email: flamebyrd [at] gmail.com
He said his name was Arcady, but the name on his credit card was Archibald Cadman.
Sebastien wasn't really sure when it was he first noticed him. It just seemed that one day he woke up and noticed that most of his late night customers were one person.
To be fair, he doubted Arcady had noticed either. He would come into the store sometime between midnight and 5 am and order a strong black coffee and some kind of snack food - a muffin, a danish, whatever seemed to catch his eye that night. He would drink the coffee while typing frantically on the laptop that seemed a permanent fixture at his side - Sebastien didn't think he'd ever seen him without it. The encounter inevitably ended with him buying a couple of bottles of cola and a bag of chips before heading back into the night.
On this particular evening, Arcady's snack of choice was some kind of custard-apple pastry. Compared to the kind of pastries Sebastien was used to it was cardboard, but he wasn't sure Arcady even tasted it, being so focused on whatever he was doing.
Sebastien tried to read - it was a quiet night at the only all-hours coffeeshop-and-deli in the suburb, and he was bored, but he kept being distracted by Arcady's typing. It was also entirely possible that he just wasn't interested in Etienne Philipe's analysis of the Theban plays. The cute geek sitting across the bench and down a little was far more interesting.
"Have you considered perhaps sleeping at night?" said Sebastien, conversationally. "You'd save a fortune on coffee."
Arcady typed a little more, then looked up and blinked at him. "What?"
Sebastien repeated himself.
Arcady blinked some more, then self-consciously brushed a lock of hair behind his ear. "I work better at night," he said, uncomfortably.
Sebastien felt a little tightening in his gut - geeks were just so cute. "Well," said Sebastien, "I suppose I should be glad for that. You're half the customers we get at these hours."
Arcady's lips twitched into a tentative smile, then he returned to his typing.
Sebastien sighed internally, fighting the urge to ruffle that floppy hair and see if he could get a real smile out of him.
He decided to make it an ongoing project. Maybe one day he'd be able to get an entire conversation with him.
He picked up Philipe again, doodling in the margins under the guise of making notes.
A slight headache building behind his forehead and the sudden onset of tiredness told Arcady it was time for some caffeine.
A quick check in the kitchen informed him that the pot of coffee was cold. The bare shelves of the fridge told him that he'd run out of Coke again.
Still, it was a weekend, so the late-night deli would be open.
The boy Arcady liked to think of as the cute one was serving.
After the last time, Arcady had tried to think of something more intelligent to say, assuming that he tried to drag Arcady into conversation again, but he wasn't really sure he'd succeeded.
The name on the badge was Sebastien. He knew that Sebastien knew his name, because he'd mumbled it the first time he handed over his credit card. Sebastien had called him Archibald when he parroted the standard thanks, and Arcady just couldn't let it slide.
He ordered his usual coffee and studied the pastry tray for a moment before settling on a blueberry danish.
Sebastien grinned at him as he processed the order. "I see you're still a night owl," he said.
"I, um," stuttered Arcady. "Yes," he finished, flushing slightly. "It's quieter," he offered, after a moment. "Less distractions."
Sebastien nodded. "I know what you mean. I get half my study done working here, I think."
Arcady glanced at his laptop, then resolutely did not reach to pick it up. Maybe he could still make up for looking like such an idiot. "Um," he began. Not a good start. "What are you studying? You're a student, right?"
Sebastien smiled and answered with the sort of ease that made Arcady envious. "Historical literature," he said. "I'm minoring in Linguistics though."
Arcady felt a wave of panic descend on him. He didn't have a clue how to talk about books. "I - I studied IT," he said, quickly. "Programming."
"Is that what you're doing on your laptop?" asked Sebastien.
Arcady looked down at his laptop before remembering he hadn't turned it on. "Sort of," he said. "It's a kind of magic."
Sebastien blinked. He knew a little about magic, mostly as an artefact of historical documents. It had fallen out of favour in the past couple of centuries. "I thought that was all mathematics," he said, doubtfully. "Equations and such." The Ancient Greeks had been very enthusiastic about it.
"Ah," said Arcady, warming to his subject. "Well, that's sort of what computer programming is all about. It's very mathematical, very logical. So basically, if you know how to use magic, you can channel it through your computer. We call it technomancy."
Sebastien blinked. "I've never heard of it before," he said.
"No, well, the ability to channel magic is pretty rare to begin with," said Arcady. "And this is pretty new. And magic disruptors are particularly effective on it, because there's no room for the mage to manoeuvre around the disturbance in the magical currents, so there's not much military application and it's not high on most places' research priorities."
Sebastien blinked. Most of the explanation went straight over his head, but he understood the last part. "Knowledge for the sake of knowledge is something that seems to escape most people, isn't it?"
Arcady nodded enthusiastically. If Sebastien had thought Arcady cute before, it was nothing compared to when he was talking about what was clearly his favourite subject. "Exactly. That's exactly right. There's a whole community online, we share programs and technomagical formulae and work on software projects together and so on, but there's no real money in it. So I do free-lance programming work on the side."
"I don't really know what I'll do when I graduate," Sebastien confessed. "I like the idea of being a career academic, but it can be so hard to find a place... I just don't know."
Arcady nodded, lost again. He couldn't even imagine what people did in jobs that weren't IT-related. Answer the phone, maybe?
"I'm hoping to do honours next year, then a masters or a Ph.D or something. I'm still deciding."
Arcady nodded again. He could feel the conversation dying, and decided to make his exit before things grew too uncomfortable. "Um, thanks," he said. "The coffee was great."
"Come again soon!" said Sebastien, automatically.
Arcady gathered up his things and headed back into the night, feeling like he'd failed at something and not knowing why.
Sebastien wasn't going to give up as easily as that.
When Arcady came in the next night, Sebastien started on a new track. "So why Arcady, anyway?" he asked.
Arcady blinked at the sudden question. "Um, it's like a kind of utopia. It's my internet handle."
Sebastien blinked. He knew about Arcadia/Arcady, of course, but what was an "internet handle"?
"I like it better than Archibald," said Arcady.
Sebastien snickered. "I can understand that," he said, teasingly. "You English have such silly names."
Arcady felt a sudden urge to defend his name, even though he hated it and Sebastien was right. "It's a traditional name in my father's family tree," he muttered.
"So does your family call you Arcady?"
Arcady shrugged. "My father hasn't approved of anything I've done since I was about 10, so... we don't really speak nowadays." He flushed. "Sorry. Too much information."
"It's okay," said Sebastien. "My family don't really care what I do, as long as I'm not starving in the streets or anything. I guess I'm lucky."
Arcady still felt embarrassed, and tried to change the subject. "So, um, your name... Is it just Sebastien?"
"Well, Sebastien Fournier, but you mean, do I go by Seb or anything? Nah, it's just Sebastien. Seb is cute, it's just... not really me."
Arcady nodded. "My family called me Archie when I was little," he said, with distaste.
Sebastien grinned. "That's cute," he said. "But you know, I think Arcady suits you."
Arcady was suddenly very conscious of Sebastien's eyes on him. "Um. Thank you."
Sebastien bowed dramatically, making Arcady blush. Sebastien once again fought the urge to reach over and ruffle his hair.
"So, uh, are you here during the day?" asked Arcady.
Sebastien shook his head. "Just Friday, Saturday and Sunday, when we're open all night," he said. He waited for the usual comment about the impact on his social life, but it never came. In retrospect, perhaps he should have expected that.
"Oh," said Arcady.
"So I'll probably see you again next week," said Sebastien, with a wink.
Arcady blushed again, mumbled something, then scampered off.
Sebastien rested his head on his folded arms, more amused than disappointed. Well, at least he was making progress. Getting him used to socialising slowly. Or something like that.
Sebastien looked out the window at the rain flickering through the streetlights, and wondered what had happened to summer. The occasional ominous crack of thunder made him wish he was home in bed, not sitting on a hard stool in a shop, trying to read.
It was always quiet on the night shift, but on nights like this he wondered why the managers even bothered keeping him on.
Not that they'd know, being safe at home and sleeping. Bastards.
He considered it highly unlikely he'd even see Arcady tonight, which made him feel ever so slightly despondent.
A flash outside the window, then a thunder crack made him jump. The storm was growing closer.
He could barely hear the shop bell jangle over the thunder as a familiar form slipped inside.
"You must be desperate," said Sebastien, forgetting all his customer service training.
Arcady flushed a little as he took off his raincoat and hung it near the door. "A powersurge fried my coffee-maker," he said, mournfully.
"Oh no," said Sebastien, feeling his mood start to lift. "So I guess you want your usual, then."
"Please," said Arcady, gratefully.
A flash outside lit up the entire street, then the shop plunged into darkness.
They waited in the darkness for a moment. "I don't think it's coming back on," said Arcady, tentatively.
"Well," said Sebastien. "I can probably make you instant from the urn."
He thought he heard Arcady make a gagging sound.
Sebastien dug around under the bench for the emergency lamp he knew was kept just for situations like this. "There," he said. "I'm going to close up the shop. But, um, you don't have to leave if you don't want to. I wouldn't send you out in that."
"Thank you," said Arcady, faintly.
Sebastien flipped the sign over on the door and locked it, then headed back behind the counter.
Sebastien stared out the window, trying to catch a sight of rain. "No streetlights," he said. "Must have taken out the grid."
Arcady's nod looked quite eerie in the blue glow of the lamp.
Sebastien tried to think of something else to say. "It's ridiculous sitting here at the counter when there's a perfectly good couch in the corner," he said, eventually. "Come on." During semester, the couches and coffee table setup was a popular place for students to hold late-night discussions.
Sebastien couldn't see Arcady's expression, but he followed Sebastien over to the corner so he supposed Arcady agreed.
Arcady took the couch opposite Sebastien. "I, um," he began, uncertainly. "Thank you. For letting me stay, I mean."
"My father always said you should treat your regular customers like gold," said Sebastien.
"Oh," said Arcady, feeling a little used. He twiddled his fingers uncomfortably. Silence fell, broken only by the sound of the rain. Arcady hated silence. Every room in his apartment had at least one fan constantly providing its own little portion of white noise, so the lack of it made his ears ring.
"Damn," said Sebastien suddenly, making Arcady jump. "I should have closed the blinds." He struggled to extract himself from the couch.
"Wait," said Arcady quickly. "Let me." He pulled his laptop out of its bag and woke it up. "They have a pull, right? Left or right side?"
"Erm, left," said Sebastien, in a bemused tone.
"OK," he said, typing rapidly. "How much would you say they weigh?"
In the dim glow of the lamp, he saw Sebastien blink.
"Never mind, I'll just make some approximations... It shouldn't matter, I just need to exert enough force on the pulling mechanism." He typed rapidly. "Let me see..."
Sebastien heard a low buzzing sound, and watched in fascination as the blinds began to slowly close. At least, that's what he thought was happening - it was rather hard to tell. "Did you just write a computer program to close my blinds?" he said, incredulously.
"Yep!" said Arcady, sounding quite proud. Justifiably, Sebastien thought. "I've been working on some generalisation algorithms," Arcady continued, as if that would explain it better.
"That's... pretty impressive," said Sebastien. "You know, I haven't ever seen magic in action before."
"Magic runs in my family," said Arcady. "But my father always said it was just party tricks and had no practical use, so he never taught us how to do anything with it. I kind of figured things out myself."
"Can I see it?" said Sebastien, getting up and sitting next to Arcady on the other couch.
Arcady froze. "Um, sure, I guess."
Sebastien peered over his shoulder at the laptop screen. "Wow, what is that?"
"It's, um, probably a different operating system to the one you're used to. See, I write my code here..." Arcady pulled up a window containing a collection of words, letters, numbers and various characters that meant absolutely nothing to Sebastien. "And then I run it, and kind of... channel magic through it."
Sebastien squinted at the screen. "There are words in that."
"They get converted to numbers when you compile it. Well, eventually. To binary, anyway."
Sebastien blinked. "I'll take your word for it."
Arcady couldn't resist showing off a little. "See, this is what I call my torch program." He double-clicked the icon on his desktop, and a ball of light slowly came to life a metre or so above his laptop.
In the much better lighting, he could see Sebastien's eyes widen. "Wow."
"But," said Arcady, cursing his own honesty, "since I need to be channeling to use it, it's not really all that practical." He stopped the program and the light faded. "That's the problem with all magic, really."
Sebastien blinked. "What do you mean?"
"It's like if... all the cars were powered by people pedalling. Anything you want to do with magic has to be performed by a magician. There's no automation."
Sebastien nodded. "I see."
Their eyes met. "I, um," stammered Arcady, as he forgot what he was going to say.
Sebastien looked at Arcady appreciatively for a moment, then leaned over and kissed him.
Arcady was clearly startled, but after a few seconds relaxed into the kiss.
Sebastien had always liked kissing, and Arcady's lips were soft and slightly cool.
Just as he was starting to wonder where things were leading, the room flickered, and all the lights came back on.
Arcady pulled back, and Sebastien blinked in the sudden glare.
"I guess the power came back on," he said unncessarily.
Arcady was blushing. "Um. Yeah." He got up and brushed himself down. "I. I'd probably better be getting back. I think the rain's stopped."
"Okay," said Sebastien, feeling a little guilty. "Just let me undo the deadlock."
In the streetlights, it seemed the rain had actually merely dropped to a light drizzle.
He watched Arcady stumble down the street for a moment, before sighing and flipping the sign on the door over to "Open".
Arcady didn't come in the next night, which only made Sebastien feel more guilty.
He didn't think he'd misjudged this badly since high school.
He worried about how he'd explain to his boss about losing a regular customer when he realised that the boss probably didn't even know they had a regular late-night customer, and began to relax. They were only open late nights on the weekend, so he was safe then.
When Arcady wasn't in on Sunday night either, Sebastien was so depressed he called his sister.
Marie told him off for being so silly. "Give him time. If he doesn't come back, he's a homophobic dick and not worth your time anyway."
Sebastien choked. "Point taken. But what do I do if he does come back?"
"Act normally," she recommended. "Act like it didn't happen, if you think that'll relax him."
Sebastien sighed. "I'll try."
When Arcady finally managed to get together the nerve to go back, he was disturbed to find that Sebastien wasn't serving.
Belatedly, he realised that although he'd managed to remember to get in before their weeknight closing time, he'd forgotten that Sebastien only worked weekends.
The deli just wasn't the same without Sebastien there. It was like... a room with no computers on. Something was missing.
He only managed to write about ten lines before heading back home, feeling stupid.
On Friday night, a week's worth of aching gut seemed to ease as Arcady walked into the deli.
He wouldn't meet Sebastien's eyes, but Sebastien greeted him with what he hoped was the usual cheer. "Hi," he said. "The usual?"
Sebastien chatted idly about normal things - the weather, politics, movie stars - while he made the coffee. He didn't get much of a response from Arcady, which he was hoping was just because Arcady didn't have anything to say.
Arcady had spent the whole week dreading this moment, and he wasn't sure Sebastien's cheerful normality was as welcome as he'd imagined. It made last weekend feel like... a dream, something that hadn't really happened.
He still wasn't sure if that was what he wanted or not.
"So, tell me more about technomancy," said Sebastien, as Arcady made to reach for his laptop. "I mean, it must be more complicated than it seems, or everyone would be doing it."
"Well, magic is pretty complicated," said Arcady, thankful for the distraction from his churning thoughts. "And it takes a lot of effort to do. Moving something with magic takes much more energy than moving it normally. And for most things you require lots of equations to just do things that we can do physically without thinking about it."
"I always thought magic was just... telekinesis," said Sebastien. "Moving things without touching them."
"Well," said Arcady, "after a while the common equations become like instinct. You can figure things out like the times tables or whatever. It's just... there. So you don't need to think very hard to move things around."
"Like how I'm apalling at mental maths, but working in the cafe means I can count change?" said Sebastien, amused.
"Um," said Arcady. "Something like that."
"So could I learn to do magic?" asked Sebastien.
Arcady shook his head. "No, you need... the blood, I guess. Not everyone has the ability."
Sebastien sighed. "Well, it was worth a shot, I suppose."
Arcady smiled tentatively. "Don't worry about it."
Sebastien managed to convince Arcady to show off a few more of the programs he had on his laptop before he left. Secretly, he had to admit that he found Arcady's eyes lighting up as he showed off more interesting than the actual magic.
He rather hoped Arcady hadn't noticed that.
The next night, Sebastien was startled when instead of the usual coffee and snacks, Arcady put five two-litre bottles of cola, three large bags of chips and an unhealthy supply of chocolate on the counter. "What the hell?" he said, before he could stop himself.
Arcady flushed. "I have a big project to work on," he said. "I don't know when I'll be able to get out again."
"You're carrying all that home?" he said, incredulously.
Arcady looked at his laptop, then the bags. "Um. Yes?"
"That's ridiculous. Look, how about you just take one bottle and some chips and chocolate, and I drop the rest by your place when my shift ends."
Arcady looked at him in surprise. "You, uh... I mean."
"It'd be a favour," Sebastient explained. "You know. For a friend."
"Um," said Arcady. "Well, it would help a lot."
Sebastien nodded. "It's no trouble, really."
Arcady wrote his address on the back of a business card before leaving. Sebastien fingered it idly as he returned to his study.
Literary analyses were even harder to feel enthusiastic about with the prospect of cute geek boys in one's future.
Dawn was breaking as he left the deli in his car.
As he rounded the corner onto Arcady's street, Sebastien had a sudden fear that he'd find Arcady lived in his parents' basement. Fortunately, it turned out he lived in a modern apartment.
He knocked on the door, trying not to wake the neighbours.
"It's unlocked," came a muffled voice from inside.
Sebastien gingerly turned the handle and walked in.
The room was filled with clutter. Open books took up most of the floor space, with empty cans of caffeinated beverages occupying most of the table space. The recycling bin by the door was filled to overflowing.
Judging by his buying habits, there were about three day's worth of bottles around the room that weren't in the bin. The rest of the contents of the bin seemed to be mostly chip packs and chocolate wrappers.
Sebastien muttered darkly about people who could eat all kinds of junk food and still remain as thin as a rake.
He looked around apprehensively, but aside from the clutter everything seemed fairly tidy. He wondered if Arcady had some kind of technomagical device for cleaning. It seemed possible.
"Just put it in the kitchen!" came a voice from the study. "Next to the fridge!"
He walked into the kitchen and dumped the bag of "food" and "drink" next to the fridge, as ordered.
"Come out here for a moment," he called back. "I brought food. Real food."
Arcady came out, wild-haired and looking a bit confused. "What?"
"Food," he said, holding up a bag. "It's only microwave dinners, but I thought you might appreciate it. When was the last time you ate properly?"
"There, see? I thought since I hadn't had dinner yet I may as well force you into eating too."
"Would you like chicken curry or pasta?" he said, holding up the boxes.
"Curry," said Arcady, decisively.
"Curry it is," said Sebastien. He put the plastic bowl in the microwave as directed, and walked out to where Arcady was perched uncomfortably on the sofa.
"What's this?" he asked, picking up a palm-sized device from the coffee table.
"It's a PDA," Arcady said.
"Where's the 'on' switch?" asked Sebastien, turning it over in confusion.
"You can't use it, it's magic," Arcady said.
"Oh." Sebastien looked around for something else. "How about this?" He picked up something that looked vaguely like a small dustbuster.
"Portable mini vaccuum," he said. "Works for liquid spills as well as dry."
He turned it around a bit. "Also magical?"
"Yep," he said. "I was going to refine it, but there doesn't seem to be much point, given how few people can use it."
When the food was ready, Sebastien insisted they tidy up the table and sit down to eat in a civilised manner.
The pasta was predictably tasteless, but Sebastien was used to it. Arcady poked at the curry with a fork for a few moments before Sebastien guilted him into eating it.
They looked at each other uneasily for a little while when they'd finished eating.
Sebastien liked to call it the "Are you...? Do you...?" moment - for which the answer, he was pleased to note, was a resounding "yes" - but Arcady had to start it. He wasn't going through another week of gut-wrenching guilt, thank you very much.
Arcady felt his cheeks burning as he reached over and took Sebastien's hand. "I, um," he began. He suddenly realised he had know idea what to say or do.
Sebastien smiled, and Arcady felt his cheeks grow even hotter.
Well. Kissing seemed like a good way to start.
It was like being on a coding streak - feeling his magic fizz through his veins and into the computer as the program took shape beneath his fingers.
However, in this case there was no computer, just another person.
Afterwards, Sebastien lay down on the mattress, idly playing with Arcady's hair. He wondered if Arcady would mind if he plaited it.
"You know, I was supposed to start work on my project tonight," said Arcady, faintly.
"Yeah?" said Sebastien. "I know what you mean. I have an essay to write."
"But I'm sleepy now!" he complained. "I'm never sleepy."
Sebastien stared at him for a second, then began to laugh.
"What?" Arcady protested.
"Nothing," said Sebastien. "I just love you." He blinked. That hadn't come out exactly right, he'd meant it to come out like "you are acting so much like yourself it's hilarious". He opened his mouth to explain, then noticed Arcady's gentle snoring.
Sebastien smiled, and settled down beside him. "Never mind."