12. Cars & Endings
I weave luck around the people we steal a car from, Charlie following my instructions and heading toward the coast. There is nothing save fear coming from the binding with Jay, but it’s enough to head toward him; I pull on it to avoid tolls and work small magics on places and people we pass, brief flashes of insight or blessing to begin to pay back the world.
“Magician,” Charlie says after an hour. “You did nothing wrong, yes?”
“I didn’t stop Leona from doing wrong things. She drew power recklessly to match her desires. And she would not have had to do so had we not come to her, though the debt is more to the world by way of apology.”
“Right. And Jay?”
“He’s run out of land and isn’t about to swim the ocean.”
“Out of –. He ran all the way to the coast?”
“It will take us five hours to reach him, so yes.”
“Fuck,” Charlie says softly, lighting a cigarette and pressing the gas pedal harder to the floor. “I didn’t think he could run that far at speed.”
“I imagine he bent space a little; he’s tired and scared and too exhausted to attempt to swim across the ocean in any event. Which is for the best since I’m not up to convincing a car to travel over water.”
She snorts at that. “Now I’m kind of wishing he’d kept going: I’ve never been to Hawaii.” Charlie blows smoke as she overtakes a van. “What happened there, exactly? I mean, what would have happened if you’d failed?”
“We would have used out deaths to bind and limit their power. There would have been an outbreak of hysterical angel sightings in Oregon and around it: not in Washington at all, mind, and then another magician would have arrived – likely several – to close the gate and banish them by doing so. It could well have been a permanent wound in the world and those are difficult to eradicate.”
“A whole army of invading demons and angels and it boils down to – to like an overkill of tourists?” she demands.
“Dangerous ones, but yes. They won’t have the power to manage such a thing for a very long time: Leona’s wards would have prevented a third of their host from entering at all, which even she thought was overestimating their numbers. What that means, in terms of what we did back then or now, I’m not sure. Creatures from outside look human, and often act it, but to what extent it’s real emotion as humans perceive it is an open question.”
“Jay looks human,” Charlie says slowly.
“It occurs to me. With the subs. And other food. And the journey. It occurs to me with all that that I never saw him go to the washroom once. I don’t think I ever have.”
“His body converts all food into energy; he doesn’t emit waste.” I let out a breath. “And can’t.”
“He’s as anatomically correct as a ken doll would be. It’s not something one notices, and I doubt he’ll age so it won’t be any issue at all.”
“No issue,” she says through clenched teeth.
“He didn’t want you to know. And you didn’t notice until now because of his gifts.”
“Why didn’t he want that?”
“Because of your eyes before you could control them. Jay is bound to me: he wants to be friends with you, and if you think he’s some freak or monster he doesn’t think it will work. I told him lying wouldn’t help, but I don’t think he grasps that.”
“Okay. Okay. So he – it?”
“He isn’t – and that’s normal for a vampire?”
“Not at all.” I lean back and rub the bridge of my nose. “I am starting to think that I was played for a fool, Charlie. Jay was never a vampire at all: he crossed into our universe as something better hiding as one, and did it so well – and damaged himself so greatly in the transit – that it will be a long time before he heals at all. A vampire is weak, and he is weak: it made sense to hide as that.”
“What is he, then?”
“I don’t know. I have suspicions, but I don’t know.”
She hands over a cigarette; I accept and light it. Wait.
“This gift binds you,” she says. “Tell me.”
“You really want to try this?”
“Fuck, no. But if I’m in the dark about me, that’s one thing. Talk. Please.”
I take a deep drag of the cigarette. “There is a barrier between the universe and what lies Outside. The god inside you knows of the Cone and the Grave, yes?”
“I used those terms on that – creature you slept with. I don’t know what they mean at all.”
“They’re powers. Like Winter, but perhaps different in kind as well as order. I don’t know. Winter is a power in this universe, an embodiment of a function. I assumed the Cone and Grave were the same, but I think I was wrong. They might be one thing, or two, or something else altogether, but they govern passage between the universe and Outside it and also perhaps help to hide the universe. The Cone exists, but I suspect the Grave is a literal grave and wasn’t always that way. Whatever power dwelt in it remains but grows weaker, and the forces in that place want a replacement.”
“I think so. Or he’ll be a catalyst for it, his death bring whatever is in the Grave back to life. It’s all guesswork because that’s all I have but Winter seems to have the same basic idea and he exists throughout time.” I take another deep drag on the cigarette. “Knowing this might cause it not to happen. Or make him a target, so I’d rather he didn’t know until he is stronger.”
“He’d have a major freak-out.”
“I doubt there are many who wouldn’t. And I don’t want to do that to him.”
“Huh.” Charlie doesn’t ask about herself, just falls silent and keeps driving.
I fall into the magic to shore up the world and myself, feeling almost human when the car stops, and far more human when Charlie drops three buckets of KFC in my lap. “We’re almost at the coast.”
I feel out the binding between myself and Jay and give directions; it takes less than ten minutes to reach the rock outcropping the kid is sitting on at the edge of parkland. There are a few worn paths around the park, a small parking lot with washrooms and a picnic table, all of which was unlikely to show up on tourism brochures. Jay looks fine, unhurt, just staring listlessly out at the ocean, his stomach growling as Charlie plops down beside him with one bucket.
“Eat,” she says, the tone making it a threat.
Jay does, finishing off the bucket in ravenous gulps and eating the second slower, licking off his fingers and refusing to look at us.
“So,” Charlie says slowly, then falls silent as Jay flinches visibly at the word.
“I ran away,” he says in a small voice. “I’m thorry. I didn’t even try to take you, or – or –. I jutht ran away.”
“Yeah. And that’s the first thing the magician told me about you, kiddo. That you had good survival instincts, and we should damn well pay attention to them. I would have ran, too, if I could have.” She ruffles his hair with one hand. “No one’s going to blame you for not being stupid – this time – and if you go blaming yourself I’m not going to give you the third bucket of chicken.”
Jay blinks and looks over at that. “Really?”
“We’ve been driving for four hours; we’re hungry as well.”
“I mean –.” He scowls, then twists about to look up at me.
I walk over and set the bucket down, sitting on the rock. “It turned out better than I could have hoped, and you were right to run like hell.”
“He wath thcary,” Jay says, eyeing the bucket.
I open it, take a piece, offer it to Charlie and then Jay. He begins eating at a slow, normal pace, eyes locked on me. “I have some clue what is going on, I think,” I say. “About you, and all of this, but I could as easily be being tricked. And knowing would only hurt you or put us all at risk. Trust me on that?”
“Alwayth,” he says firmly, snagging another leg. “I don’t know what I did, when I ran? But I’d like to learn becauthe running away by mythelf ith boring.”
Charlie snickers at that. “Surviving isn’t boring.”
“It ith if it’th all you do,” he says firmly. “Like being thcared of thaying letterth and – that ith being weak, and I’m tired of it.”
“Good.” I eat a second leg, hand out cans of pop. “Something good came out of all this, then.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Charlie says. “A whole army of creatures from Outside tried to invade the world and your idea of a good outcome is Jay deciding not to avoid as many esses?”
“That was going to be the outcome anyway,” I say. “He’s learned more about himself and that is always a victory in my book.”
“And me?” she says.
“Definitely a work in progreth,” Jay says firmly, diving to the left to avoid a swat on the back of his head.
“We’re all that.” I let out a breath. “We can visit some gods, if you want. If they’re willing to.”
Charlie’s eyes narrow. “I’ll think about it.”
“Always good.” I stand and stretch. “First order of business: we find a place to sleep, get breakfast tomorrow, a new vehicle and head – oh, south, and see what happens.”
“Okay. I should use the bathroom back at the park before we go,” Charlie says, shooting a look at Jay. He freezes and then blushes, keeping silent. “Don’t think we’re not going to talk about this,” she says, but smiles and heads to the washrooms without looking back.
I head to the car and Jay falls into step beside me. “Magithan?”
“You can keep using Honcho if you want.”
“’kay. I wanted to know why you didn’t leave me? You’re powerful and Charlie is too and – and –.”
“We are bound together,” I say dryly, “remember?” Nothing. “That, and I’m selfish, Jay. If not for me, you’d have been destroyed. You need me, and that helps me hold myself together more than you know. I’ve been a magician for years and it’s tiring and wearing me down. You and Charlie help push that back.”
“Really?” he says suspiciously.
“You think I’d lie to you?”
He snorts at that. “You’re a magithan!”
That wins a laugh. I give him a shove toward the car and get in the back, Jay hopping in, pressing his body into mine with a happy sigh and falling asleep moments later.
Charlie gets in, looks in the back and shakes her head. “He’s okay?”
“Getting there. You?”
“Ditto. You?” she parries back.
“Trying to find it.” I leave Jay and get in the front, accepting the last piece of chicken. “South. Sleep, breakfast, and from there we go wherever the wind takes us.”
“That’s it? That’s what you get from all of this?”
I don’t look over as she pulls the car out of the parking lot. “Don’t look back. If you do, it just gives the past more time to catch up to you.”
“Magicians,” she says sourly, and nothing else at all as we hit the highway.
I finish the chicken, wrap wards about the car and think of Leona – who used to be Leo – and friends lost and gone for a short while before letting go of names and faces, of regrets and losses, and trying to focus on what the world would bring. It was a great deal of effort for perhaps little reward, but I had to believe the future was worth the prices paid for it.