A Gentleman Caller”

story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb

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Cyrano paused with his hand on the refrigerator door, glanced at the microwave clock. Took into account that it was and had been, for as long as he could remember, fourteen minutes slow.

Nine-oh-one.

There was no way Hunter hadn’t figured out by now that Cyrano wasn’t coming to the club tonight.

He surveyed the contents of the fridge (mostly fast-food leftovers), decided he wasn’t hungry after all. Shuffled back over to the kitchen table. Clambered into the chair in front of his laptop and pulled his legs up.

Leaned his cheek on his fist. Moused around on Reddit, not comprehending anything he read.

I should have just gone.

He wasn’t sure why he hadn’t. Cyrano didn’t understand a lot of the things he did and didn’t do these days. Sometimes he wanted to see Hunter so bad he felt a literal ache in the pit of his stomach. Other times, he wanted to skip town—run away somewhere Hunter could never, ever find him.

And that was without even factoring in Jules. The last thing Cyrano had expected was to like the eccentric, widely hated whiz kid who’d leapfrogged way more senior people, including Cyrano himself, to the top of the department. While he was among the few who actually respected Jules’s scholarship, Cyrano had expected to find the Grand Philosopher himself pretentious, remote, and self-absorbed. But, as it turned out, Jules was someone you could really talk to, in a way you couldn’t most people. He was so direct, so quietly observant, so nonjudgmental that he made you feel…safe.

Which made him the polar opposite of Hunter.

Cyrano clawed a hand through his curls, pressed his knuckles to his lips, stared blankly at the screen.

Hunter is going to fuck me in the ass if I turn my back on him now.

He jumped at the grating sound of the apartment’s old electric-bell doorbell.

Jesus fuck, I’m edgy. Probably just old Mrs. Grijalva looking for a little gossip.

Cyrano shuffled out into the living room—

—stopped short as he came in view of the little window on the front door, his heart turning a somersault in his chest.

Hunter’s smoldering eyes were staring back at him.

… He came all the way to Springdale?

Cyrano fought to keep calm; tried at least not to worry about stupid little things like how he was wearing his rattiest t-shirt and sweatpants, or how messy and rundown the apartment was. He rifled through excuses for his absence from the club in his head.

After a deep breath, opened the door.

Hunter Lockwood, in his Brooks Brothers suit, had to be the most out-of-place thing Cyrano had ever seen on his dad’s front stoop.

“Master-Savant,” said Cyrano. “What, uh, brings you all the way out here? I thought you’d be at the club.”

“I thought you would.” Hunter’s tone and expression were inscrutable. “Aren’t you going to invite me in?”

“Oh, yes, sorry. Please.” Cyrano stood aside, gestured for him to enter. “The place is, um…kind of a disaster. Sorry.”

Hunter walked into Cyrano’s dad’s living room like he did every room he walked into—as if he owned it. “Is your father home? I’d very much like to meet him.” He glanced around, took in the smoke-stained walls, the ratty shag carpet, the threadbare recliner and couch.

“No,” said Cyrano, bewildered by the request. “He’s on second shift tonight.”

“What’s that?”

“What’s what? Oh—second shift? It just means he won’t be home till after midnight.”

He immediately realized he shouldn’t have told Hunter he’d be home alone for that long.

“Ah.” Hunter turned, looked him up and down. The room was small, like the rest of the apartment. Cyrano was vividly aware of the extra body heat from Hunter’s presence.

I can’t believe he’s really here.

“So. Why didn’t you make it to the club tonight?” Hunter moved in uncomfortably close.

Cyrano’s heart rate spiked. “Just…you know. Not feeling well. Headache. Migraine. The music there, you know…the bass would have really, um…”

“Right.” Hunter stared at him, hard. “Then it wasn’t because you don’t have any evidence to share with me.”

Cyrano felt a thrill of terror. “No. No. I mean, I don’t have anything yet, ’cause I’m still working on it. But that wasn’t why I didn’t come out.”

Hunter shook his head, paced away. “Almonte, Almonte, Almonte. I don’t understand you.”

Cyrano gazed after him.

“I mean, look at you.” Hunter turned, spread his arms wide. “Look at where you live.”

Cyrano’s cheeks burned.

“Here I am,” Hunter went on, “offering you an opportunity countless magi far more privileged than yourself would kill for—”

“I told you, I’m working on it.” There was more irritation in Cyrano’s tone than he intended.

The room seemed to darken. Something changed in the air, a sudden chill or electric charge, something Cyrano didn’t have time to analyze—because Hunter became a blur, and the next instant Cyrano slammed back against the wall so hard he heard the plaster crack. Hunter pressed against him, pinned him with irresistible force, his breaths rasping like the growls of some otherworldly beast.

“NEVER USE THAT TONE WITH ME,” he snarled. “INSOLENT WORM.”

“I’m sorry,” Cyrano croaked. The impact had knocked the wind out of him. He was struggling for air. “It came out wrong. I just wanted you to know I-I—”

Hunter got a fistful of his hair, shook him like a rag doll. “Shut up!” he bellowed, wild-eyed. “Shut your cock-sucking mouth!”

Cyrano half-dangled from his grip, shaking like a leaf. His head was throbbing; his neck felt fucked up. He wondered idly if he had whiplash now, or some kind of brain damage. 

Hunter twisted Cyrano’s head back abruptly, at an excruciating angle, leaned so low over him their noses almost touched. Cyrano held himself perfectly still, like a cornered animal. Tried to understand what he saw in Hunter’s eyes—whether it was hate, or revulsion…

…or some kind of bottomless hunger.

The space between heartbeats seemed to stretch into eons. Hunter kept tightening his grip on Cyrano’s hair, blowing hot, terse bull-snorts on his face. Cyrano inhaled deeply; felt a weird calm settle over him. He couldn’t move, and if he tried there would be terrible consequences. Same if he spoke. There was nothing for him to do—no fast thinking, no decisions to be made. He was in Hunter’s hands. At Hunter’s mercy. Nothing to do but await Hunter’s whim.

Slowly, his muscles relaxed. He let out a soft breath of air. Blinked up at Hunter. Empty. Waiting.

A change crept into Hunter’s expression—though still guarded, he looked almost mesmerized. Rocked Cyrano’s head this way and that, then let go of his hair and slapped his face just hard enough to sting.

A second slap, this one harder.

Searched Cyrano’s eyes as they gazed patiently back at him.

Hunter loomed a few seconds longer, drawing staggered, abortive breaths, as if he wanted badly to say or do something, but was stopping himself.

Finally, he turned and stalked away.

Cyrano’s legs felt so weak all of a sudden that he wasn’t sure how he’d been standing. He slumped to the floor, knelt in a heap, head bowed. For once didn’t give a shit how pathetic he must look.

After an unknown amount of time, he raised his eyes. Saw Hunter standing in the middle of the room, his glance darting blindly here and there, hands fidgeting at his sides. It was the most discomposed Cyrano had ever seen him.

“You fuck me over,” the Master-Savant hissed at last, jabbing a threatening finger toward Cyrano, “and I will destroy you.”

The next second he was gone, the screen door clattering in his wake.

Cyrano sat submerged in a deafening silence, his vision telescoping on a few frayed fibers of the carpet.

After several seconds, a violent shudder coursed through him.

He stood up, slowly, wandered around the room, felt like he was looking for something but didn’t know what. Eventually found himself standing still, squarely in the middle, shivering; uncertain what to do, which way he should go.

At last he turned, robotically, and walked straight down the short hallway to his father’s bedroom.

Opened the nightstand, got the revolver out of its case. Loaded a bullet into the chamber. Distantly observed that he wasn’t trembling anymore. That his motions were calm and sure.

Raised the gun.

Placed the barrel against the side of his head.

At the click of the hammer, something in him seemed to jolt awake. He dropped the gun like it had burned his hand, kicked it under the bed. Tightened his fists into knots till his whole body shook. Breaths coming faster and faster—strangled gasps.

Cyrano clutched his skull, screamed at the top of his lungs, sharply, twice, then grabbed his dad’s pillow and ripped it open, spilling its polyester fiber guts all over the bed.

Once he’d torn the pillow to pieces, he plunked down on the edge of the mattress and sobbed into his hands like a child for about four seconds, then punched himself in the side of the head hard enough to startle himself into silence.

After that, he zoned out on his hands in his lap for he-wasn’t-sure-how-long.

“I don’t want to die,” he whispered at last, a plea.

The room responded with indifferent silence.

I’m fucked. Nobody can help me. No one can ever, ever, ever, ever know.

Except… 

He stared off into the darkness for several seconds, gathering his resolve.

Fifteen minutes later, Cyrano was on a bus to Delphi, reciting in his head words he could only hope he’d have the nerve to say out loud.

NEXT CHAPTER: CHAPTER FORTY-TWO
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