A magician can work magic enough for a dozen lifetimes and find it will never be enough. The world has more need in it than magic can fill and too many that magicians can’t or won’t touch at all. I can give people what they want, sometimes: but all they desire? Not even gods do that. These are the things I think about when driving a car down country roads, taking unmarked turns down logging roads and stretches of gravel that have almost given up the pretence of being roads at all. Driving down them helps them be whole; getting lost relaxes me a little. I think that’s more being me than magician, but one never knows.
The roads we’ve ended up on are far away from cities and towns. Jay doesn’t mind where we go as long as he has internet access for his phone and can play games on it. As creatures from Outside the universe go, he’s generally quite easy to please, fingers dancing over the screen at more-than-human speeds. He looks to be a kid of about ten and can hide what he really is better than anything else I’ve come across.
“Honcho,” he whines as I hit another pothole, the car shuddering a little underneath. “I’m trying to get a high thcore.”
I wrap more magic into the car. Desire, need and will pull energy from the earth and strength from the air to help it hold together. “Are there times when you aren’t?”
“There might be.” I wait. “Okay, tho there ithn’t but you’re thtill making it hard,” he grumbles. The lisp is part of damage entering the universe caused him; I’ve caused more, but he refuses to blame me for the fact that he sucks his thumb when stressed. Anyone else would, but we’re friends, which means more to him than it does to humans. I try not to think too hard about that.
I turn down another echo of a road that is a little less bumpy as Jay mutters about how a real magician would have a flying car. I let the words wash over me and just drive, losing myself in the small magics that come with travel without a destination until Jay pokes me in the side.
“There’th a binding trying to hold uth,” he says simply. He’s better at working and shaping bindings than even magicians, seeing the world as bindings more than anything else. It complicates, but seldom as often as it helps for what that’s worth.
I pull my awareness back to the present and stare in the rearview mirror in disbelief wail behind us. “A police car. Somewhere past the middle of nowhere.”
“It’th a trap?”
“Probably, but a pretty bad one if so. Keep quiet.”
Jay nods and focuses on his phone as I pull over. The car is warded against most usual problems: parking tickets, gremlins, police officers, mechanics, vandalism. But no ward is perfect and focus has a magic all its own. I remind myself that it could just be chance, even if coincidence is almost always a stranger in the lives of magicians.
The police officer who gets out of the car is alone. Big, burly, blond hair, build of an ex-football player and blue eyes that are deceptively friendly.
I swear. With feeling. Jay looks up at that, eyes wide. “Hide,” I say, and he pulls the world about him and vanishes. Some day I need to find out where he goes when he does that; I know he doesn’t go back Outside the universe since that terrifies him beyond easy comprehension.
The police officer walks over at a slow amble. We’ve never met, but I know of him. Enough to know Lance Christensen is kin to the forces that guard and govern the universe. He is law and justice and other things as well. The police officer, in nature as in name. He can die but always returns and if he answers to any other power beyond his nature I have no idea what it is.
He shines his flashlight in the vehicle, shadows scurrying away from it. Even mine tries to leave me, but I hold it in place and meet his gaze. He says my name and title calmly, his other hand resting on his gun. I resist the urge to bend the world and make the gun something else, mostly because I’m not sure I could where Lance is concerned. He isn’t from Outside the universe and perhaps more a part of it than even magic is.
“You have been busy the past few years, wanderer. I could arrest you for a great many things.”
I shrug. “You’ve never arrested a magician yet. Executed, yes, but you aren’t alone in that. If you were to, I imagine Mary-Lee would be far more likely to face arrest.”
He doesn’t pretend not to know the current name of the oldest magician in all the world. “Perhaps. There is one who travels with you. I am to cast judgement on his binding to you.”
I consider playing dumb for half a moment, then say: “Jay.”
He appears in the seat again, eyes almost as pale as his face, clutching his phone tight with both hands. “H-Honcho?”
“This is Lance. He’s a police officer.” I smile, and am not sure what to make of it that Lance pauses a beat before it.
He studies Jay, who doesn’t even try to glare at him. “He is bound into your service.”
“And you to his. A magician and Outsider bound together. That is rare, magician, but I find no crime here.” He smiles then, as kindly as his nature allows. “What would you have done if I had?”
I almost speak, then realize Lance is looking at Jay.
“Honcho needth me,” Jay says firmly. “But I need him more. Tho I would have fought until you hurt him and then – then –.” Jay isn’t strong, but the screen of his phone cracks under pressure. He grips it tight, fighting sucking on his thumb as best he can, not wanting to be weak.
“Jay?” I say softly.
“If he hurt you like he can hurt you, I would go away,” Jay whispers, his voice a weak croak. He forces more words out, fingers gouging deep into the guts of his cell phone. “Back outthide the univerthe.”
“I’m not worth that,” I say.
He says nothing, trying to hold himself together. Outside the universe, there are things that would eat him and destroy him in moments. And possibly do worse than that, given his fear.
“And.” Jay gulps, forces his gaze to meet Lance’s cool indifference. “And if I survived that, I would come back and I would destroy you,” and there is no lisp in his voice, his face pared down to bone and flesh and will.
I blink. I don’t move.
“I imagine you well might,” Lance says, and turns and walks back to his police car without another word. The sirens shut off before he reaches it, and then car vanishes to somewhere else in the world after he starts it. Going where he is needed, or perhaps just for donuts and coffee.
I look at Jay. “You okay?”
“No,” he says in a very small voice.
“All right.” I start the car up again. “North. We can reach a town in about half an hour and you can get a new phone.”
Jay starts, stares down at his phone in shock, then looks up at me. “I broke my phone for you!”
“I noticed,” I say dryly. “Is that a bigger thing than willing to be banished outside the universe for me?”
He actually considers that for a moment, then offers up a huge grin. “Maybe!”
I shake my head and take the phone, reducing it to dust and wind so no one can somehow trace it back to him as they could a discarded one. “You okay?”
“Jay. It’s okay. It’s always okay for you to be you.”
He blinks, then shoves his right thumb into his mouth and sucks on it a little as I drive. “I can’t help my lithp. I can help thith,” he says, not looking over at me.
“You can. That doesn’t mean you have to. Decide when it matters, and only do it then.”
“Okay.” He grins around his thumb. “I’m going to be able to make a new game account and get high thcoreth in all my gameth!”
“So you’re okay now?” I say dryly.
He considers that, then nods. He doesn’t ask what I would have done if Lance had tried to banish me, just rests is head against the door and closes his eyes. “I’m going to nap so I can play more gameth tonight.”
I don’t press the issue; I let things go and just drive, and he is asleep in moments. I wonder why Lance came all the way here to do this, but I suspect I’ll find out some day.