2. Magic & Machines
The car Charlie finds for the trip is a beat-up station wagon that has seen better decades and could probably have been re-purposed as a tank with little effort. She claims it’s a selling feature and we can run over monsters and cultists that way. It even has wood panelling on the inside and seats that had been recovered in fabric from seventies orange and brown couches. I decide not to ask if she’d bought it as a mercy to the owner. I drag up a memory from childhood and tell her the Mystery Machine would never have done that, which leaves her snickering and explaining Scooby Doo to Jay, though her version is definitely not for children.
I walk around the car as she explains Velma and Shaggy to a creature from Outside the universe. Part of me wonders what might happen if Jay is able to return home and the stories he might tell other entities, the rest is focused on weaving magic into the car. It is solid, from the era when vehicles were built to do more than boost profit margins for companies. It doesn’t want to break down, and I meet its desire with my will and weave strength and protections into it as I circle it slowly. Most of the working I make is simply ways of not being noticed by the police or anyone else seeking to bother us. Not having to get into an altercation is the best protection one needs often enough.
I circle the car three times before I stop and walk over to Charlie and Jay.
“So?” Charlie says.
“Good choice. We’ll still need to pay for gas but with luck the car won’t break down at all. You mind tossing everything in the trunk?”
She shrugs and begins grabbing duffel bags from our motel room; I walk over and sit on one of the barriers devoid of a car. Jay follows wordlessly and sits beside me.
“How strong are you?”
The boy considers that gravely for a few moments. “I think I could lift the end of a car? If I had to? Or break a door with luck? I’m not big enough to hurt people greatly.”
“And you don’t heal as far as you should. Or at all from small wounds.” He nods, biting his lower lip. His teeth seem almost human, the rest of him the same: even I can barely tell he’s not human and that’s mostly because of the binding between us. “I don’t want Charlie worrying about you, so I’d like to take that strength and make you tougher instead, if you’ll let me?”
Jay blinks. “You can do that?”
“I can try, if you’ll let me?”
“I bound my thelf too you,” he says, the word self sharp despite his lisp, “you don’t need to ask”
“This is me asking.”
“I – yeah,” he mumbles, deflating. “Can you?”
I reach out to his chest with my right hand and press into flesh. He looks human but he’s not, even if he can fool himself about that to an extent. He lets out a whine of agony that thrums along the binding between us but doesn’t scream as I push further, my hand sinking into his flesh. He is small here, would be small Outside, beyond the universe, his potential to be more shattered by forcing himself into our world to hide from something trying to destroy him.
I can’t do anything about that damage; I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I bring my need and desire to bear, reach my other hand for his hand and squeeze it, his returning squeeze a convulsion of pain that makes my hand throb a moment before the strength bleeds out of him, shifting into flesh and bone, changing itself to my desire, to Jay’s need, to our will.
I pull free finally, both my hands feeling numb, and he just sits, panting for breath, his eyes too pale to be human as he just gulps in breath after shuddering breath, the mark of my hand on his body fading from the world.
“Jay,” I say, half a question.
“I’m fine,” he says, his voice pale, but accepts my help to stand and clings to my grip as we walk back to the car.
I shake my head to any question Charlie has and get in the back. Jay crawls in beside me and passes out a moment later, body pressed into mine, using the binding to help himself heal. He was just getting used to a body in this world and I’ve twisted it up under him.
I wrap my left arm around him and ruffle his hair. “You did good.”
He relaxes into me and lets out small whimpers of pain, not protesting at all when I pull some of it out of him.
“So,” Charlie says as she pulls out of the parking lot onto the highway.
“We made him tougher. It was harder than it should have been but he should be awake in a few hours. And hungry.”
“As if he’s never not hungry,” she says with a snort. “What about me?”
“I can set up some basic wards if you want, but I’d rather not. A competent magician might – might – sense the binding between Jay and I, and I think another Other might sense what he is. If you don’t have my protections on you it could give us an edge.”
She drums her fingers on the wheel. “People might think I’m just a driver.”
I shift Jay a little; he grumbles in his sleep and shoves into my side. “That, and if some other magician manages to disrupt my magic you’d be left unaffected. Most of them won’t suspect that.”
“Huh.” Charlie glances back, then whips her phone out and snaps a picture of the both of us before turning back to the wheel.
I glance down at Jay and then up at Charlie. “He’s going to hate you for that.”
“Oh, I know.” She flashes a grin in the rear-view mirror. “You better get some rest as well. Work some magic so the two of you don’t hear my playing tunes and sleep.”
I consider protesting, but I have the pain I took from Jay to deal with and I know I need to be prepared for anything that happens next. I wrap silence around Jay as well as myself and sink into a sleep of shadow-ridden dreams where my fingers sink into flesh and burn whoever I touch and it never hurts me at all.
I decide to forget the dreams on waking.