8. Cars & Time
The interstate had shudders back to life by the time I walk back to the car. Charlie has moved it over to the side of the road and is in on her phone playing a game. Jay is just sitting in the back and looks up as I walk over, his face so empty of expression it hurts. I cease blocking the binding between us and for a moment he resists in turn, trying to make it weaker or at least make a statement.
Charlie looks up and puts her phone away. “Better?”
“Not really.” I get in the passenger’s seat. “We should be able to use the interstates for a while.”
She just nods, shifts into drive and pulls out into traffic. “Want to talk about it?”
“Good. You knew it was this Kyle person, then?”
“No. I suspected. There are few people who can look for me and hide themselves while doing it. Kyle was one of them.”
She waits a beat, then: “You called him, made him a body, bound him to it and killed him.”
“So you had this planned for some time.”
“For whenever I ran into him again, yes.” I offer up nothing else: not what Kyle had done to people or how many lives he’d ruined. I’d just murdered a man, magician or not, and there are a lot of things I could be called but I wasn’t going to accept hero as one of them.
“Agent Six said you were on the side of good,” she offers as she pulls out to pass a trailer.
“Agent Six said I was one of the good guys?” I let out a sound that fails to be a laugh. “The Black Chamber consider themselves to be good, Charlie, and their job – their duty as they see it – is murder. Oh, none of the targets are human: bigfoot, yeti, were-creatures and the like. They hunt them down and kill off the females.”
“The elimination of breeding pairs.”
“But they let the other one live?”
“Their mandate doesn’t involve extermination. And I imagine bigfeet and the like have some ecological use or something; no idea.”
“Huh.” Charlie doesn’t look back. “Jay?”
“I’m fine,” Jay says, arms crossed and daring us to say otherwise.
The binding between us is otherwise, no matter what he wants, throbbing with echoes of fear and pain. I try to send through it that I didn’t want him to feel my pain but he doesn’t care at all and the edges of the binding are frayed by suspicion.
I close my eyes and fall into the binding. He tries to shove me out of that.
Go away! You left, magician.
I didn’t – I just needed to –.
No, he sends back, and his fury and fear wash through me, into me. I don’t care!
And he doesn’t. I killed a human, and to him that isn’t important at all. I am. Our binding is. That Charlie is our friend is. That he has to hide from those who want to eat him is important, too. And nothing else at all. And under that an ocean of fear that I will break the binding for knowing this, fear so strong that he can barely hold it back with anger.
“Oh,” I say aloud. “I screwed up, didn’t I?”
Jay doesn’t move in the back seat, still as a frozen knife blade.
“Jay,” I say, adding his true name through the binding, “I bind myself to you in turn, that I will not block your binding again.”
He blinks, testing it silently as if probing a sore tooth, wariness etched in his eyes.
“Humans – close ourselves off, sometimes. To deal with things. To not lash out at others with our pain. I didn’t think.”
“You’re thorry?” he says slowly.
“No. Magician. But I won’t do it again.”
He considers that gravely, not touching me or crying, then just nods. “It hurt.”
Nothing else, just a stubborn set to his jaw. I don’t need to look at Charlie’s coat to know he was crying into it. I let out a breath and turn, holding out my right hand. Jay takes it after a wary pause that hurts, and not in the way of a good hurt. I reach, and feel his binding to me twist between us, stunted slightly by my actions.
I reach out with a binding in turn, as open as his was, a promise turned to power: I will not block the binding between us unless our existences or those or friends are at stake; I will not undo it. This I promise by your binding to me, Jay, and this I swear, I send between us. I let him bind himself to me and there are magicians who would be horrified at that; that I bound myself to them would be reason enough for some to seek my death.
Jay blinks, pulls his hand back from mine and tests the binding slowly.
“I am human, Jay. I can’t say I wouldn’t have blocked it again in a moment of stress or fear. Now I can’t.”
“You didn’t have –.” He pauses. “You thouldn’t have done that.”
“Even so.” I smile, and it feels as tired as I am. “Rest, okay?”
He offers up a most serious nod and rests his head against the side of the car, dead asleep moments later and sleeping for the both of us.
“Magician,” Charlie says quietly, holding to the speed limit as cars dart past us.
“That was really stupid, wasn’t it?”
“Oh, yes. But I could have destroyed him without even knowing it, Charlie. I murdered a magician; he didn’t care about that, only that I was safe and we’d all be safe and then I went and hurt him. It’s always worse when we don’t mean to.”
“Sometimes. So he deserved death?”
“Kyle? No. No one deserves that, but there are balances. Prices. Payments. And that was his because of many things. There are some who might argue I was too kind. He was not a good person, but he was a magician so the one often follows from the other in the end.”
Charlie is quiet a few moments then offers up a tight smile. “Jay considers you a good person.” She pauses a beat. “Probably by his standard of people, mind.”
“Don’t. I understand what you did; I think I know enough to not want to know more and I’d rather not talk about it at all if that’s all the same to you.”
I nod and relax, letting go of the world a little. Being in a moving vehicle helps to cast my thoughts out. Nothing. Again. I know Leo is alive, and in Oregon, but I get nothing else at all. He was always paranoid even by the standards of magicians, and if he is being attacked as well his wards could be even more impressive than usual, but that doesn’t feel right. It feels like Leo is hiding from me, or at least hiding something from me.
“What do you think I’m doing?” Charlie snaps, a hint of red in her eyes as she looks over at me.
I smile, and even the god in her pulls back. “I was talking to the car. And the world.”
I shake Jay awake and get in the back, getting him to sit up with Charlie and get a wary look from him in response that quickly shifts to worried.
“I’m going to need to focus and zone out. Just drive and the world will take care of the rest.”And so saying I close my eyes, let go of flesh and focus on need and desire, letting the magic build and then loosing it on the world.