"Why is it," Charlie says, "that when you think someone is mysterious it just turns out they're an ass?"
"Because everyone is one?" I crouch down, playing a flashlight under a dumpster someone has spraypainted 'No Babies!' on in bright yellow. I hope she's referring to that, but expectation says it's probably me.
"You are a magician. Using a flashlight."
"It's a tool." I shove another bag of garbage toward her; she pulls it aside with a grunt.
"You could break the lock on the dumpster and we could throw all this in it."
"I could." I pull a piece of worn paper from my pocket as a low growl echoes from under the dumpster.
"You said we were looking for a lost cat."
"That was a growl."
I hold out my left hand, paper and flashlight in my right. "You've been missing two weeks, Flutter. I'd run away at being named Flutter myself but you fell off a porch into the woods and got lost."
A low hiss answers me.
"It's always hard to find home again if you're never sure it was home at all. But they offered a reward for you, kitten, and even let a magician try and find out. Most people don't even let themselves believe in magicians anymore."
"Smart of them," Charlie mutters.
The kitten slips out from under the dumpster as if she had always meant to. Matted fur, some minor cuts and scrapes, thin and burning with anger. Flutter yowls up at me with the fierceness of a hunter and lets out a low hiss at seeing Charlie.
"She's not going to eat you."
The cats head snaps back to me.
"Why would I eat a kitten?" Charlie says through gritted-teeth calm.
"You ate a god. As far as cats are concerned, they're one step up from that."
Charlie says nothing to that; Flutter lets out a happier yowl and nudges my leg before leaping up into my left hand as I stand. We walk out of the back street into a light rain that doesn't touch me because I walk between the drops and doesn't reach Charlie because it wouldn't dare to.
It is only two blocks to the home Flutter was lost from; I take the long way around because even kittens – especially kittens – have their pride. Jody's father lets me into their building, his daughter yanking Flutter from me with a squeal of pure joy that reminds me of payment. He hands over the twentiees reluctantly, gaze searching mine, but Charlie's simmering anger is enough to push his questions aside.
I hand over half the money as we walk outside, only half surprised to find a police officer waiting for us. We've been in town over a day: I was a little surprised it had taken them this long to show up.
"Madeline Sharp." She hands over her ID as if expecting us to doubt her. "You've rescused four animals in the past seven hours, mister ....?"
I offer up my name and Charlie's as well. "We hardly stole them."
"Even so. People are talking."
"That is what makes us people."
"Does it now?" She doesn't lower her hand to her nightstick but her eyes offer up a small glimpse of things seen and never named, reports never written up.
"A magician is still human. Some of the time," I add. "And Charlie is mostly human."
"She won't stay that way."
Sharp indeed. "Who does? Even magicians change."
The officer grunts. "Two hours. You leave town by then."
"Done." I smile, unsurprised she doesn't return it, and walk back toward the motel we're renting at.
"I won't stay human." Charlie's voice is low beside me, the words almost a question.
"Most god-eaters devour a god; you merged with one. I told you it was dangerous to call up the god since it would become harder to put it down. Easier to be angry, and even easier to give into power."
"Is that why I'm travelling with you? So you can bind me if you have to?"
"A magician doesn't need anyone." I let the rain touch me, not looking over. "You didn't see it like that when we first met. I worked magic, and you saw someone in need of a shave and not a miracle at all. The magic in me doesn't need you; the rest of me does."
She laughs, half in surprise. "You think I am going to help you stay human?"
"Oh, no." I look over and smile. "It's far too late for that. I could make it so it never rained in this town again, or no pets were lost at all. I've terrified people by saving them, Charlie, and if you scare them they are less scared of me. That's one thing. And you can tell me when I go too far. Magic isn't power but from the outside it's easy to ignore that; sometimes from the inside as well. And," I add before she can speak, "there is not a magician in the world that doesn't desire an audience."
Charlie doesn't ask if Flutter would have come out if she hadn't scared the kitten more than I did, or point out I'm not telling the whole truth at all. She just digs the keys to the motel out of her pocket. "Get our stuff: I'll settle up with the staff."
"As you wish," I say with a courtly bow, and slip inside before she can find something to throw at me, having circled more than enough truths for one night and feeling strangely light on my feet as I head to grab our meagre belongings.
Being a magician is always more than being a magician, and sometimes only friends can remind us of that.