Excerpt from Under His Skin

He returned to the kitchen, holding the corked jar with both hands, and was surprised to find that Joshua had cleared the table and was putting the plates in the dishwasher. Like the sight of Joshua warming up the food earlier, it seemed oddly domestic, and Nathan caught himself imagining what it would be like to live with Joshua, cook with him, do chores together—wake up by his side.

When Joshua looked up, his eyes crinkled in amusement. “I see great minds think alike. You got me booze, too?”

Shaking his head, Nathan went back to the table, inviting Joshua to come along with a gesture. Soon, they were sitting across from each other again, the jar between them on the table.

“It’s not wine,” Nathan said quietly. “It’s a potion. A spell.”Joshua’s expression turned almost eager, and he reached for the jar, lifting it off the table and toward the light above them. Nathan’s gaze followed the gesture. The jar was clear glass, and the liquid inside it, colored a deep blue, gleamed lightly as it shifted in its container.

“What does it do?” Joshua asked as he set it down again.

“It’ll give you what I can’t give you any other way,” Nathan said, the words he had prepared coming out easily now that he had started. “Remember when you asked if I could help you learn magic?”

A frown fluttered over Joshua’s brow. “When I asked… But that was years ago. And you said you couldn’t.”

“I still can’t,” Nathan answered the unvoiced question. “You don’t have any magic of your own, and I can’t give you that. But I can show you what it’s like, just for a little while.” He pointed at the jar. “If we drink this together, we’ll switch bodies. And you’ll have my magic.”

Joshua’s frown deepened even more. “Switch… what?”

Nathan couldn’t suppress a grin at the awe in Joshua’s voice as he started to understand.

“You’ll be in my body,” Nathan explained. “And I’ll be in yours. Just for a few hours. And you’ll be able to do magic.”

“Really? But… I don’t know spells or anything.”

The eagerness, even hope reflected in Joshua’s eyes sent a thrill of sheer joy zinging through Nathan. He had put a lot of work into this potion, first researching every book he owned and a few borrowed from a friend who owned a magic bookstore, then hunting down the ingredients and working out the kinks of mixing them together so that they would do what he wanted them to. He had singed his eyebrows a few times, and set off the fire alarm in his apartment twice.

His first attempt—tested with his bookstore friend—had fizzled out to nothing more than a pounding headache for both of them. The second attempt had worked, and for five minutes Nathan had stared at himself, while his friend, in Nathan’s body, stared back. They had each tried to do magic and had both commented on how it felt different. After comparing notes, they had realized that each of their strengths had remained in their body. The research had hinted that would happen, and it was exactly what Nathan had hoped for. After all, if his magic followed his spirit, there wasn’t much point to switching bodies.

“I’ll tell you how,” Nathan assured Joshua. “My body, muscle memory, and the pathways in my brain will still know magic. We’ll keep things simple, and it’ll be easy.”

The hope flared even brighter in Joshua’s eyes as he leaned forward, picked up the jar again, and held it as if it were precious. He rolled the bottle back and forth between his fingers, observing the liquid inside. Nathan watched Joshua closely, and tried to guess everything that was going through his mind. Was he imagining already what spells he would soon get to perform?

“That seems like a really complicated bit of magic,” Joshua said, setting the bottle down again to look intently at Nathan. “Where did you learn to do it?”

Nathan shrugged, feeling self-conscious. “Oh. You know. Old books. There’s plenty of spells and potions waiting to be discovered again.”

Joshua raised a single eyebrow, a move that never failed to make Nathan think of Spock, and endless hours spent as kids watching Star Trek together until they’d been able to quote the series at each other.

“Old books,” Joshua repeated, his words tinted with incredulity. “Why do I have this feeling it’s not as easy as you make it sound?”

Another shrug, and this time Nathan ducked his head, like that could hide him. “So, maybe it took a bit of work,” he admitted.

When he glanced at Joshua again, Nathan was sure more questions were on the tip of his friend’s tongue. But after observing Nathan for a moment longer with a piercing gaze, Joshua simply nodded.

“Sounds very cool,” he said. “How long will it last?”

“About four hours.”

“You’d really do that for me?” Joshua asked very low. He leaned forward over the table, his gaze pinning Nathan in place. “Give away your body? Your magic?” He paused, then added, “Why?”

The truth shone in a corner of Nathan’s mind. It would have been nice to let it out, share that light and warmth, and finally tell Joshua about the depth of his feelings. But the fear, so familiar by now, that Joshua would regard this information as a reason to break off their relationship—or whatever he wanted to call it this week—stilled Nathan’s tongue.

“You always wanted to do magic,” he said instead. “I can’t give you magic for good, but I can let you feel what it’s like.”

Sitting back in his chair, Joshua shook his head, the awe shining anew in his eyes. “And all I got you was a bottle of wine.”

Nathan laughed quietly. “You can always get me something better next year.” Sobering up, he lifted the potion bottle, angling it so the liquid inside caught the light and shone. “So, do you want to do this, then?”

Joshua didn’t hesitate for a second before saying yes.


…continued in Under His Skin

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