Isha Cromwell had, in the last few minutes, come to believe in Strong Emotion At First Sight. In this case, it was Rivalry To Be with a touch of Unfair Arousal.
She had been ready for her Harvard Law suitemate to be stereotypically straight, White, WASPy, prim, obnoxious, relatively magic oblivious, yet what they considered well informed.
Sharday Adesina was one of those things only: obnoxious.
After failing to answer a single message after suitemate contact information went out and before move in day, she strode into their new living room imperiously like she had far more ownership of it than half a lease, plopped herself sideways in the sole armchair, legs over one arm, and looked around, then at Isha.
In some ways, she looked like the representation Harvard would want in the newsletters: a neat box braid bob and unnaturally clear, dark skin for any fellow twenty-two year old first year law student—in contrast to the long brown curls Isha had dutifully refused to straighten or even braid for all of Harvard undergrad, and the mixed results of her new face wash. But Sharday was casually dressed in a pride tee (Sapphic? Fantastic! with each word in a striped font of either the lesbian or bisexual pride flag colors) and painfully flattering skinny jeans. A red Selamanya marking wound up one of her arms, as uncovered as Isha’s, and reaching higher.
“I wasn’t sure you existed,” said Isha dryly.
“What? The texts? Terrible way to get to know people.” She stood, as if suddenly interested in being polite. Yet she wasn’t wrong. “I’m Sharday.” She held out her hand, offered a smile that looked like it usually got her out of trouble.
Isha shook her hand. They were about the same height and offered the same death grip. “Isha.”
“Isha,” Sharday repeated, testing it on her tongue, still smiling. “I like it.” As if she’d asked for her approval.
Yet, something in her smiled anyway.
When moving was at the stage where their suite’s door could be closed for the night and they could lazily pace around and poke luggage and the grocery order and the boxes Sharday had shipped like they actually still wanted to be doing something, Sharday claimed the armchair again and Isha the windowseat.
“Okay,” said Sharday, clapping her hands on her thighs. “I think it’s time we start asking the offensive personal questions.”
Isha snorted. “Go for it.”
Sharday considered. “What are you?” She gestured at her.
Isha had kind of expected they’d go to magic first, but apparently they’d get a few other questions. “Me? I’m a woman. A lesbian. A student. A daughter—”
“Where’s your family tree from, poetic one?”
“Oh, that,” she said, feigning obliviousness. She also noticed that she’d decided to flag for queer quickly. “Mostly Africa, with some Puerto Ricans, and just enough White whatever to confuse people.” The freckles, the hazel eyes. “Yet not enough for passing privilege.”
“It works on you.”
Thank you. “I think so.” Pause. “Okay. Why are we in an accessibility suite?”
Sharday laughed. “I’m epileptic. You should have a flyer somewhere in that.” She gestured at Isha’s pile of welcome papers.
“And you want to live in Cambridge? There are stairs to get to the stairs most places.”
“Yeah, but you never have to drive.”
“Okay,” said Sharday, clapping her hands on her thighs again. “I am now uninterested in offensive personal questions that aren’t about magic.”
Isha was also about out of other questions. “Go for it.”
“Hmm. When was your onset?”
The media trying to sway the public to see the Selamanya in a normal, benign light would like to claim eighteen, even nineteen as average, when the marking appeared. But seventeen was what Isha heard most frequently in reality, and there were even younger outliers.
“You’re running low,” said Sharday, pointing to Isha’s arm.
She was. The Selamanya drew their magical energy from pain. It couldn’t be used for anything out of human range, usually, but it pushed the limits. You could decrease the need for air, water, food, sleep, more. Or increase speed, strength, coordination, flexibility, balance, so on.
But the supply needed to be refilled. One type—whose Selamanya marking, winding up the arm, was red—needed someone to hurt. And they could use magic to inflict it. Blue types, however, needed someone to hurt them—and got healing magic. And then there were the purple types, the versatile, lucky, complicated bastards.
The marking wound farther up the arm the fuller your supply was, retreating back down as you used it, or slowly with time. It was hard to push the marking much above the elbow, and there were consequences when it got too low. You’d survive, but it wasn’t an enviable existence.
“I’ve been busy.” Isha’s red spiral wasn’t dangerously short, but not nearly the red line that wound around most of Sharday’s forearm. She’d been too busy to find a partner, and drawing on the energy to keep up.
“I wouldn’t make a habit of being too busy, then,” said Sharday.
Isha snorted again. “At Harvard Law?”
Time passed. They were, indeed, busy.
There was keeping on track with school—especially since they both tried to do it properly, nagging each other about it, not banking on the last minute attempt at this is ninety percent of your final grade, something not everyone did. Keeping the resumes padded, maybe bringing in a bit of money. And then there was Sharday’s, “I have some friends I think you should meet.”
The group wasn’t called Selamanya Anonymous—it had some clever acronym that no one used—but that was what Isha called it, and Sharday thought it was a riot, and they used it so much that they and several others started calling it simply SA.
They met in someone’s living room—usually you had to attend a few more public meetings first, but Isha came as Sharday’s plus one, and they both largely skipped the more public, coffee shop gatherings. Still, the Selamanya made up most of the serious BDSM community these days.
They talked about magic, yes, but also everything else—there were a lot of students. They practiced casually. Isha’s parents had gotten her a tutor shortly after her onset, as had Sharday’s, but others hadn’t been so lucky, and were newer. Even Isha had things to learn. They traded resources and information, and just hung out in a place where magic—and all that around it—could come up and not be a huge deal. It was also a place to show off in front of Sharday—and watch her do the same.
The group made it much easier to keep her magical energy level up. Little doses here and there—not the huge deal of negotiating with someone about playing in private—and the magical bonus of practicing on several actual blue types, not any willing person.
At home, Isha and Sharday argued a lot, for fun. About the always controversial law and sadomasochism, or the highly debatable history of magic, or proper Selamanya business models for those who went pro on helping people get their fixes. But not about whose turn it was to do the dishes, or who was buying the pizza that night, or if Isha could give Sharday a ride to a medical appointment beyond the T’s scope.
“Oh, so there are limits to public transit~?” Isha teased, referencing a case Sharday had made for it another night. “Your student Charlie Card isn’t God?”
They were always on each other about something. Who was a top contender for which academic prize, writing prize, fellowship. Something. Anything.
After getting a little too animated one debate, neither wanting to back down nor go too far, Sharday said in the silence, “Okay, we can fix this. You wanna hate fuck about it? I’ve always wanted to do that.”
“Fuck, why not?” said Isha, laughing, as if she had ever wanted anything more.
After that, it was the teeth and nails kind of sex on an extra long twin, and, panting, after, Sharday said, “Let’s be real.” She caught her breath. “That cunt from Civil Procedure is gonna get the damn fellowship, anyway.”
“You’re stressed as shit,” said Sharday one night, both hands slipping under Isha’s neckline from behind her, prodding more than helping the tension winding through her shoulders. “And you’re low,” she said disapprovingly, eyeing the neglected Selamanya marking. Even the help of Selamanya Anonymous had vanished into a few (largely unnecessary) all nighters. “C’mon.” She tried to pull her up from where she sat. “Let’s do something fun.”
Isha made a vaguely annoyed sound.
“Give me ten minutes. I’ll find a willing victim we can both beat up. It’ll be great.”
“Fine,” said Isha. “Ten minutes.” Mostly because she wanted to see if that was true. She couldn’t imagine—
In eight and a half minutes, Sharday tossed Isha’s keys at her. “Good to go. I’ll pay for gas. And snacks. They demanded aftercare sugar. Literally. Let’s stop at the Target in Watertown. They have actual junk. Not that fucking Star Market in Porter Square again.”
Isha rolled her eyes and got up.
January. It was, actually, kind of good to be back from winter break, together.
Monday: Sharday had a seizure mid conversation. “Not the worst, not the best. At least you didn’t panic,” she called it.
Friday: Sharday found Isha almost unresponsive with book still in hand. The Selamanya marking was barely more than one loop on her arm.
“Fuck,” said Sharday. “This is supposed to be one of those things you have to help me with.” She gave Isha a little shake. “C’mon, focus.”
Isha groaned, but her eyes mostly opened and set on Sharday, who moved her book and crouched in front of where she slouched uncharacteristically in what was usually Sharday’s armchair.
“We need to get you someone,” said Sharday, also aware that Isha couldn’t hurt anyone if she could barely move—she’d perk up for it a little bit, but… “Start with me.”
Surprise registered on Isha’s face slowly.
“Just to get you up,” said Sharday, convincing herself of it as she went, too. She looked around for inspiration. No, magic would be easiest right now. “Okay,” she said, more to herself than Isha, bracing for it. She shifted to a more balanced position. “Go for it. Wait.” She gestured at a length of rope. Not hard to find here, between the two of them. “Try the thing we did at SA like, last month.”
That was, using a rope like image for the visualization method of magic. They’d practiced channeling magic through real objects, too—enhancing the effects of a simple, real implement. But this one was pretty simple. “Visualize,” she urged her. She held out her arm.
Isha closed her eyes for a minute, breathed, recentered. Opened them and tried to focus. Sharday pictured it with her. Magical energy, a rope like visualization, winding around her arm. Sharday dressed it up a little; she pictured something colorful and ethereal and glowing. Isha had said that she’d kept it simple, easy to picture: a red line like her Selamanya marking. Winding, winding. More loops. Just a bit tighter. Push energy into it. Pain. Imagine the sensation you want. Imagine the reaction you want.
“Pull,” said Sharday, bracing for it, the effects of the visualized yank on both ends.
Isha’s magical energy rope seemed to slice straight through her arm, with painful aftershocks running up and down the limb. Sharday hissed. Gasped. Breathed. “Okay,” she said; “okay.”
Isha held a look like some people did in the morning when the coffee was starting to kick in. People like Isha. She looked at Sharday, blinked. “You look nice on your knees,” was what came out, of all things, a little slurred.
Sharday laughed. “And you’re back online. Let’s find you something better.” She swatted her shoulder and stood, got her phone and a plan.
Sharday supervised the T trip and ran warmup for her, on the friend who volunteered short notice, looking concerned about Isha and for herself, with a still half conscious Top. Still, Sharday spotted, handed her a light flogger that she couldn’t do much damage with, and Isha gained lucidity quickly.
Sharday saved the lecture for the trip home. “You gotta stop with the all nighters and shit,” she said. “You’re draining magic faster than anyone can get it.”
Isha did not stop with the all nighters, the skipped snack breaks, the enhanced focus and recall.
Sharday watched her magic supply for her, but in magic and otherwise, Isha was burning out, fast.
Sharday was a real academic contender. Isha was falling behind. Sharday got the busy fellowship they’d both wanted. (Isha seemed almost relieved.) She stayed on Isha’s case about it, but framed it as, “You could do a lot more with a little more sleep.”
Isha pointed to a few writing prize wins and did not sleep.
Threats of practicing magic on her: nothing. Try me.
Logic: meh. Career to launch.
Do it for me? It’s not about you.
Bribe with oral? Sometimes. But betting favors on the accolades and plaudits still worked better. Sometimes.
“You like, fuckin’ coming to seminars anymore?” Sharday asked, just getting in the door, in March. She’d barely seen Isha all week, including in the other spaces they shared, like the lecture she’d just missed.
“No,” said Isha softly.
“What you do you mean, no? Don’t let the procrastinators convince you. You’ll lose your mind doing it that way—”
“—I’m dropping out.”
Silence. They looked at each other.
“But you’re like… the second best student here,” said Sharday, on kind of a laugh, as if offering humor or what passed for her praise might change Isha’s mind. “You can’t leave now.”
Isha gave a sad half shrug. “I can, though.”
“But what about…” But what about me? But what about us? sat in the air between them. “But what’ll you do?”
Isha hesitated. “I’m not sure.”
“Shut up. You’re the planner. What’re you gonna do?”
“Magic, I think. There just have to be answers.”
“Magic.” Sharday considered. “Where are you going?”
“What passes for a cheap studio in southwest Brookline. And therapy.”
Sharday frowned. “That’s gotta be like, over an hour by T.” On the other side of Boston.
“It is.” I checked. Not the other side of the world, but far from the same. But Cambridge was expensive as hell. She couldn’t guarantee being able to pay almost three grand for a studio for long.
“When do you leave?”
Isha shrugged a little.
“When do you leave?”
Sharday brought herself to let her eyes focus on the packed bags and boxes. “Christ,” she said. She hugged Isha way too hard, for way too long. “You gotta do what you gotta do,” she said into her shoulder.
“Call and argue with me about the magic you’re doing.”
“I’ll be under qualified.”
“God.” When she pulled back, they kissed way too hard, for way too long, like it wasn’t a first and a last and didn’t taste like tears.
Isha was still on an unmade mattress on the floor in Brookline, for once fast asleep, alone. No visitors yet.
Thus, she screamed when she was woken suddenly, by another person half under her blanket, shaking her.
“Bitch, will you calm down?” demanded a familiar voice, one hand clamped over her mouth. “Not gonna hurt you. Unless you consent, of course.”
Eyes adjusting, she heard more than saw the all too familiar smirk.
“The fuck?” she asked, freed, sitting up, reaching for a light that was still inadequate. “How did you get in my apartment?”
“Uh, this is our apartment now,” said Sharday. Bags and boxes sat behind her. “And I must say, we could do better. And you could sleep lighter.”
“I dropped out, too.”
“It was boring as shit there without you. And I kept justifying this for you, and then…”
“But what’re you gonna do?”
“What else would we do?” Sharday asked, still half in shadow, grinning. “Magic, of course.”