Chapter 2: The Harlequin

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Nathan sank into the padded black and red vinyl booth in the Harlequin. The single row of booths ran the length of what used to be an old railcar. Their patterned metal tops reflected the overhead light in chaotic circles. A long metal counter ran along the other side, lined with backless stools built into the floor. A register and cake case stood on the side by the door. The end opened up into a small brick building with more seating.

Condensation fogged the windows. The thin glass radiated the cold into the booth. The server introduced herself as Noelle as she wiped the table to ensure no trace of its former inhabitant remained. Nathan ordered a black coffee and a slice of strawberry cheesecake.

Everything he owned sat in boxes in the backseat of his car on the other side of the glass. At least he didn't have to worry about renting a moving van. As bright sides go that wasn't a good one, but it at least he found it.

He returned his attention to the menu. The responsible part of him wanted to get something more substantial to eat, while the rest of him longed to go to the nearest bar and drink until he forgot everything. Atop the menu page, a broken black crown with the word Harlequin written in it caught his eye. I broke everything, haven't I? At least he hadn't sold his soul to the Fae like good old King Herla. There was another bright side.

Nathan glanced out the window again and tapped his fingers on the sides of the hard plastic menu. He wasn't sure why he called Castle. Sure, he was a talented performer, and the closest thing he had to a friend in Philadelphia, but he shouldn't have asked him to move with him to start a new business.

The bell chimed over the door. An African-American man entered wearing an oversized purple coat. He unbuttoned it to reveal the loose purple button-down shirt underneath. The top three buttons were unbuttoned, and his faded blue jeans hugged his legs. He waved at Nathan with a cheshire smile and took a seat opposite him in the booth.

"I was surprised when you scried me in the mirror," Castle said, picking up a menu from the end of the table, "and you do not understand exactly how hard it is to surprise me."

"Yeah, I shouldn't have bothered you," Nathan forced an apologetic smile.

"Oh honey, it was no bother. If you hadn't called, I would have just had to putter around the house as silent as a mouse until Remus got up. A person can only wear headphones so much in a day."

Nathan wanted to laugh. It was like his mind knew that was a joke, but his heart vetoed any reaction. "Sounds like your roommate is a monster."

Castle raised an eyebrow. "To some, maybe. I think he is a cuddly puppy in wolf's clothing. His teeth are sharp, but he always asks before he bites." He mimed snapping jaws with his hand and laughed.

Nathan chortled. "He sounds fun."

"Only when he doesn't act his age." Castle glanced through the menu. "You don't have to leave you know."

What other choice did he have? He spent his whole life preparing for his vocation. With that path closed to him, he returned to an idea he discussed with Rouge and Robin for years. It was a snap decision. He couldn't imagine doing anything else.

"We have room for you at our place." Castle said. "And I know Remus will love you."

Nathan didn't know what to say to that. "So like I said when I scried you, I'm leaving the seminary to go home and open a fetehouse with some friends, and I thought you might be interested."

Castle tapped his index finger on the table, "You almost believe that, but you should probably rehearse it a few times before you say that to anybody else."

"Rouge and I really are opening a fetehouse." Nathan protested.

"I have no doubt of that, but I doubt that is really why you are leaving the seminary. Admittedly, I haven't known you for all that long, but I am a fantastic judge of character. You, my dear, are a curate at heart. I just can't imagine a situation where you would willingly give that up."

Nathan flagged down a waitress and ordered a fried oyster sandwich and a Dr Pepper. She shook her head and muttered something about him changing his order. Castle asked her for a turkey club and sweet tea with a nonchalant flirtatiousness Nathan envied.

"Now that that's over," Castle said furtively, "I get the hint. You don't want to talk about it. But you need to unburden yourself."

Nathan knew Castle was right, but the wounds were still too fresh. He couldn't tell the story again, couldn't relive it. Not yet. At least, he seemed to care. He might be curious but I believe he cares, I need that right now.

The waitress deposited their drinks on the table with the courteous smile.

"So, tell me about this fetehouse." Castle took a sip of his tea.

"Well, my friend Rouge and I have talked about starting a fetehouse at least since we were in high school. Circumstances being what they are, we decided now is as good a time as any to do it."

Castle leaned back in the booth and examined every feature of Nathan's face carefully. His eyes opened wide like he remembered something important, and he smiled. "So, what you're telling me is you need my talent so your fetehouse can be a success."

"Something like that," Nathan forced himself to sit up straight after he realized he had crumpled up in his seat. "I only know a couple performers, and without performers it's hardly a fetehouse, now is it."

Castle closed his eyes and screwed up his face. He sat like that until the food came, then he opened his eyes, thanked the waitress, and said, "Ok, Nathan, I will make you a deal. You need dancers, but you also need a break. Stay with Remus and I until after Al siniht. The bonfire will do you good, and I can get you into The Lavender Dragon without a cover. Deal?"

That was the last thing Nathan expected. A yes, or even a no, but not a party invitation. He didn't feel like going to a party, much less celebrating the death of Nyx and the curse of eternal darkness. Maybe if he threw his concerns into the fire it would help him leave them here and not take them back to Maryland.

He felt like he was at the beginning of his own long night, so it would fit, and he didn't have to arrive at his parent's house in the early morning. Anything that postponed that conversation had to be a good thing.

"I'll take your stunned silence as a yes," Castle said. "I expect your things are in your car?"

Nathan nodded mindlessly.

"Good, we can talk about your fetehouse over lunch, and then I'll take you back to the townhouse to get settled in."

Nathan glanced out the window at the sliver of the waning moon in the sky. "If this is your lunch, you must be more of a night owl I am."

"Between working at the clubs and living with Remus, I don't get to see the sun too often."

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