Jay sits beside me on the couch, watching Sesame Street in silence for a good half-hour before giving me a hesitant poke in the side.
"You want to watch something else?" I say, fumbling for the remote beside me on the couch. Watching TV with a creature from outside the universe is interesting, if only to find out what he likes watching and how much he learned about the universe by entering the world versus what the TV is teaching him.
"I don't know? I wondered – what you would like, for your birthday?" he says.
"You to say 'She sells seashells by the seashore, the shells she sells are surely seashells; so if she sells shells on the seashore, I'm sure she sells seashore shells'," Charlie said from across the room without looking up from her phone. She came back in earlier but is still ignoring me after I screwed up and left her and Jay to face the oldest magician in the world by themselves. That they had survived unscathed did nothing to change the fact of my failure.
Jay shot her a glare, and then ignored her pointedly to turn back to me. "Well?"
"People don't give magicians gifts, as a general rule. There is little that magic can't provide, and there are balances –," I begin when he offers up a huge grin and hugs me, moving faster than anything human could.
"That can count," he begins, then pulls away at whatever he feels from the binding between us, eyes widening. "That wathn't okay?"
I let out a breath, willing calm. "What do you want in turn for a hug?" I say, and despite myself my tone is cool and distant.
Jay just looks lost for a few seconds, the binding giving him too much and not enough to go by. "A hug?" he mumbles, "If that'th okay?"
I return the hug carefully, letting go after; he scrambles to the other side of the couch and stares warily, placing two pillows between us and looking for all the world like a regular boy making a crude fort.
I let out a deep breath. "Affection has power, Jay."
"But that wathn't ...." He scowls, mouthing words silently, then: "I did not mean for affection? It was on the television as a form of friend-binding?"
"And you don't think that is powerful?"
"No?" he offers, looking even more confused. "A real binding ith different."
Charlie lets out a laugh, half against her will, turning her chair to face me. "So if I had hugged Mary-Lee, she would have had to aid me?"
"Not in any way you'd like. There are bindings that aren't bindings, Jay; that doesn't mean they don't have power. Do you want a second breakfast?" He nods warily. "Friendship is a binding like that; for a magician, it can be a gift that must be paid back."
Jay goes still. "Oh. What wath what the Wortht gift you've ever got?"
He nods, his face devoid of expression. "And the betht?"
"Also a hug." I grin and get up. "We'll get McDonalds, okay?"
He stands and pauses half-way to the door to look at Charlie, who has gone back to typing on her phone. "Charlie?"
"You can explain thith to me later, right?"
She snickers. "Yeah. Go eat."
He nods and grabs his coat, following me out the door without further questions.