Out of the Closet
With your cherry lips and golden curls
You could make grown men gasp
When you`d go walking past them
In your hot pants and high heels
They could not believe
That such a body was for real
It seemed like rainbows would appear
Whenever you came near the clouds would disappear
Because you looked just like a girl
Your baby blues would flash
And suddenly a spell was cast
"Master," Neo said, with considerable caution, "what's wrong with my clothes?" He poked a finger in the raveling hem of his sweatshirt and suspected he knew the answer already.
"They're not quite suitable for a regional conference," Luka answered, from the depths of his closet, into which he had disappeared five minutes previous. Neo had no real hope of seeing him again for quite some time. Luka's closet was larger than most people's bedrooms, and Neo secretly suspected his master had slapped a spatial enlargement anomaly on it at some point simply to accommodate his shoes. From inside the closet there was a thump, a jangle, and an agitated rattle of chains, followed by some mild swearing. Luka stuck his head out of the closet door and eyeballed Neo as if he was a particularly questionable bit of dragon's liver at the market. "How tall are you?"
Neo shifted his weight in his sock feet. "Um, about 160 centimetres?"
Luka looked at whatever he was holding, well out of Neo's range of sight. "Bugger," he said, and went back to rummaging.
"Really, you don't have to bother--" Neo began, not willing to invite Luka's ill temper.
"There are certain standards to be considered," Luka said, his voice muffled as if he was trying to hold a trenchcoat in his teeth and adjust the straps on a pair of spiked leather boots. (He was.) "This is a small informal sort of gathering but nevertheless word gets around, and people know I've taken a new apprentice. They're going to notice if you don't look like you're made out of the right stuff."
Neo frowned at the floor and wondered what they would think of him now, in his socks and Nell's borrowed pink bunny shirt. /Probably laugh me right out the door/, he thought, and sighed.
"Look," Luka said, from behind an imposing pile of black things that might have been garments or possibly medieval torture devices, "when you're on your own you can look however you want. I don't really give a shit. Nowhere is it written that you have to dress like your master."
Neo, remembering Luka's master's mode of dress --or lack thereof-- went distinctly pink around his ears.
"But," Luka said, heaving the load of clothing onto his bed, "Unfortunately you're not just any black magic apprentice, you're my apprentice, and that's going to make people sit up and take notice. Now strip."
"What?" Neo said, forgetting himself entirely. "Master... couldn't you just give me something and let me try it on?"
Luka eyed his apprentice coolly over a harness collar with seven-inch spikes. Neo gulped and hurriedly peeled out of his sweatshirt. "All right," he said, shivering in his shorts with his toes curled for purchase in Luka's rug.
"Good," Luka said, sorting clothing on his bed. "Now I want you to try--" he looked up, scowled, and pointed one ringed finger at Neo. "What," he said, frostily, "are those?"
"Um," Neo said, thinking that his deep red blush was going to clash really awfully with whatever Luka picked out for him to wear. "My underwear?"
Luka nodded. "When I say strip, kid, I mean it."
Neo found himself suddenly fighting off a case of the hiccups. The idea of being stripped naked in front of his master was the sort of thing that gave him nightmares, if it didn't keep him awake for other reasons. "Bu bubut but--"
"Look, unless you're keeping a nine-toed invisible dragon in there, there's nothing in your underpants that I haven't seen before." He flung an alarmingly small bit of black silk at Neo. "You can put that on, I won't look. But I'll be dipped in hot pitch and used for a flaming maypole before I let people say I have a whitepanty goth as my student, got it?"
"Sir!" Neo answered, and hustled to do as he was told. He had just finished wiggling all his bits into the extremely brief briefs when Luka sighed and shook out a pair of pants.
"All right. You can try these first."
"Um," Neo said, holding them up and trying to make sense of the buckles and studs and zippers and straps and clips and snaps and pockets and flaps and lacings and eyelets and buttons that had all decided to hold some sort of convention on an otherwise innocuous pair of black jeans. "How?" Luka took a deep breath and Neo made a grab for the most promising array of stainless steel. "Nevermind okay I found it."
He managed with a bit of looking to find the front fly, but the zipper couldn't have been more than an inch and a half long. Which meant that once he got them on, he was in serious danger of revealing his religion to all and sundry. The pant legs bunched around his ankles, and he was obliged to hang on to them to keep them from falling down.
"Hrmm." Luka said, with a critical eye. "Anything I've got is going to be too big for you."
"I don't mean to be so much trouble," Neo said, to his knees. Realizing something, he added, "And I think I got my leg straps tied together."
"They're supposed to be tied together." Luka waved one hand in seeming disinterest and said, "Borrowed eyes this truth belies, turn disguise to proper size. /Constricturos/."
Neo yelped. The pants were suddenly clinging like a second skin.
"Better," Luka said, satisfied.
Neo made a subtle attempt to adjust himself in his unexpectedly constrictive pants; he really didn't know where Luka put all his hardware when he was wearing such things. Maybe he had put a spatial enlargement anomaly on that as well. Luka handed him a mesh shirt that he didn't bother shrinking even though the sleeves dangled to Neo's fingertips. The spiked collar he had to put on the smallest notch but it fit, although Neo was afraid to tilt his head too far to the side unless he wanted his ears pierced. Nevertheless, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in the mirror on the door of Luka's closet, and had to admit he looked far more like the apprentice of the famous Luka Reinhardt than he had before.
"Lift up your shirt," Luka said, dribbling a chain from one hand to the other and blowing on one of the delicate clips attached to the ends. Neo did as he was told with trepidation but also trust, certain that Luka wouldn't do anything to really damage him.
"It won't hurt," Luka said, as if voicing that thought, and Neo sucked in a breath as cool fingers brushed one nipple, waking it instantly. His chest was not an area Neo gave much thought to, certainly not as an erogenous zone. But by the time Luka had clamped the chain on at both ends and given it a tug to make sure it was secure, small intense realizations were bursting behind Neo's eyes, and making a short sharp trip right down into the very small crotch of his pants. His master, if aware of Neo's epiphany, showed no sign. He was busy sorting through several belts (each with enough studs to deflect a entire garrison of bullets), giving Neo time to take several deep breaths and try very hard not to think about his master's fingers or the hot pinpricks of sensation every time the chain shivered with his breath.
There were boots, after that, a stacked heel sort of affair that put him almost up to Luka's chin and had Neo pinwheeling his arms the first time he tried to walk in them. Those required another shrinking spell and Neo nursed a secret, probably vain hope that his master would introduce him and then prop him up in a corner for the rest of the evening.
"Better than I hoped," Luka said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully and reaching out for an adjusting yank on one of Neo's many straps. "You clean up pretty good."
"Thank you for loaning me some clothes," Neo said, looking down at himself as if he had been transported into the body of some stranger. "I really don't have many of my own."
Luka's clinical expression softened. "Yeah, I know, kid." He flicked open his lighter and touched the flame to the end of his cigarette, paper crinkling as he took a long drag. "It's okay. You can keep those. I've got plenty."
"Re-really?" Neo's face lit up.
Luka waved away smoke and Neo's gratitude. "No big deal. Things always get a little wonky after you shrink them and then try to put them back, anyway. C'mon." He raked a hand through his cropped hair, striding past Neo to his dresser. "Let me do your nails."
It probably made up for having to de-vein grubworms in the lab the other day, Neo thought, to have to sit still for an hour with his hand in Luka's, his master quietly intent on the ends of his fingers. Luka was as methodical with Neo's manicure as he was with a demonic containment field, dark brows lowered in concentration, hands slow and untrembling. in fact he had to admonish his apprentice twice for his shaking hands, when Neo would shiver as his master's breath brushed his knuckles. "There," he said finally, tilting Neo's hand back and forth to check the paint job. Neo's nails were black now, with tiny delicate silver runes on them. "That should keep anybody from hexing you."
Neo looked at the glyphs on his finger ends and wondered how Luka had made them so perfectly with the blunt end of a polish brush. "Me dressing like you is going to keep anybody from hexing me?"
"No," Luka was unscrewing the lid off a jar of some arcane hair styling product. "The ten primary protective runes of Solomon painted on your fingers widdershins during a waning moon is going to keep anybody from hexing you."
Neo stared at his hands in newfound wonder. "And what does that do?" he asked eagerly, indicating the jar in Luka's hand, certain it must have some mystical property as well. After all, Luka was a great black wizard, and nothing he did could be taken at face value.
"This?" Luka rattled the jar in one hand. "Prevents a bad case of frizzies."
Almost nothing, Neo thought, as his master dolloped out a glob of gel and raked his fingers through Neo's hair.
"There," Luka said, taking a step back and sighting Neo through his thumb and forefingers like a movie frame. "You look fabulous."
Neo blinked at himself in the mirror. "Erm." he said, wondering where he was inside that small, spiky, I'm-oh-so-numb goth boy.
"We'll slap some eyeliner on you and I'll be damned if you won't look almost as good as me." Luka was rooting through his dresser drawer in search of his tube of Tish and Shnooky's liquid eyeliner in Nearly Nocturnal when Luel knocked once on the door and opened it.
"Luka? Are you almost ready? I don't want to be late for the panel on herbal metamorpho-- holy Mary mother of GOD!" Luel's lower jaw did a small series of intricate aerobics. "Neo?"
"And doesn't he just look a thousand quid?" Luka said, producing his eyeliner with a flourish and shutting the drawer with his hip. "Sometimes I amaze even myself."
"What did you do to him?" Luel strode into the room, lab coat streaming behind him, and took Neo by the shoulders. "I'm sorry Neo, I should never have left you alone with my brother and his closet."
"Hey!" Luka said, at the same moment as Neo said, "I don't look bad, do I?"
"Of course you don't," Luka said, and glared at his brother. "Of course he doesn't. Just because you have an adverse reaction to anything that isn't wash n' wear poly-cotton--"
"It's hazardous!" Luel eyed his brother's apprentice sternly. "Did he give you some sort of line about looking the part? He told me that too, once."
"Really, I don't mind," Neo began, but he was getting the feeling that his own presence here was insignificant. There was something else going on between the Reinhardt brothers.
"If you'd dress like a proper alchemist you know maybe people wouldn't step on you so much," Luka growled, the eyeliner in his teeth like he'd like to light a cigarette but couldn't be bothered at this juncture. "Just because you had one lousy experience when I decked you out that once--"
"I," Luel said, going pink around the edges, "was indecently propositioned by four Australian tourists in the men's lavatory at Paddington station!"
Luka leered. "You shoulda just told them you didn't want to lose your scholarship by taking side jobs."
Luel went pink entirely. "I was /twelve/!"
"An excellent time to learn the value of money, I think," Luka grinned.
Luel shook his finger threateningly and tried to say several things at once, but what mostly came out was "Whyusnift!"
"Excuse me," Neo said, maneuvering himself delicately in between them, which took some doing in those boots. "Really, Mr. Luel, you don't have to put up such a fuss over me. Master Luka's been very nice to spend so long making me look good."
Luka's eyebrows went up so far he looked like a smug black tomcat. He tried to take a drag off his eyeliner before remembering it wasn't a tobacco product.
"Although," Neo continued, "Master Luka looks so good all the time, I'm not really sure if it's for me. It seems very complicated, and, um, I wouldn't want to just imitate him. I'd just look like I was copying."
Luel smiled beatifically. "Good for you. Just because he's your master don't let him push you around."
Luka had found his cigarettes and snapped his lighter shut on his thigh. "Look, the entire point of having an apprentice is so you can push him around." He hooked his finger through the center ring on Neo's collar, yanking him forward. "Look, kid, avoid Australian tourists and major rail terminals and you should be fine." He blew smoke out of his nose and prodded his brother. "Now out, both of you. I haven't gotten ready myself yet. Out!" he added, when Luel made a vague gesture at his watch. "Before I set your toes growing inwards!"
Neo and the Alchemist were left standing outside the door of Luka's room, blinking at each other. Luel sighed and threw up his hands. "You do look very nice, Neo," Luel said. "I didn't mean to say you didn't."
"No, it's all right." Neo looked sheepishly at his nails. "I don't really think it's me." He plucked at his shirt, but that set the chain clamped to his chest swinging, and that really wasn't the distraction he needed right now. Certainly not with the vivid mental image of Luka behind his door, peeling out of his leather pants.
"I just know Luka likes to dress people up," Luel shrugged, and Neo thought how comfortable he looked, in his jeans and loose sweater. "He used to do it all the time when we were kids."
"Is that what you were talking about with the--"
"Well," Luel said deftly dodging the subject. "Luka will be hours probably, so how about a cup of tea?"
Neo hesitated between the door and Luel, but finally nodded. He thought about being introduced to any number of members of the magical community, and the question bubbled up out of him. "So did you really get... you know? With the tourists?"
Luel arched an eyebrow at him, for a moment managing to look a lot like his sibling. "There's a reason I don't dress like my brother, you know."
"Physical mobility?" Neo guessed, trying to get downstairs when he could not, in fact, bend properly at the knees.
Luel shrugged. "No, I actually kind of liked it."
"Yeah." Luel stuffed his hands in his lab coat pockets. "But it wasn't practical for school, and besides that, Luka made me stop."
Neo waited, wondering if that was smugness in the corners of Luel's smile. "Why?"
"He did," Luel's smugness was more than a trace now. "But he didn't like me getting hit on more than he did, so he made me promise to quit. Besides, it's lots less hassle to dress like a normal human being, and Nell likes me this way. Now how about that tea?"
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