I leave Charlie and Jay in the hotel room and go out walking. There are magicians who walk only in their hearts, or in dream worlds they half-invent. I walk in the real world to clear my head, to build up protections, to forge wards and create distance. Magicians can't care in the way other people care or we would tear the skin of the world apart to work miracles even magic does not allow.
No magician dares love anyone so deeply that they would seek to bring them back from death.
I don't feel that way about Charlie, nor about Jay whom I barely know. I have been a magician for several years, a wandering one without true friends. Charlie reminds me of the sister I wish I'd had rather than the one I do have, and I could see Jay as a friend I might have made when younger. I walk to force quiet, to clear myself a little. To make distance.
I have not had a friend in a long time, and that could be what pulls the memory into ther world; I have been working magic steadily for days, and the magic decides to pay me back. That could be it. It's the best of some bad options, because one moment the street beside me is empty and the next Susan Jenkins comes stumbling out of a doorway in the empty air. Close enough to a decade has passed for the years to have worn into her face, her one-long hair done up tight in a bun, third-hand jeans replaced by a casual business suit, a squint replaced by stylish glasses.
I see manicured hands where I used to see a paintbrush and lips where I used to see a smile.
"What –? Where –? Who –?" she snaps out, hands darting to the purse at her side.
She stops dead. "You."
I force myself to read nothing in her voice, keep myself as still. She was the first person I'd met when I left home, the person to show me how to pick locks, where to go in cities and how to do more than just survive in them. She'd worked underground graffiti, street art, and I'd gone along and practised magic hiding her from the police, learning the cost of what I could do. She never asked many questions since I never gave her an answer she believed.
I told her everything anyway; she was that kind of person. She taught me how to listen, how to make room for other people in my heart. How to care and not care too much at the same time. She'd paid attention to me rather than the magician, and I'd just begun to realize how rare that would be.
"I wanted someone to talk to that I could trust." I don't try for a smile. "Even magic can't pull someone out of time."
She steps back, whispers my name, and I can't not hear the confusion under that. I'd done things she couldn't ignore by the time I left the city, shaken her world apart and left nothing behind of her illusions. I'd never meant to, but intent means nothing at all.
"Magician," she says after it, and I can see the new life she's built, art turned into advertising, a world away from the world we knew. I can see it, and as surely see it fall apart in her eyes.
"Susan." I say her name again, forcing power under it. She's not scared, but I'm not sure if that's because she's gone beyond that. Memories are screaming in the back of her head, clawing through walls of sanity. "I just wanted to – to talk," I say, and it sounds foolish as I say it. I can speak truth, I can sound like a magician when I have to. When I try to sound like just a man there is so little to draw on some days.
I take a breath and hold her gaze. Distance. Magic. "Forget," I say, in a tone she cannot resist, and make a door in the air back to where she came, gently push her through. A man is sitting at a desk, looking stunned in an office almost empty. I hurl the command into him as well and close the door I made between her life and mine.
I could tell Susan anything. That wasn't Susan. I wasn't the person she met those years ago. I wouldn't have told her now. (I should never have then.)
I don't know much right now. Only that the wards around me are sharp and cutting. That someone is following me and I don't know who they are, or even how. I walk back to the hotel and fling my senses wide, not caring if the other party sensing me seeking them. I know Charlie and Jay won't mind talking a walk as well, and I know other things.
I know who is following me, though not why.
I know I am magician enough to not cry, not now.