It’s cold, winter biting at the roads, snow blowing in front of our van. I’m following major roads, heading toward the town of Baygrove and keeping an eye out for police cars behind us. It’s not too often you attempt an exorcism and collapse an entire house. Turns out the ghost was haunting the house and keeping it together, the sounds in pipes and walls telling the owners what needed to be fixed. I eat gods. I can get rid of ghosts, but I’m not that good at it. Certainly not good enough to realize what was going on until the entire house collapsed and some very official people who don’t believe in ghosts wanted to ask some very official questions.
Some of which would have included the kid sitting in the passenger seat beside me listening the radio on his tablet. Jay is from far Outside the universe, not human at all and definitely has no identification. When you travel with a magician, you generally don’t need to worrk about that: he’s travelling with me now, and we’re going to need to at some point. Between doing duties as a god-eater, which includes figuring out how to migrate gods, and favours for fae in hunting down rogue critters and Outsiders for them I’m not sure when we’ll have time to get Jay proper ID, or even how or where we’ll get it.
I flick Jay lightly in the arm. “Kiddo?”
“Charlie?” He turns out the tablet and pulls out the earphones, turning his head toward me. I’m used to how his eyes look now: flecks of colours dance throughout them like falling stars in a thousand colours while his eyes proper roll about like dead hamsters in wheels. The kid has almost no vision in his eyes anymore, though we’ve been told that will heal. He can still sense bindings, though he was so used to seeing them with his eyes that he’s still getting used to everything now. We both are.
He frowns, head cocking to the left, then grins and shakes his head. “They stopped a whole mile back becauthe they had to help someone stuck in a ditch. Which meanth we can stop, too!”
I pause. His lisp comes and goes, slowing going away. Compensation for his eyes? I’ve no idea. The magician who would know isn’t travelling with us right now. We don’t talk about that. “Do I want to know why you want to stop?”
He nods, and shoves his tablet into my lap. I slow the car and look down, then over at him. “You can take it back.”
He does, waiting.
“You want to stop at a homeless shelter?”
“And! a grocery store,” he says firmly.
I wait, but Jay adds nothing else. I have him ask his tablet for directions. We’ve got the vocal interface down pat and Jay is only too happy to show off that he can offer directions just fine. The grocery store isn’t busy, most people waiting until later in the week to stock up for thanksgiving or having done so already before the storms hit the region.
Jay grabs the white cane a fae gave him, puts on his dark glasses and hurries inside; I get a shopping cart and follow in bemusement. “Please tell me you’re not going to try cooking food again?”
“I bound the foods together just fine,” he says crossly.
“Jello isn’t actually meant to explode. And that was when you could see just fine.” I pause. “Come to think of it, you might do a better job now.”
He sticks his tongue out in my direction at that. He’s getting better at figuring out where bindings are and what is just one person or simply part of them, learning to see the surface bindings rather than depths that probably go far deeper than I’d want to know. “We do this,” he says, grabbing my hand and pulling me to cooked meats, and then through the rest of the store. Two cooked turkeys, rolls, instant coffee, salad, paper plates, cups, cutlery, veggies and a small cake fill the cart. “How much ith that?”
I give him a total and he nods, pulling a small wad of bills from his right pocket and handing them to me. I look at the money, then at him. “Let’s just say I’m going to ask where you got this? Hypothetically, do I want to know the answer?”
“Of courthe,” he says proudly. “I told the fae I needed extra money for gameth! I played a lot of them, but there are less I can play without eyeth that work so we can spend it on this.”
“Okay.” I buy the food and take it out to the van with Jay carrying one bag and beaming happily the entire way. I wait until we’re in the van before looking over. “Not to be nasty, but you care about humans you’re bound with. Me. The magician. People you claim to be bound to on tumblr. So, why?”
“Becauthe I was listening to thtuff about thanksgiving on the radio, and it’th about bindings and how they break down and humans should help each other with bindingth all the time and if we give it in secret we help even more!”
“You want to help them?”
“You help, with exorcisms thometimes and Honcho does all the time with magic and I thought I could too? Please?”
“You don’t have to ask to help people, Jay.”
“That’s not what you thaid when I bound wings to that cat last week,” he mutters.
“All right, you do have to ask.” I reach over and poke his nose gently, moving slow enough that he senses the binding and doesn’t start.
“That means I did good?”
“You did well, yes.”
I drive to the shelter, having Jay give directions again, and insist he brings the food in with me even though he doesn’t want to. Jay hides his true nature from almost anything, and people staring at him is still freaking him out even if they’re just seeing a human kid. Jay is quiet and not quite himself until someone thanks him and he offers up his huge, happy grin and hugs a homeless man tightly.
“We’re friendth,” he says. The man stares down in astonishment and returns the hug.
Jay pulls back after, looking a little puzzled, then hurries over to me and slips his left hand into mine. “We’re okay to go?”
People are getting plates and food, and I nod and head back to the van, waiting until we’re outside Baygrove proper before asking: “You okay?”
“He didn’t want to be friendth,” Jay says softly, “Or for a binding at all. So – so I didn’t do one. Ith that okay? We helped and that was it and they’re happy and – and –.”
I pull the van over, flick on the four-ways. “Jay.”
He sniffs and turns his head toward me. His eyes don’t cry anyone, but the hurt look on his face says everything. “It feelth wrong not to not make a friend.”
I pull his glasses off, undo his seatbelt and pull him over against me, hugging him with both arms. He lets out a yelp, then relaxes into it with a deep, shuddering sigh. “You don’t always need to make a binding to make friends, Jay. They’re going to remember you.”
I wait until he’s hugged out and push him back gently into his seat. “You are hard to forget. And that has nothing to do with your eyes, or lisp. That’s you.” I give him another gently poke in the nose.
“Really?” Her breaks into a grin at that.
“That doesn’t mean we’re doing this every week, but we can when you get more money from the fae than we need, okay?”
He nods to that and pokes his tablet. “We need to find a motel, right?”
“Honcho won’t be with us for – for thankthgiving, but we could call him? And eat turkey?” He hesitates, then adds in a whisper: “Becauthe we’re a family right, even with just us?”
“We can, yes.” I pull back onto the road.
“Charlie? Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, Jay.”
“But – but you thound like you are crying?”
“I am, but I’m okay.”
“Oh. Okay,” he says, and pokes his tablet, asking it for motels near the town and not a single question at all.
“Jay, you know you’re going to be awesome when you grow up, right?”
“I’m awethome already!”
“Yes, but you’re going to be even more awesome. We’ll need to invent a word for it,” I say.
He begins offering suggestions happily for the next five minutes. I veto jaysome.