The hotel dining room is a small affair of white-clothed tables and a help-yourself buffet, the staff all looking as if they're preparing for their wedding nights in white and black, complete with slightly condescending manner. The dozen other people in it are all staring at Jay or trying to avoid doing so. The morning sun has taken away much of his nature, leaving behind a thin boy with hair not quite as pale as his face. His teeth remain sharp, though he has no fangs at all and he's eating his third helping of food: three plates again, bulging with buffet offerings, the other six plates piled up beside him neatly at the table.
I am on my third cup of orange juice as Charlie slips in, her morning cigarette break having come after her shower. Waking up to find an unfamiliar boy sleeping on the foot of my bed had shocked her, but probably not as much as him showing fangs and then diving under the bed to hide from her. I'd made Jay promise not to be afraid of her, so he looks up from eggs to scowl at her before diving back into the food.
"Explain," she says as she sits across from me with a coffee.
"He's from Outside the universe. I found him last night when he tried to attack me. Badly."
"So you invited him to our hotel room," she said in a calm tone that wasn't calm at all.
"No. He tried to swear permanent servitude to me while being flat-out terrified."
She takes a gulp of coffee. "He has fangs."
"I thought vampires weren't real – wait, no, you said we'd never meet one."
"Because they're weak. When something from Outside imprints on this world it takes power: to resist being banished by a magician means you have to imprint deeply, enough to be hurt in this world. A vampire is the basic imprinting of that nature, weakest and most limited. Most creatures alter their use-form in our world into something else. He isn't even a proper vampire."
"Sunlight takes away his nature – the major reason nothing from Outside likes being a vampire – but he can't even drain energy from others, which is what a vampire does."
"He could drink blood."
"His fangs are too big. He can eat food in human form but that's about all. And he is young, newly created. He was running from something that tried to eat him when he managed to flee into our world."
And Charlie, who has a god inside her and can eat gods and Others, says: "Oh."
I grin. "He saw you for a threat he couldn't beat and hid. Good instincts. Plus whatever was trying to destroy him hasn't made it through to this world which means that whatever Jay was is potentially powerful. Nothing that young and small from Outside has survived transit before, even if he did hijack some kind of exchange trip to do it."
"You want to find out what he –." Charlie pauses. "You said was."
"He can't speak his true name. He damaged himself permanently in the transit, enough that I suspect he's trapped on our world permanently. That's not unheard of for some monsters but most are just killed, body burned, and that is that. He knows how weak he is."
"So you didn't bind him and we're stuck with some proto-vampire kid who is – eating even more food." Charlie lets out a breath. "And not hiding from me?"
"I told him to be brave."
Jay wipes off his fingers and face with a napkin and walks over. "I have good hearing," he says gravely, picking words with care. "And I am quick. And if it – my fault that the – if the magithan is hurt, I will dethr – kill myself," he adds, a flush creeping over his cheeks.
Charlie blinks a couple of times, then manages: "Are you trying to be cute?"
Jay's hands curl into fists. "No."
"You can eat," I say, and people who are watching us begin to do that. Jay walks away stiffly to do so, not looking back at us, fists slowly uncurling.
"He'd dethroy himself, then?" Charlie asks, only to flinch at something in my face. "Destroy, I meant."
"Yes. And never kill. I bound him to that last night. As a precaution."
She sips her coffee, eyes narrowing. "Have you bound me?"
I just smile in response. Charlie resists the urge to throw her coffee in my face.
Barely. "We'll attract attention you don't want."
"He'll learn to hide himself. He's quick, he has good instincts for danger. And he is smart enough to run away."
"So not me," Charlie says, only half-joking.
"Or me," I say, not joking at all.
"Question time, magician," she says, but doesn't use the word to wound. "Do you pick up strays often?"
"Never before, no. Which means I am heading to something I need more than magic to face, though I have no idea what it is. Or how either of you could help me."
"Huh." She finishes her coffee and smiles slowly, heading to the one staff person staring at the almost-empty buffet in a horror of lost profits. "The buffet is open, yes? There will be food on it?"
The cook nods numbly and heads into the back as Charlie clears the plates off of Jay's table and sits across from him.
The boy studies her in wary silence.
"Want to see who can eat more?" she says, and lets the god in her leak into her smile.
Jay's returning grin is startled and crooked but he does nod. "I'm up to eight plate."
"Platheth," he mumbles.
"Good. Rest a bit. I'll catch up."
A few dishes hit the floor in the kitchen as Jay tries not to giggle and watches Charlie eat in turn in a wondering silence.
I get another orange juice and begin to weave magic together so the staff don't recall too much of the next three hours, my need meshing with their desire as I head into the lobby to settle up with the concierge and offer a tip that no doubt will confuse him until someone tries to explain where all the food in the kitchen has gone to.
The magic in me is silently smug when I try and wonder where all this is heading.