâmân’s other brother, had visited and taught him how to load and fire a crossbow -

  He paused for breath as Matthew brought out a heavy tray. There were always two teapots when he had tea with Matthew - a short squat one like a cabbage and a taller one, at odds with the rest of the set in its bold yellow and blue pattern. That one was for Owen. Vampires couldn’t drink plain tea. Nor could they eat, but Matthew always set out enough for two anyway: scones with clotted cream and jam, smoked salmon and cream cheese finger sandwiches.

  “Three sugars, please,” he said, helping himself to the sandwiches.

  “One and half,” chided Matthew. Ernest padded over to lay at Matthew’s feet.

  “Two.”

  This was also a running joke. Matthew knew he always took two sugars in his tea, but said that it was his familial duty to stop Owen from consuming all the sugar in London. Negotiation was thus necessary.

  Oh, (Owen continued), and he and Isidore Lightwood had gotten in a spot of trouble when they were sword fighting in the dining room this past week and consequently broke a soup tureen; Owen had dealt the killing blow, so to speak, but if Sid hadn’t ducked under the table it wouldn’t have happened, and -

  He told Matthew about everything from the goings-on of the family to his studies, which happened to be very boring this week except for the section on Downworlders, most of which he already knew from Matthew’s stories and some from cousin Anna, who - oh, oh! - Owen had almost forgotten to mention would be back in London to visit in a month’s time.

  “I tried to tell Mr. Aldertree that of course vampires could see themselves in a mirror,” Owen said pensively, referring to the Institute’s tutor, “but he got all blustery and told me the Codex was revised and accurate.”

  “Well, partial credit,” Matthew said, sipping from his cup. “I’m not saying anything against Mr. Aldertree, but if I were - ” Owen bounced in his seat. But only a little, on account of his teacup, “ - I’d say that I knew him briefly and that he barely knew left from right. Hopefully he knows better than that, now, though.” He took another sip, and smiled. “Also, old mirrors are made with silver, which are -”

  “- toxic to vampires,” they said together.

  “Very good,” Matthew approved. “Mine are bronze. It’s why you’ve never noticed anything different. Most mirrors now have aluminum rather than real silver, which makes it much easier to comb my hair.” He preened with obvious dramatics, and Owen laughed.

  “What are you working on this week?”

  “Well,” said Matthew thoughtfully, “I have quite a few adjustments waiting for me. June, who you met, brought in clothes for me just today...she commissioned me for the brown silk, but as for the rest, it’s easier for her to buy most of her outfits ready-made and have them tailored with slits to fit. I’ve never worked with wings before, but I do like a challenge.”

  “Couldn’t she just keep them folded?” Owen asked. “I saw her do it.”

  “She’d prefer to keep them folded outside her clothing. Much less constricting.”

  Owen thought. “Couldn’t she do it herself with magic?”

  “I assume she could,” Matthew said. “But ah, it wouldn’t look quite as good, and I’d be out of business.” He winked, and then sighed. “The beading on that dress was rather punishing. It turned out beautifully, but I would rather never see another copper bead in this lifetime.”

  “How long did it take you?”

  “Nearly all week.”

  “Oh.” Owen deflated, then tried not to show it. “I guess you’ve been very busy.”

  Perhaps he couldn’t quite keep the disappointment out of his voice. “Owen,” said Matthew. His green eyes were sparkling, and he looked as though he was trying to hide a smile behind his teacup. “I did say nearly. I didn't forget.”

  Owen sat up straight. “Is it finished?”

  Matthew didn’t try to hide his smile this time. “Check my workroom,” he said mysteriously.

  Owen bolted to the workroom, ignoring Matthew’s laughing call of, “Slow down!” The cramped little workroom was nearly always a mess, with a table spilling with design papers and fabric scraps everywhere, a privacy screen crammed in the corner, and several dress forms modeling projects ranging from just-started to complete (there was June’s dress on one of them), but there, on the single child’s size dress form in the center of it all, was the bespoke pink suit Matthew had made him. Except for the color, it really was little different from what you could buy in the shops, but Matthew had measured Owen specifically and let him choose the fabric, had done all the cutting and sewing himself. There were still pins in it, but otherwise it had a shape, was mostly finished, and Matthew had done it all in a terrible week when he was working on June’s very, very difficult dress, just so Owen would not be disappointed the next time he came to tea.

  He burst out of the workroom and nearly collided with Matthew, who was lurking just outside the door. It was just as well. “Thank you!” he cheered, throwing his arms around Matthew’s waist. “Thank you thank you thank you - ”

  Matthew, laughing, put a hand on his head and smoothed back Owen’s black hair. “What do you say to one last fitting?”

  Fitting was much less exciting than picking out fabric or watching fabric slowly take shape on the dress form in Matthew’s capable hands, but Owen didn’t mind. What he did mind was standing still for ages once he’d wriggled into the suit, mindful of being scratched, while Matthew mumbled over the seams and re-pinned here and there.

  Owen told Matthew about learning new runes, fortune, sure-striking and stamina. (Matthew made an involuntary snort at the last one and would not explain why.) He talked about being better at throwing knives than Sid but worse at swordplay, which apparently was very much like his Uncle Alastair. He talked about learning to fall from the rafters at the Institute and he talked about his and Sid’s hunt for Church, whom no one had seen for a while, and - and -

  He fidgeted. He couldn’t help it. “Are we done?”

  “Ah-ah.” Matthew grinned around his mouthful of pins. “You have to be patient, love.”

  Of course, with a mouthful of pins this sounded more like Yhafftetmbepffatient, lllve, but Owen understood. He had spent half his childhood in Matthew’s flat, watching him work on one piece or another, and was well-used to deciphering garbled syllables. “ Matthew, ” Owen pleaded.

  “Thirty seconds in the name of fashion ,” pronounced Matthew, inserting a final pin. “Alright! You are released.”

  Once Owen had gratefully wriggled out of the suit (a task made difficult by the increased number of pins), Matthew produced the gramophone and the box of records. Owen chose one to play; Matthew gathered up the tray of tea things and put the leftover scones in a waxed paper bag for Owen to take home, then dragged a dress form and a length of cloth out to the sitting room.

  Mamie Smith’s Crazy Blues crooned from the gramophone. Owen sprawled on the rug with Ernest while Matthew sat in the window, draping and pinning cloth, frowning in consideration. He had pins between his teeth again. The clock showed past six.

  It was quiet, and easy. Ernest’s tail thumped eagerly against the rug when Owen scratched him behind the ears and he rolled over so Owen would rub his belly.

  “When did your father say they would come fetch you?” Matthew asked after a while, pushing a curtain back to peer out the window.

  “Six thirty,” Owen said. He abandoned Ernest to scramble up on the window seat beside Matthew. “It’s just past six twenty.”

  They looked into the street below together. Downstairs, people were making their way past in twos and threes, all in a hurry to be somewhere, it seemed, except for one woman in stylish blue, patiently waiting in a pool of streetlight.

  “There’s your mother,” said Matthew, who had keen eyes. He gave Owen a one-armed side squeeze and smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. There was no sparkle. “Time to go, Owen. Ernest!” He made a two-note whistle. Ernest perked up from his place on the rug and came bounding over for a farewell pat.

  “Next week?” Owen asked, submitting himself to Ernest’s happy kisses.

  “Next week,” Matthew agreed. “Give my love to your parents for me, will you?”

  “I will!” Owen hopped up from the window seat. He waved goodbye as he hurried to the door, picking up his bag of leftover scones as he went. “See you next week!”

  “Owen,” Matthew called out behind him, a laugh in his voice. “Owen, your coat!”

  Owen reversed course for his coat, which he’d abandoned on the arm of the sofa and quite forgotten all about. Matthew watched him wriggle into his coat with a smile.

  It occurred to Owen, then, that he did not quite know what Matthew did for the rest of the week. There was something wistful in his smile, and he cut a lonesome figure by the window, backlit by the glow of street lamps outside. Sure, he was plenty busy designing and tailoring, but Owen’s parents never visited. Did anyone else? Was the rest of his time spent at the sewing machine?

  It seemed rather lonely.

  Owen hesitated, and then pelted back to Matthew on an impulse, throwing his arms around his godfather’s neck. “I love you,” he said, muffled, into the rich material of Matthew’s smoking jacket. He hugged Matthew as tight as he could and then let go.

  There was that sparkle in Matthew’s eyes. He drew Owen in and kissed the top of his head. “Good evening, Owen Alastair. Don’t keep your mother waiting, now.”

  Owen put the spare key back behind the light. He bounded down all three flights of stairs and spilled out onto the sidewalk. Mâmân saw him immediately and he skipped over to join her beneath the street lamp.

  He looked up to the third floor, where he could see Matthew hovering in the window, and waved.

  Matthew waved back. Owen knew he would be watching until they turned the corner at the end of the street and disappeared from sight.

  “How was tea, azizam?” Mâmân asked, as they started their walk home.

  “Delightful,” Owen said cheerfully, bounding along beside her. He glanced back, and could just make out Matthew’s pale face in the window. “Matthew sends his love.”