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Fantasy Two Strays

Character Intro New
| Gavin Theodore Gray | 24| 6'4", 250 lbs | Green eyes | Tawny and dark grey fur |

Gavin carries more than a chip on his shoulder; it's an entire mosaic of cynicism acquired from his upbringing in a boarding school for djinn and his experiences partnering with various vessels over the years.
That's not to say he's a sad sack, on the contrary he's known to be quite rambunctious and persistently buoyant. He's particularly focused on his nights dedicated to vigilantism, a clandestine pursuit he's managed to keep under wraps by a whisker's breadth.
And for good reason. Gavin holds a monumental secret, one that could alter the complex relationship between djinn and their magi forever—if only he could grasp its significance. The urgency mounts daily as both known and unknown forces converge upon him. As one of the most high-energy djinn in the vicinity, hiding is no easy feat. His new assigned partner serves as both a cover and an opportunity to unlock the enigma behind this stolen treasure.

That is, if they can manage to get along.

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Cherry | 25 | 6'1'', 170lbs | brown eyes | maroon red hair

For someone that nearly exclusively answers to what is basically a cheap stripper name, Cherry sure is a man of conceit. Or pride, depending on who you ask. And further depending on who you ask, at least part of that - perhaps - is warranted.

Cherry has been a part of the Society for Occult Surveillance for as long as he cares to remember, working as an arcane investigator, though not in the California branch of the organization. He got transferred to San Francisco some years ago after bouncing around the Bible Belt and DC area, and while his current bosses viewed receiving the magus as an asset at the time, it didn't take long to find out why Cherry had been labeled a 'problem employee' prior to arrival. Over the course of his career, the man has been paired up with a high number of djinn, most partnerships lasting only a short while to add to the growing reputation that he is a difficult person to manage. Part of that has to do with certain requirements - as a human born with an inordinately high affinity for magic, few djinn can keep up with the magus' energy needs. The other part of it, however, is that he has no issue pointing out when a djinn 'can't keep up'.

His newly assigned partner promises to be a different case, a better fit, not that Cherry is holding out any particular hope.

Talented yet arrogant, competitive yet cocky, if nothing else it can be said the man is good at his job, but who knows what drives his ambitions. Maybe it has something to do with the fact he isn't the first 'Cherry' to have walked the organization's halls.
Lexicon New
Vessel/Magi - A human with an affinity for magic. They lack innate magic but excel at drawing and directing its energies, acting as conduits for a djinn's mystical force. Despite their remarkable skills, their relationship with the arcane draws the attention of conventional, rule-bound hunters.

Djinn/Familiar - Fae creatures that possess the extraordinary gift of generating magic, which they share with their human vessels. Djinn, in particular, are renowned for their ability to disguise themselves as animals. Although not known for aggression in any bestiary, djinn have been exploited by malevolent magi to devastating effect. Furthermore, their occasional tendency to abduct human children has made them prime targets for supernatural hunters, leading to significant controversy surrounding their use and employment.

Society of Occult Surveillance (SOS) - A contentious syndicate committed to safeguarding human society while overseeing the enigmatic population of djinn—entities they utilize to bolster their ranks.

Malignant Arcane Adaptation Syndrome (MAAS) - a condition afflicting both djinn and magi that occurs when an excess of magical energy is present in the body. The syndrome is characterized by a myriad of symptoms the severity of which grows in proportion to the excess of energy over time. Apart from headaches, achy skin and epistaxis in the initial stages, pathognomonic characteristics include a triad of signs: persistent fever, glowing veins and arcane teratoma. Arcane teratoma manifests differently in djinn and humans: djinn develop horn-like growths primarily in the head region; humans develop polycoria which can transition into polyoculi in different parts of the body in severe cases. MAAS in its initial stages is reversible if the cause of the syndrome is alleviated. If not, it has the potential to be lethal for human subjects.

(Arcane) Reserves Exhaustion Syndrome (RED) - a condition specific to djinn that occurs when there is a rapid depletion of a djinn's arcane energy which cannot be compensated for by their normal energy production. Somewhat difficult to spot at its onset due to being characterized by general symptoms: fatigue, irritability, increased appetite. The clinical manifestations deepen with time in proportion to the energy drain, additionally leading to alopecia with hair falling off gradually or in clumps, progressive loss of sight, and eventual organ failure most notably of the heart. The loss of sight is one of the easier pathognomonic signs to spot - known as velum, it consists of the eye gradually turning black from its periphery towards the center. RED is reversible if spotted and treated on time. Otherwise, it has the potential to be lethal.
Gavin has only just dragged his hairy butt through the too-small window when his Sunrise alarm clock begins to brighten. The djinn doesn't even bother pulling his last foot in. He leans on the desk, his considerable weight making the lamp wobble like it's spooked. With frighteningly real consideration accompanied by the cold morning chill and the outside chatter of working men and women starting their day, he flirts with the idea of blowing the whole thing off to sleep for a million years. Postponing it, say, half a million years, which would be just long enough to get this second wind everyone was talking about.

Half asleep, he either snorts at the thought or dreams he does. Vessels aren't known for their patience, and if the reputation of Mr. Gifted is anything to go off of, he sets the standard for impatient magi. No, if Gray doesn't show up, he'll miss his shot and go back into rotation. So Gavin stumbles into his dorm like he's had one too many, claws combing through rat nests in his hair.
He knows he can't keep going like this.

At eighteen, pulling an all-nighter was a breeze. But now, at the ripe old age of 24 (which is a near quarter century—wow!), he figures going feral might be a reasonable response if anyone dares to talk to him.

His phone buzzes, and in his sleep-addled state, Gavin mistakes it for a wandering cicada caught in his bunny hug until he has it in his hand, still nonsensically thinking, that's a weird bug.
No last-minute, break-a-leg texts, not even from Charlotte, who hasn't hearted any of the memes Gavin sent since the djinn spilled the beans about his new partner. So, he dishes out a self-pep talk in the bathroom, mostly involving some ruthless self-bullying to convince himself that, all things considered, it isn't that bad.

"It's the last time," he tells the mirror, wincing as the ball of knots holds remarkably well in his fur. If Gavin were to actually try and knot something consciously with opposable thumbs, it would fall loose immediately, but of course, this happens. And today of all times.

"You gotta do it one last time. Smile, be nice, give him what he wants and be good." He points for good measure, stabbing it in as if the years of school hadn't tried that. Water off a duck's bath, as they say.

He wrestles with his mane for another precious minute, but it proves as resistant to change as he is, deciding it is quite content being a spaghetti monster.
"Fine," he spits, throwing the laughably ineffective comb into the sink. "But when he laughs at you, you don't get to feel bad about it."

Hair unfazed, Gavin hurries out of the bathroom, and out into the quiet hall but not before giving his bed one last, overly affectionate look. It isn't often he gets to crash in a place with a bed big enough for him, let alone one that isn't just an air mattress.
Trying to avoid dwelling on the creature comforts he'll be giving up—his upset stomach has had enough torture—he shifts his focus to the wide window in the photos of his new home. The location couldn't be better, and with a fire escape conveniently outside, it feels like the pinnacle of vigilante real estate.
Better than making the trek from here, anyways.

The door from the djinn living areas is a fickle mistress to open. It requires the code to be gently fed, the key to be patiently scanned, and a subtle jiggle of the doorknob once it beeps its consent. Out of habit, he waits, feeling a bit silly when no blur of yellow lands on his shoulder.
Some days breakfast is worth getting up for. Today (hot cereal and toppings) it is not. There are convincing, practical reasons for Charlotte to be sleeping in.

With a soft whump, he lets the door flop shut.

This side is busier, with djinn mingling and meeting their partners. Most greet their vessels as dogs and gophers, leaving Gavin to stick out like a sore thumb. He feels the familiar stares of judgment and mild contempt, responding with a careless flick of an ear.
He isn't transforming to cover twenty feet, and certainly not prolonging the change just to appease His Highness. In fact, he takes spiteful pride in being two heads taller than every human and several heads taller than every simpering hamster and fox.

The air tinged with magic tells him he is close. It is less like a smell and more like static, humming.
The anticipation makes his pelt bristle, an instinctual jitter that starts at his head and runs all the way down his back and out with two shakes of his tail. Ironically it makes his horns hurt. Or maybe they always hurt, and he only notices they do when the opportunity to alleviate that ache rolls by.
At once, the dreams for sleep disappear.

They have to talk first. Civil foreplay will be made all the more boring considering they already know all the small talk they can drone on about. Some guys treat it like a real ritual, like the old days before Gavin was born.
Gray suspects it was just to make him sweat a little. He is always pent up following a partnering. Programs to milk djinn were already bustling without adding individuals already scheduled to get a partner within the week.
Another contending reason for not being in bed right now; he needs this like he needs a chocolate eclair. That is to say he really needs it.

Giving his tight horns a massage, he decides if this overachiever, squirrel-hair-looking ass comes at him with anything past, "Hi, how are you?" Gavin will go feral.

In fact, he very nearly does when he cracks the door open saying "I know I'm late-" to a table with a pitcher of lemon water, two chairs, and an empty room.
Cherry has always been able to taste magic. Once upon a time, someone told him what he experiences is called synesthesia - when you see colors while listening to music, or when you can taste letters as you read, that type of nonsense. "When stimuli produce a secondary sensory experience on top of the regular one". He's never quite understood what that means, but it used to make him wander what getting imbued with magic even is.

The suitcase set in front of Cherry closes and zips itself up with a simple flick of the hand and a faint tingling in his taste buds. Occasionally there are similarities in flavor, but it's always distinctly different depending on its source. Malakai's arcane energy tastes like toothpaste. Sometimes in a refreshing way, sometimes in that specifically shitty way of drinking orange juice right after brushing your teeth. Always kind of weird, though he can't really complain. Teaming up with a djinn for Cherry is like sticking a hand in one of those Every Flavor Beans boxes from Harry Potter and praying you don't get the vomit jelly bean (again...). That, on top of the randomness of magic manifestation between magi and djinn as is. That's the main thing he's going to miss now - telekinesis is a useful power to get, but who knows? Hopefully the next one will be even cooler.

A smaller bag drifting through the air to pile with the rest of the baggage falls to the floor with a thump as scaled fingers latch onto Cherry's arm.

"Can you stop for one fucking moment!" a voice hisses. Actually hisses. It's only when Cherry turns to meet Malakai's slit-pupil eyes that the djinn realizes the faux pas he's committed, quickly dropping the hold though not the expression of frustrated anger, "Please... I'm trying to talk to you."

"Nothing to really talk about,"
Cherry shrugs, as non-nonchalantly as possible, "It's a done deal."

"Bullshit! I know they're rushing the process, but you haven't even objected. Not once!"

"And why, pray tell, should I?"

"Are you for real?"

Cherry is a master at dissolving partnerships. It comes with experience, really, and while always being a tedious process, this one is proving to be the most tedious he's had so far. Maybe because he has never had a partnership end prematurely - usually, the cause of "death" is natural.

"Whether we end this now or a couple of weeks from now when you start going in the red, it won't change anything."

The djinn hisses again. Not words, just a hiss for the sake of hissing, like an agitated animal rearing up to strike, though he's not an animal, as much as he might parade around as one. In the back of his head Cherry wanders what program SOS are going to shove Malakai in after this, if they'll have the snake monster with an inhuman grip strength parade around as an emotional support animal in children's hospitals. Is there even such a thing as an EMA snake?

"Help me pack up the vivarium," he throws out, briefly questioning whether to simply take down the whole thing using magic before deciding now isn't the right time to tap into Malakai's energy reserves. As easier as it would make things, "You know, it could come in handy. Instead of your next partner having to buy a whole new one to keep up appearances."

There is a scoff in response, "I suppose I'm an idiot for getting blindsided... You never tried to make this work. Never tried to make anything work."

Finally, Cherry's calm expression of going through the motions breaks as he can't help but roll his eyes. He's heard some colleagues compare leaving a partner to a break-up before, but he's never related to it. Definitely never been treated to dramatics of this caliber. The way Malakai's anger deepens further tells him the djinn doesn't appreciate the shift in mood, or the sardonic grin pulling at the magus' lips, "The fact your front is a python doesn't mean you have to actually be all clingy."

"And the fact you go through partners like tissues doesn't mean we all do! You realize this is going to look bad on my record, right?!"

"Sounds like a you problem. Should have thought about that before deciding to work with me,"
it's unfair, Cherry realizes that much. Some part of him relates to why Malakai decided to work with him because he knows, can sympathize with the desire to prove oneself by tackling a difficult task, or to simply serve one's purpose. Can sympathize with the tension the djinn is barely holding onto at these words, restrained by codes of conduct and expectations and repercussions. But then another, much bigger part of Cherry, doesn't care, "Are we done? Because I still have to give you a lift back to HQ."

With a lingering taste of toothpaste from the djinn's earlier touch, the magus wills the vivarium to start packing itself away.


Arriving at the right time for an appointment is an art form that involves years of careful cultivation and practice, the first step of which is realizing that 'right' does not mean 'punctual'. Sure, it varies on a case-by-case basis, but as a rule of thumb being on the dot shows you're either a couillion with a stick up the ass or a pushover, and being early shows you're a lame-ass with nothing going on in your lame-ass life. There's a reason 'fashionably late' is a thing. A good 10-15 minute delay can do much for giving off the impression you're a busy person held up by all the many other plans in your exciting life. That is to say, it was always Cherry's plan to arrive late. What wasn't his plan, however, was getting held up by that stupid argument with Malakai.

The magus' footsteps maintain a measured pace even as he takes yet another in a series of many peeks at his phone. Its display lights up to a lockscreen of a group selfie, the hour set against it at the top. He's already overshot the 'fashionable' time frame of his intended 'late', but, well, it's not like he's going to start running down the Society's halls or anything. Not for a meeting with a djinn. And certainly not in view of his colleagues. Several familiar faces pass by, whether field operatives like the magus himself or people working in-house managing organization and research, the man making sure to exchange an amiable greeting with each of them.

Yeah, he's glad he spent those 2 extra minutes sitting in his car fixing up his hair in the rear-view mirror. Then the following 3 extra minutes spent skimming over his new partner's file.

It got handed over a while back, when discussing the two as a team-up went from a potentially good idea to a seer-matched and higher-approved reality, though Cherry hasn't felt a particular need to browse through the document until today. One, because he's gone through enough djinn to know there's rarely anything exciting in said documents. And two, because the exciting parts are already well-known to him. In a closed system like SOS gossip runs rampant. Both ways. He didn't need to read about Gavin Theodore Gray to know the guy has "behavioral issues" when plenty of other magi Gray has worked with can and have attested to that fact, quite vocally.

The most (if not solely) important information for Cherry, however, is the plentifully discussed reality of Gray's hyper-production of arcane energy.

Footsteps come to a smooth stop in front of the meeting room's door. Straightening out, Cherry runs a hand through his hair to make sure it's parted how he likes it, as he mulls over an opening line. "Hi, how are you?"? "It's great to finally meet you."? "Sorry I'm late, I got held up."?

And when he makes up his mind, he pushes the door open to step inside smiling, "Looks like you're early."

There's relief in seeing Gavin waiting inside, having made himself comfortable seated at the table, sparing Cherry from the hassle of tracking him down or rearrange this meeting or whatever. If only the djinn were seated in the right spot.

"Ah," the magus notes, managing to maintain his disposition save for a twitch at the right corner of his lips. Closing the door, Cherry steps towards the table, eyes taking in his new partner as much as they can take in with the djinn seated. The two have seen one another before, of course, in a way that can only be articulated as "narrowly missing each other", miraculously so all things considered. Neither of them are rookies to SOS, that's for certain, which only makes the spot Gray has chosen all the more evident.

Cherry doesn't take the chair opposite. He walks up right next to Gavin, still smiling as he says, "Thanks for keeping the seat warm for me."
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In this djinn's humble opinion there's a five minute buffer to a meeting - ten if you're friends. Gavin scrolls through fifteen of those on his phone, his festering irritability having it's edges softened by the dull atmosphere and comfy chair. The one opposite it is metal, the kind you see filling up gymnasiums. Its sturdy, with an open back for tails.
Gavin's tail, such as it is, fits comfortably in this one instead. It's something like an office chair, plush and smooth like human skin with a full back and an option to recline if he likes.

There's also the message it sends, the subtle vulgarity that would've made him shudder in his young years. He smiles now, pinching the squishy material of an arm between his finger pads because he can.

Long after the buffer of ten minutes, the Magi finally arrives. Even now his first urge is to leave this comfy chair behind to greet and ingradiate himself. Smile, like poor Malakai and all his predecessors must have. They all must've thought they'd be the ones to make him change, to make him want to settle down. It's remarkable what a childhood of being brainwashed can do to a person.
With renewed venom, he doesn't budge. He lets his ears telegraph for him as the magi passes the metal chair, the desk, tilting back in the disdain only cats and horses can master the closer he comes. The one nearest the man snaps like it's swatting a fly. He refuses to look at him, but hardly needs to. From this distance he can feel the human's potential, like a black hole already siphoning away at him. It makes his whiskers quiver.

Gavin reaches under the table with a leg, pushing the lesser chair out in invitation. It screeches like nails on a chalk board.
"Kept it warm for me, but I saved this one for you. Be here 'early' next time."
Every interaction ever comes with its own unwritten social rules. Doesn't matter if it's between friends, family, or coworkers, but with coworkers specifically the code of conduct is an extensive one dependent on a shitload of factors. This complex ritual in which everyone takes on a role, like in that weird type of Italian theater where the actors wear masks signifying the purpose they serve to the narrative. Commedia dell'arte, pretty sure it's called... mostly sure. Well, whatever the name of it is or isn't, Cherry is definitely sure that the modern-day clown originated from it, and if there's one word he'd use to describe what's currently happening it would be 'clownery'.

The slow screech of the chair across of the floor makes the magus itch. Instead, he grits his teeth through it.

Partnering with a djinn is an especially complex ritual, one Cherry has never particularly cared for. Even disliked. It's supposed to make a partnership easier through cooperation at least in the beginning, but what's the point of walking into a room to be greeted by a put-on smile and shallow pleasantries for the sake of pleasantries when things always end up the same? Not that he's ever spoken out about it, because it is what it is - a necessary part of the process, if an annoying one.

Still... the magus ponders if Gavin's current performance is less or more annoying than the usual.

"You've got jokes. That's a new one," pushing back the pitcher of water, the still-smiling Cherry takes a seat on the table to keep staring down at Gray even as the guy has so far refused to look up, "We're never going to have a repeat meeting, so there isn't going to be a 'next time'. Would be a shame to start things off on the wrong foot."
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Civil foreplay is not his forte. Being a hairy bitch is, but the longer he puts this off the angrier he's going to get. His stomach cramping is proof enough of that.
The urge to heel must be the same phenomenon that compels people fill in awkward silences in conversation. If the djinn stops this foolishness they can both get on with this, which is what they both want, isn't it?

How did he used to dream of his first pairing? And yet sitting so close to him... It's like being in the shade after a long day in the spiteful sun. As vexing a thought as it is the magus is right about the foot thing.

With enough force to hear the leather wheeze in his grip, Gavin rips himself from the seat. The vivacious effort tips the chair back, clattering and sending the rollers on the legs to swing madly. He doesn't say anything during his long journey to the other side of the table, but his tail sure does the muttering for him.

"So," he drops his bulk into the chair with a clang. It's cold, hard and second class. "You're like Cher?"
Gavin shooting up from the chair nearly gives Cherry the frissons. Due to the clatter of the whole thing toppling over, he tells himself, despite knowing full well it's because of the sudden change in perspective having to look up at Gray. That's the one thing that never truly changes, no matter how many team-ups the magus keeps going through - being taken aback by just how tall djinn are. Large-ass fuckers. Cherry isn't a short man himself, not by a long shot. If anything, in his everyday life he's used to tall privilege, like unscrewing light bulbs without a stepper and getting swiped right on Tinder more often than not.

Until the next furry or scaled or feathered monster walks into his life to beat him to reaching the top shelf.

He doesn't take the chair he was meant to take from the beginning. He doesn't so much as pick it back up. Following Gavin's movement, Cherry merely spins himself slowly around still seated on the table, crossing his legs at the ankles in a bid to appear chill about it all.

"Cher?" the question in his voice is genuine. It's kind of embarrassing when it takes him a moment to realize Gray was making a reference to the singer, and he didn't mean the word so deeply familiar to Cherry despite not having heard it used casually in way too long... Either way, seems like the djinn has got jokes for real. Somewhat, "If you mean that as in timeless, yes. If you mean that as in going by one name only, then also yes."

The intrusive thought crosses his mind to call himself Cher-ry, to even do the whole hair flick thing, but that would be the epitome of lame. Plus they've already acted plenty familiar owing the djinn's earlier amuse-bouche of "behavioral issues" skipping over regular ol' boring greetings. If anything, Cherry is mildly surprised Gavin capitulated so easily.

"And you're like some posh Brit?" Gavin, Theodore and Gray (not to mention all of them put together) could all be the name of a fop born in the rainy British countryside to some obscure (potentially inbred) royal family. That, or they could be the names of some Christian Grey type of couillion.

With the earlier annoyance receding, it feels like Cherry actually gets to inspect the djinn properly for the first time. They know of each other, they have seen each other in passing, but never this up close. Eyes sweeping over the djinn's face, they eventually focus in on the horns. That's another bit of gossip about Gray that makes the rounds in magi circles at SOS - some people say his horns never go away. It's something that's supposed to show up with the onset of MAAS, but rumor has it this is just how Gray is. A pang of interest Cherry tries to conceal shoots through his system, beyond merely wandering if this means the horns stay when Gavin is disguised as a cat too.

"You've go a knot there, by the way," he points, as if it is the state of the djinn's hair he's been staring at all along. Not that he's lying, but the guy's pelt is something to be discussed later. Another pang shoots through, this time in eagerness. The echoes of Malakai's energy left Cherry's body along with the vivarium leaving his apartment, and now it hums impatiently to taste something new, "I can untangle it for you."
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He abandons the seat and the human doesn't even take it - typical. Probably because he doesn't have the juice to telekinetically lift it himself, not that it shows in how he holds himself, swiveling to face Gavin with an impressive level of grace.
It's easy to forget the djinn made him jump when he looks like that.

When that vaneer of commercial friendliness morphs into genuine surprise Gavin figures 'Cher' must be a nickname. The man doesn't soften much (this crisp cool-boy thing seems to be a permanent character defect). But it's nice to know the fellow has more expressions to rotate between that aren't as punchable as the ones seen so far.
And then he opens his mouth to tell the djinn what he already knows and proceeds to elaborate no further. In the silence Gavin rubs at the aching skin contouring horn.

"People who care about their children usually give them more than one name." He shuts his mouth, ears showing his dismay at not only insulting Cher Cherry, but most of the djinn in this building.

The magus had been checking him out since he arrived, and that's something even Gavin can't split hairs over; if there's a place to size up it's here (ignoring the fact the red head had done plenty of it around campus). The blatant scrutiny is fine, but crudely covered with some attempt to seem caring. (At least he hadn't laughed.)
Gavin spreads a hand down his mane, feeling the gross sizeable bump there. It's all the more apparent now how put together Cherry is; clean face and glossy hair. Even his shoes look good, and who in the world cared about those?

"If I'd been twenty minutes late I would have done it myself," he mutters, patting the mat down in some attempt to look civilized.
In the close call he had last week his excuse for looking this unkept was depression. That little tidbit definitely fast tracked this, but did SOS tell partners about that kinda stuff? Gavin never knew anything personal, but djinn and human weren't always treated the same.

Ask me for what you really want, he's desperate to spit, but it's just not how it's done. As a djinn he's supposed to swoon after being sprinkled with the most basic care. Supposedly, it gives the drain a better flow.

He sits back. "You can take a crack at it if that's where you wanna start. I'll warn you now if it hurts I'll clamp right up."

And it'll be twice as tedious than if you just took what you wanted without the song and dance.
'People who care about their children'...

And yet you're here, aren't you? Cherry nearly bites back, stopping himself solely because he's wasted more than enough time bickering with thick-headed djinn today. No need to prolong an already needlessly long process by digging at whatever the hell that reaction was supposed to mean. Or whatever the hell his almost-reaction was supposed to mean. He truly doesn't care enough to know, not now. So, the mild satisfaction of watching Gavin's ears twitch in trepidation will have to do.

Despite not being an expert in cat body language, the way the guy's behavior, words and subconscious gestures all seem to be battling is evident even to the magus. If Gray has in fact capitulated, it feels like a temporary thing.

Possibly since he too just wants to get to the good part of this nonsense already.

"Stay still and it won't hurt," Cherry hops off the table.

Rounding on the djinn, he seriously considers whether to just make this sting a little on purpose. Though that would go firmly against recommendations - said recommendations are the whole reason he's even doing this whole song and dance routine to begin with. Or, well, almost the whole reason. Hey, mind if I feel you up? is one hell of an awkward thing to ask a coworker (even more so a djinn), though that's exactly what he as a magus has to do. Whatever cosmic law or fairy tale king or whatever anyone else chooses to believe ordained the rules of the arcane for some forsaken reason decided touch would be a key part of it. And not all ways to touch are equal. Even to this aspect of it, there are nuances.

Much like his synesthesia, the fact too used to make Cherry wander what being imbued with magic even is. Now, however? It's just about going through the motions.

Taking a look at the knot up closer genuinely makes his face scrunch up for a second. The tangle looks a mess, and he's willing to bet it's not the only part of Gray's fur that's like this. It isn't surprising information considering what SOS relayed when they chose to rush the partnership even further than they already were, but it does make him slightly regret leaving his comb in the car.

"Did you roll around in mud or something to make it this bad?" Cherry leans down. Slowly his fingers pass through Gavin's hair, opening himself up to initiating the drain as much as he carefully separates the tangle from the surrounding strands. It might actually be dirt in there, "If I can't fix it brushing it later, I'll shave-"

It's like a torrent.

Not a tingle in the taste buds, but a sudden burst of overwhelming sensation. Cherry breaks away from the djinn, not really aware whether he did end up accidentally pulling the tangle too hard or not because he's far too busy coughing. Instinctively he reaches for the pitcher of water, before realizing that won't do shit in this case. It's earthy. Earthy and punchy and spicy, so much so it takes him a moment to realize exactly what it is.

Cinnamon. Fucking cinnamon. It's ridiculous that the first thing to pop into his head is that stupid cinnamon challenge.

"Holy shit," Cherry mutters through another cough, spinning around to look at Gavin again.

The djinn he's been with before have been of various levels of energy production, some with a lower one, others with a higher one. He's never been with someone like Gray, though. The guy feels like a water source pouring out continuously, ceaselessly. The magus can't help but grin, "Did you feel that?"

Senses settling after the initial surprise, he places a hand on the djinn's shoulder. Because if Gavin is an endless source, Cherry is an endless container.
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"That's what they all say," he comments to himself.
With a derisive snort that would've been louder had Gavin not showed up like a rug rat, the magus approaches him combless.
To his credit, the fingers going through the forest of knots aren't merciless but it's still unorthodox. Partners in the past have brought delicious treats, elaborate gifts, or at the very least a proper brush in offering. In the same spirit, however, Gavin was supposed to already be done up and easy to brush. But in the long run it was usually a wasted effort to warm Gavin up when nine times out of ten the vessel-to-be couldn't handle him anyways.

And this man, this asshole, self serving and selfish like every magus before him and everyone after him, starts drawing moments after first touch. The first pull always hurts - the compulsory discomfort of scratching a scab away to let the abscess drain. And Gavin has to let it happen, give in to that probing pain. It passes so quickly the djinn hardly has time to wince, and - and--!

The instant relief makes him coo, a soft wet kittenish sound that sounds all the softer when it's viciously shattered by the outraged snarl that follows when the connection breaks.
Ashamed he licks his lips, composing himself while the human puts on his own blatant display of spitting and gagging like he's got a hairball that needs evacuating.
For one concerning moment he thinks it's MAAS and feels his heart plummet. All Cherry got was the skim off the top. It can't be. Not again, he can't be left like this all day!
For one dazzling moment he feels such exhausting self pity and ludicrous disgust he nearly lets out a deranged stream of laughter.

Thankfully all that manages to come out is a burp of a chuckle, interrupted by the barely there weight of a human hand on his shoulder. No vessel already full would come near him.
For the first time this morning, Gavin's ears shyly turn towards Cherry, cautiously optimistic.

He nods at the smile on the magus' face, returning with one of his own.
"More. As much as you can take. Please."
"Been a while, huh?" Cherry quips, continuing to grin through the taste of cinnamon spiking once more.

Of course he's had to deal with djinn in bad need of a drain before, including on a first meeting. Something to do with SOS's policy to leave them pent up days on end prior to a partnering. But he's rarely been faced with something as bold as an invitation to take "as much as he can", certainly not from someone he felt could actually take more than the average magus' dose.

The smile on Gavin's face tells him there is a chance this will be at least a little bit different, at least last for longer. Maybe.

It also makes him feel like this is a challenge, and he never backs down from one.

It's unwise to test the boundaries of a new partner the very first day of a fledgling partnership. Cherry should fill up only as much as necessary and then move on to actually seeing what this magic even does...

"Not as much as I can take," he plants his other hand on Gavin's other shoulder, reaffirming the connection. The magus opens himself up to the surge of arcane essence, this expanding warmth settling in the pit of his stomach. He stares at Gray's horns, "As much as you can give."
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"A long while," Gavin sighs eagerly, ears twitching at the gentle ebb of essence still leeching away. It's a difficult sensation to describe and even harder for the magi to understand. Of course magi love draining, but they would never love to be the one being drained.
And yet to say it's plain good is to say a sunset is just pretty.
It's not just the screws of keratin drilling into his skull softening, it's everything going loose. The screaming skin packed away under scratchy fur doesn't just quiet, it shivers with humming joy running from him to his vessel.
Not all djinn experience a drain the same way, but forgive him, Gavin has always loved them.
Call it social programming, or the supposed power behind a first bond, but the djinn wants to fool himself into the terrifying fantasy that this might be it.

This might work (long term).

The magus leans over him to snap his remaining weak human paw onto the meat of his shoulder, boxing him in. The boldness is easily forgiven, if it needs to be at all, but it's what Cherry says next that saves Gavin from his delusions.

On his face is not cruelty, but the ugly curiosity on eight year old boys that like to poke dead things with sticks. Cherry says it with no playfulness, only pure experimental interest and conquest in mind. He's not testing Gavin (again, forgivable in context), he's testing himself.

Using Gavin.

The trusty old barb of indignant rage that's kept Gavin warm at his coldest balls up the arcane in his heart like a woman scorned finally curling her soft hand into a fist.
With zero reservations, a violent surge of essence leaves the djinn in a rapid instant, a tidal wave so indulgent and devastating as to be years in the making.
There's no warning, no word of protest or sound of aggression to prepare Cherry ahead of time for what's about to happen. Solely Gavin's ears telegraphic his transition from enjoyment to indignation. It doesn't stop the magus. He firmly believes until the last moment Gray will capitulate, he'll hit his limit and cave in, because they all do.

It never crosses his mind he's about to receive what can only be describes as a soul punch to the gut. That's never happened before.

It's ridiculous. Like in one of those fake videos of no-touch martial arts where some washed up 70s cult leader claims he can demolish people with his will alone, then proceeds to scream and do the Kamehameha as his students (definitely not actors or anything) play along throwing themselves around. Except in this case neither Gavin, nor Cherry are faking it.

Cherry actually gets thrown back.

The surge of energy is so violent it rips him away from the djinn, severing their connection as he stumbles several steps back to hit the table, though not before siphoning one last bit of Gavin's energy making the tips of his fingers feel so hot they're numb.

Cherry coughs, then scowls holding onto his midsection where it genuinely feels like he got hit, "Are you fucking insane?"
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The destruction - the raw violence polluting an activity that's traditionally about sharing a beautiful connection fills Gavin with dark satisfaction.
Unfortunately it's somewhat short lived.

He threw that punch - really threw it. Every ounce of that essence finds a home in Cherry, all at once. There's no resistance, no solid barrier for Gavin's metaphorical bulk to meet against.
It's a little bit like throwing a Hadouken of a punch against a brick wall that turns out to be made of feathers that aren't actually there.

Genuinely light headed, Gavin slips out of his chair to find new footing on the floor while Cherry goes for round two of coughing his guts out. This time it's the gravely rasp sound humans make when they're very sick.

"You threw me off with your stupid banter!" Gavin defends with an outraged hiss, trying and failing to find a leg to stand on. It's not that he's weak, he's just...just...
Not used to being this light.
"How is it my fault you can't control a surge? They're bound to happen when you just dive right in without telling me after five glorious seconds of pulling on my hair!"
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"I was perfectly in control! Of the surge and then some," Cherry finds it in himself to snap back despite the cough leaving him breathing heavily, "Ain't my fault you decided not to follow through on your own invitation."

Chest rising with each stuttering inhale, he leers down at Gavin. Unfortunate he didn't get to test the depths of the drain to their limits, but it's nice to know it's left both of them winded. Cherry would relish watching the djinn slump off the chair after what just happened, if only the sole thing keeping him from joining Gray on the floor wasn't the table he's desperately leaning against for support.

He's never felt this full.

For a split second the cinnamon had been so strong he thought he could nearly smell it (can synesthesia fool not two, but three senses; is that possible?), and sure the aftertaste is bitter and dry, but the roiling ball of energy settling inside is so tangibly warm. Unsteady at the knees (which is an absurdity he'll try and forget about later), Cherry nevertheless risks lifting one arm away from the table to instead stare at. They feel heated, the places his skin had come into contact with Gray.

Yet no veins glow beneath the surface. Cherry can take more... and he bets Gavin can give more.

Not that he's eager to touch this mouthy couillion right now.

"Let's make one thing clear, Gray, I'm not in the business of coddling your kind like you're pets. Because you're fucking not," the magus continues, earlier pretenses of civility dropped as his voice fills with venom. Perhaps too much of it. Usually this is a conversation he has with a partner later down the line, but, well, Gavin is proving to be unlike most previous partners, not only in terms of production, "If you're expecting me to pamper you to warm you up for a drain when we're out in the field, tough luck. You've got opposable thumbs half of the time and the capacity for complex reasoning all of the time. Allegedly."

Slowly, Cherry starts drawing on his newly gained arcane reserves, coaxing the warm glow to start seeping back into his numbed fingers, flexing and unflexing them.

"Learn to keep up."
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His ears snap back so fast they make a lil fwip sound, and yet he hears every word.
Snorting hard like a bull, the djinn glares at his vessel, finally rising with the gravity that's become so merciful. Gray overshoots feeling for his horns, finding them several inches shorter and blessedly painless.

He hasn't felt like this since... Since... A long time.

Shadowing this joyful experience, as always, is the permanent darkness of seeing his vessel grow. It's supposed to be a djinn's pride to do this for humans, grant their wishes for magic and give them power to change their lives. Maybe once upon a time it was.
Cherry's focus shifts easily from Gavin to his hands, face blinking from contempt to the horrible boy expression again.

And there's nothing Gray can do about it. Cherry got what he came for, Gavin enjoyed it as much as he could, and now its over until it happens again. All that's left is to assume his position - both the safest place for him and where Cherry can get to him relatively quickly.

"I'll do my best," he says tightly, dripping with sarcasm, and part of him wants to resist this next bit, to be a pain in the butt mostly. But, for the moment, it's not worth it. Odds are pretty good Cherry will become fantastically good at crocheting and then they'll never have to see each other again. The bond went horribly, why would they get anything better than a horrible power?
"You been with a cat? I'll sit on your shoulders."

To prolong the inevitable he tugs off his bunny, surprised by how easily the fabric slides off his horns. Folded, he lays it over the back of his chair.
But the time comes and it's a spirit crushing walk, made comedically adorable when he begrudgingly transforms.
Normally even this would be painful, stuffing gallons of energy into the insufficient volume of a cat with no tail. Rather than feeling crushed, it's more like wearing dress pants. Still a downgrade for someone who's used to wearing no pants, however.

Cherry, like most, looks terrifying from this angle. Mostly due to how huge he appears because he's skinny enough a second chin isn't as evident.
Gray sits back, waiting patiently to be picked up by the enormous jerk.
"I surprisingly haven't," Cherry skips over the plentiful jokes that could be made out of Gavin's question, as painfully easy as the set-up is. He's not exactly in a joking mood at the moment, continuing to squint in irritation.

And what does it matter what disguise a djinn takes, aside from having to make sure his apartment fits the bill to cover up what his "pet" truly is in front of friends. Beyond that, cat or no cat is all the same, and choosing a magus' shoulder for a perch is nothing special either - if anything, plenty of Cherry's previous partners have defaulted to it, or to his pocket. It's the traditional place for a familiar.

Fortunately, his legs have stopped shaking by the time the huge cat monster suddenly poofs itself down into a regular cat. Once upon a time the abrupt change used to shock Cherry, the same way a djinn's height still manages to do. Only in this case he wastes no time on surprise bending down to unceremoniously pick up his new partner.

Cherry hoists Gavin up by the armpits, letting his cat body dangle freely. Like this it's all the more evident something's off about the guy - it wasn't as obvious in his real form because the magus associates most humanoid creatures with not having a tail, actually; yet he certainly associates cats with having one. So when such an appendage does not hang off of Gray, Cherry definitely makes a mental note of it. Much more eye-drawing, however, is an answer to an earlier question he had... Yeah, the horns do stay when Gray is disguised as a cat. Well, partially. In proportion to the djinn's smaller size, the growths appear to have shrunk as well, looking like two little nubs on top of his head.

It piques Cherry's curiosity again, so much so he really wants to touch them in inspection.

Letting go of the desire for the time being, he simply maneuvers Gavin to climb up onto his shoulder, "Now, let's finally get to the good part."

There is an aspect to partnering up with a djinn that Cherry actually looks forward to, and that's getting to stick his hand into an Every Flavor Beans box not once, but twice. The way magic manifests is a random process. Not dependent on the magus, not dependent on the djinn, but supposedly on both. Or at least some believe it to be so - that somewhere in the process of creating a bond there must be a kind of reaction that produces a fully individual brand of magic. Who knows what the hell determines all of that, if anything even determines it in the first place and it's not just governed by pure chance. Bottom lines is, it's exciting finding out what you got on the spinning wheel of magic.

The power now sits at Cherry's finger tips, humming. Different magus have different methods when it comes down to testing their abilities on a first meeting, whether that be intense introspection or meditation or whatever. Cherry, however? He's much more of a practical demonstration kind of guy. In one sharp movement, the magus point towards the chair Gavin toppled earlier, the memory of telekinesis fresh in his muscles as he wills something to happen.

... Nothing.

Cherry frowns. With renewed effort he repeats the gesture... only to get the same lack of result. Shit. Usually something happens, whether that be a burst of force or fire or some other element. Thinking maybe the method of control will simply be different this time around, he clears his throat, opens his mouth, and shouts at the chair... Nothing! Outside of managing to make himself look like an idiot.

An audible 'ugh' leaves Cherry's as he cringes. Fantastic... It's going to be one of those powers, isn't it? The kind he's going to end up figuring out later during the day - horribly specific or, even worse, hopelessly useless. So much for SOS pushing this "well-matched" pairing, then. And all he had to give up for a cat with an attitude was the power to make shit move with his mind... However, the rhythm of his heart beating in his chest feels... different somehow. As a matter of fact, the way Gavin's heart is beating in his chest feels different as well, if muffled. Falling into a deep silence for a solid minute, Cherry stares wordlessly at his palms once more.

And the first words out of his mouth as he seemingly snaps out of contemplation are, "Not to give you the satisfaction, but I need you to bite me. Just enough to draw a bit of blood." as he moves a hand in Gavin's direction.
Naturally, Cherry picks him up like he's a toddler instead of a cat. No butt support, no pleasant cupping against the chest. The djinn hangs there, the weight of his tiny body enormous on his pinched shoulders. Cats are very good at certain expressions and the face this one embodies a certain four letter word.

Thankfully the scrutiny doesn't last. Scrambling onto Cherry is a circus act. He can't use the tips of his fingers - toes because they're currently razors that would shred soft skin. Poetically as soon as Gavin's settled, seen the human bumble about trying to find whatever nonsense he's been gifted with, he asks to be cut.

Dogs are better at conveying confusion, but Gavin has spent the majority of his life confused so even as a cat he does it pretty well.
There is some small hope and fear (there always is) that Cherry will manifest the power Gavin's looking for. Or some variation of it.
It's such a small chance that his priority is based almost completely around his stolen trinket, but he always hopes. Dreams.

With such little motivation required, Gavin tiptoes around shoulder to chest to reach the offered hand. Muscle has always been a pretty pointless thing for a human to have in his opinion, but he appreciates having a place to put his paws. Is it evil he wishes he could face Cherry while he bites him? He puts his dainty mouth around a thumb, suppressing the sudden urge to purr as he crunches down.
The magus tries to suppress any reaction to the sharp little fangs sinking into the flesh of his thumb like staples. Despite asking for it it's not pleasant getting bit, especially not by Gray, and when the bite feels like it's gone on for too long (and the djinn is maybe enjoying it too much), Cherry sucks in air through his teeth in a hiss, "Thanks. That's more than enough."

Pulling away, Cherry again inspects his hand closely, squinting at the tiny dots of blood pooling where Gavin broke skin. The magus has always had an aptitude for the arcane. Not just a capacity for filling up with energy, but an instinct for wielding it. So when he doesn't have a clue exactly what to do, he still relies on this natural pull to guide him forward.

The dots of crimson vibrate. Then expand to coalesce. Then start to move until a strand of blood is rising up from his finger.

It's nothing impressive at a first glance - the flow is thin, frail, and protesting in a tremble because fluids vital to life should very much stay in the body instead of getting drawn out in such an unnatural manner. Focusing his magic with severe intent, Cherry forces the strand of blood to start swirling in on itself like a spiral. It obeys. It might not be exactly impressive right now, but he can feel it... given time and practice this could be something damn powerful.

"How often do you see blood magic?" the question is only partially rhetorical. Cherry has certainly never gotten hemomancy before, and he doesn't know anyone that's gotten it either, but any real statistics elude him. With another spike of magic will, he straightens the strand of blood out into a sharp crimson needle.
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It's egregiously un-djinn like to bite a vessel, but Gavin licks his chops afterwards anyways, mowing down whiskers to clean his muzzle.

Fascinated, the djinn watches the perfect beads of blood float away, shifting shape in a mesmerizing dance. It's dark magic, not earth or cosmic. The disappointment is as shifting and murky as the red flow. It's not the power he hoped and dreaded. He can take uneasy peace in that.
But it's not crotchet either.

Cherry's face is sharp with consideration and thought, zeroed in on his arcane manipulation. If Gavin was a peevish little thing he'd say the magus enjoys doing as little as possible to make the biggest spectacles. It's not telekinesis, but it is rare and it is certainly a spectacle. The potentially unlimited source doesn't hurt either.
"Never," he admits in a cat-ish warble that even the average person might hear an English word in.

Uncomfortable, Gray shifts back up onto Cherry's shoulder to huddle in troubled thought. If the partnership lasts longer than intended it shouldn't be a problem. SOS doesn't condone rune branding; Cherry has no real claim to Gavin.

Then again his ex didn't either and that isn't stopping him.

Thoughts crisscrossing and knotting he turns to Cherry to get an answer.

That's always the big question, isn't it? Whether to move forward with a team-up. If Cherry were like some other magus he'd compile a list of cons and pros - like, on one hand, the guy being a bitey (metaphorically but also potentially literally) handful and, on the other hand, him being a damn wellspring of energy. Even with what little he's seen of Gavin so far, it feels like the cons might outweigh the pros.

Cherry wills his blood to flow back in. With continued fascination and in the spirit of experimentation, he keeps it circulating in his punctured thumb, then observes as the marks left by Gavin start to heal themselves rapidly under the increased blood flow.

The magus can't keep the grin from returning to his face. This might be a beneficial partnership after all.

Turning his head towards Gray to peer at the djinn out of the periphery of his vision, Cherry gives a decisive nod, "Keep. Go pack up whatever you need. I'll wait in the common area."
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Its frustrating how little this part has gotten easier. Gray doesn't even care what Cherry or any magus thinks of him, but he has to stay conscious of the claws wanting to anxiously kneed trapezius meat.
With a bitter sigh he reminds himself its the last time.

It has to be the last time.

The nail comes down on his kitty coffin with Cherry's decision. Against his best efforts, Gray's gotten his dream apartment. And the prolonged deliberation by Cherry suggests that he needs to adjust his attitude if he intends to keep it.
Traipsing down the deep river of a spine, Gavin finds a decent enough perch on a tailbone to make a last little jump to planet Earth. As soon as he's able he flicks back, gaining the height he needs to grab his sweater and cover up the unfair virgin shame of being weighed like a prime cut of beef.
At least he was chosen, says a lifetime of indoctrination, and by one of the best. Not like poor Charlotte.

"I might be a while," he says softly, not inviting a fight but not staying long enough to be told no either.
The djinn slips out of the room.

He walks through the gauntlet of curious, judgmental and even scathing eyes, knowing they'd be there and determined not to be surprised into freezing by them.
Ears weighed down by the gossip ("I know the walk of shame when I see it", "I don't care how great he is, no magus can put up with him.", "He's not worth it.", and all its pleasant variations and subcategories), he makes it to the fickle door and has to suffer more of it the longer it takes him to open the thing.
("No, his horns are definitely shorter, never thought I'd see the day but that big bitch's been properly used. Remind me to buy Cher a drink." ).

Its clear why the door's finicky when Gavin slams it the moment he's through. Fangs grinding together, he storms down the quiet hall. He even manages another one of those crazy laughs because you had to laugh when there was nothing else you could do.
With a low hiss he regrets the lost opportunity to use a bathroom he's actually comfortable in for the last time. Trying now will amount to twenty unproductive minutes lost and he just doesn't have the time for it.
"You seen Charlotte?" he asks a passing pangolin, who would be towering if her back didn't naturally curve her into an anxious looking shrimp shape.

"She's supposed to be putting in an order of cupcakes for poor Malakai," she says worriedly, tapping her claws together. The old djinn talks so softly Gavin can hardly hear her sometimes.
"We're having a small tea party. Not for him, but not-not for him if you understand." She winks so noncommittally it looks more like a twitch. Not for the first time she daintily fiddles with the pretty floral scarf wrapped neatly around her thick neck. But this time the gesture reveals the corner of the elaborate marks burned into the scales on her upper shoulder, gone dark with dormancy. Gavin pretends not to notice, looking down the hall instead.

"I wanted to say goodbye, but I'll leave as soon as I can."

Anxiously, she nods. Scales creaking the pangolin casts a distressed look over her round shoulder. "I think that would be best. Goodbye and good luck, Gavin. I'll make a wish you keep this one. He's a good one."
Turning away to tremble her way forward, the djinn's so stiff and unfeeling he can fix the scarf without her notice.

His temper somewhat cooled he has the brain to notice his room door is ajar. By this point his brain is trained to pinpoint small blobs of yellow in unusual places, so much so he can't leave gold scrunchies around because he'll think, with such confidence, there's Charlotte.

This time it's right because there's Charlotte, sitting on his daylight timer. The ball of bright feathers is nesting there, staring out the window the way widowers do when their husbands go to war.
Smiling, Gavin knocks.
With a flutter she rises, chirping to herself.

"Gavin!" She beeps, zipping over to land on an offered finger. "I thought I'd missed you. Or that you'd been caught- or- or something."

Marching across the room to shut the window he'd left open he answers, "Who, me? Not yet."

And there they are, hovering over an uneasy topic, the first they've ever had. For the most part. They love the same music, movies, games. Name any brain melting console, they've either played it to death or are currently budgeting for it. The one place they differ is their political position, namely magi, although they've had some pretty heated debates involving the difference between ogers and trolls.

The bird doesn't have eyebrows and only dark pits for eyes, but she looks away from him to hide how she feels anyways.
"But you are leaving, right?"

Sighing, he nods.

"I figured. Why wouldn't he pick you?" She says, fluffing up her wings.
"Lotta reasons-"
"It's...it's okay. I'm okay. I'm happily taken anyways, something you've never had."

Whether she means it to or not, that stings. The canary restlessly shifts along his finger, twitching.
Charlotte is such a weak producer she can comfortably fit in the canary's body at all times. In fact, Gavin has never seen what she really looks like.

"I thought about it all night and I'm determined not to be silly about it but- but, what's he like?" She asks helplessly.

"Like the rest of them," he starts, just as helpless and forever lost how someone this smart could be obsessed with something this stupid. He throws a hand out, "Even the good ones are selfish and crude and inconsiderate and he's not a good one. So he's got amazing talent, who cares-?"
"Well! Everyone is stupid! The only thing that makes him great is every desperate pathetic djinn that stays with him and props his useless butt up!"
"Your horns are short this morning," she comments, making her point.
Nose twitching, he concedes with the mother of warbling hisses. Long used to Gavin's un-djinn-like behavior, Charlotte doesn't flinch.

"It's just...the way it is," the canary says.
The way it is indeed. They end up leaving it there for now, because despite saying the contrary, apparently there is an issue between them. First Djinn forbid Gavin have a man she ('happily' bonded) doesn't even have a right to. Charlotte offers to help him pack and he tells her frigidly he doesn't have time for her to individually fly one hair tie at a time into a bag.
She leaves quietly shortly after.

When he was young and stupid he packed his belongings in cat food bags. His pillow was a cat bed and, most mortifying, he had a choker necklace that doubled as a collar with his name on it.
To show how far he's grown he packs the actual essentials; headphones, earbuds, Switch, chargers and an iPad, wrapping them all up in another hoodie for safe travel.

He saves the best for last.

He checks the hallway's empty before closing and locking the door. He pulls the blinds down over the window.
When the djinn's sure, as sure as he can be (who knows whose watching), he reaches under the bed for his sister's keepsake box. He has to dig through yards of old toys, blankets and nicknacks before he finds it, but he won't leave until he has it.
It's made of tin, but the foamy insides designed to hold jewelry keep the Thing inside from rattling.

And it is a Thing because he can't think of a better word to describe it. Carefully he stores it in the bottom of his pack, strategically covering it with clothing. It's dangerous to take with him, but so much worse to leave it here not knowing when he'll be back.

Casting wary eyes around his empty bedroom, he hoists the pack onto a shoulder. Once again Gavin leaves home to go live with a stranger.

For the last time.

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