Sometimes being a magician is about the simple things. I leave Dana to her duties and just walk the downtown core of a city, letting the magic lead me where it wants, changing the world in small ways. A fight averted here, a vehicle starting there, an illness shaken away over here. I walk and touch the world is small ways, unnoticed by anyone I pass. Sometimes it’s the good you do that no one will ever know that is the best. The problem of being the wandering magician of an age is you attract stories and do things that make more stories and sometimes you just need a break from everything like that.
I walk down run-down streets, put wards on soup kitchens against infestations of insects or inspectors, shore up pipes in buildings. The city has a magician, but few magicians object to aid – there is only so much anyone can do and always things we miss. We are magicians but still human, and humans make errors, mistakes, don’t quite understand what their magic wants from them at times, or we twist it into some form we desire rather than what a situation needs.
My magic is tender to the feel, moving slowly at my will. I gave it to Dana for some hours to air her, and the magic doesn’t know what to make of that. Some days I do not either. We act, and only after do we understand why we acted in the ways we did. And sometimes we make choices our magic would not make, because we are not slaves even to miracles and certainly not to ourselves. Not the usual afternoon thoughts I have, but they’re mine and I just let my thoughts drift, let the magic know what I am thinking. Let the deeper parts of me understand how Dana is helping me.
Everyone uses, and everyone is used. Knowing that makes some things easier. Not all things, but at least some of them.
I’m considering coffee or food as I slip down a side alley when the smell of a hotdog catches my nose. Fried onions and nothing else on it, as I like them, and the smell of fresh coffee. I don’t turn around. There are creatures that lay traps, and I have some enemies that pretend not to be enemies at all. It’s complicated.
“Yes?” I thread no power into my voice; I have wards made from the city around me if I need to use them.
“Honcho?” Jay’s voice is small, cracking a little. He hid himself until now, and this close he can’t hide anything else, the bindings between us humming wildly with terror and fear. Of himself, rather than Charlie, which is almost a relief.
I turn. “Kiddo.”
Jay is holding the hot dog in one hand along with a white cane, the coffee in the other, the boy’s eyes hidden behind dark glasses. I fancy I can still see what look like shattered lightbulbs and falling stars even through the glasses. I just take the hot dog and coffee, bracing myself for a huge grin or hug and pause when neither comes. Jay isn’t trying to strengthen the bindings between us, not even to use them at all.
I eat the hot dog slowly, sip coffee. “You want to get yourself a hot chocolate?”
Jay shakes his head. “Charlie is in the shower, so I went to a between-place and came to talk?”
“And you thought you had to bribe me with food?”
That wins a grin. “Charlie bribes me with it all the time,” he says happily.
I walk over to a couple of stairs behind a closed business and sit. Jay sits beside me, keeping close but not too close. “So. This is the part where you can talk.”
Jay just gulps and looks down at his hands, not moving. I finish my coffee and just wait, being better with silence than Jay is. He manages almost four minutes before looking up toward me. “There was this scared kid and I couldn’t hug him or do bindings to help and he was going to get hurt so I had to help him and I showed him I wasn’t human at all,” he gets out in a rush, his lisp almost entirely gone from his voice.
“You are tough; you hit yourself with a knife and it broke?” I ask, since Jay could do a lot of things to show he wasn’t human. He hides his nature so well sometimes even I forget he’s not human, but this doesn’t feel like that at all.
Jay shakes his head, biting into his lower lip.
I reach over and gently pull his lip free of his teeth. “Show me?”
“I can’t –.” Jay lets out a low whine, voice cracking wildly.
“Show me,” I say, using the bindings between us and my own nature to demand an answer and Jay lets out a gasp of relief at the command, at the order, and –
the sound is a burst of white noise hammering the eyes
shadow a silhouette burning from the inside out
there is a sound pretending to be clockwork
cloud roiling as the world shuddering trembles
peeling inside out upside naywards inside in
I blink as Jay shudders all over and picks up his cane. It takes him two tries and the kid is trembling all over in terror. I remain seated as Jay just stares at me, terror radiating from him in waves, his hands white knuckled on his cane.
“That’s new,” I say. Jay just goes prey-still, not moving at all. “At least your clothing comes back from that. You feel okay?” Jay shakes his head minutely. “I imagine you want to do it again.”
His eyes grow wide behind his glasses.
“You want to, but you’re scared to,” I say as gently as I know how. “Because whatever you become, it feels – more normal than being Jay. More natural. You’ve changed since entering the universe; I’ve altered you, friendships have altered you, you’ve altered me and definitely Charlie,” I say the last so dryly Jay can’t help but grin at it. “But being Jay is only part of what you are. It doesn’t mean you can’t still be Jay.”
“I know that,” he says crossly.
“You’re worried Charlie will treat you differently.” I don’t say he was worried I might; Jay won’t dare admit that to himself. He does nod, looking away. “She might. Change is never easy, Jay. Bindings alter when we change that can never go back to where they were, not if the change is to have any meaning. Before I had the magic, I was a kid like any other.”
Jay snorts at that idea, but does at least look back at me.
“I was, and an old man down the road was dying of cancer. He made peace with the pain, with his wife, his children. And his neighbours and his friends. In the month he had, he did all of that, even with me over the time I’d broke a window in his house with a baseball and I asked if the stories were true about him being enlightened, because he’d fixed so much in his life and those of his friends that people were calling it that. And he said yes. He said he had done things he never thought he could, set aside his ego and healed wounds he’d never thought he could, in himself and in others. But he also said that, if he could do it over, he’d rather have never had the cancer.
“Change, even good change, isn’t something welcomed or sought. You can’t expect Charlie to not be shocked if you’re forced to – do that – in front of her. Especially if you don’t warn her about it at all.”
Jay blushes at that. I stand and hold out a hand, and he flings himself into me, trembling violently in the hug I offer him. “Honcho,” he whispers, and there is so much need and loss in that word that it takes everything I am not to react to it.
“Kiddo,” I say, and finish the hug gently. “You need to get back and check on Charlie.”
“But –. But –,” he says, his face a naked yearning.
“I can’t travel with you right now,” I say softly. “And not just because I’m the reason you can’t see. Or because you did that,” which wins a surprised giggle. “I would keep using you Jay, and it’s not fair to either of us if I do do. Travel with Charlie. Keep her safe, let her keep you safe. You’re scared of me sometimes, kiddo: it’s okay if Charlie is scared of you sometimes as well.”
“But I don’t want her to be,” he mumbles.
“I know. But you can’t force her not to be, and she will be even more angry if you try – or if you hide things from her when you shouldn’t. So, go.”
Jay moves somewhere sideways from the world, vanishing entirely. I probe the alley gently, but the world seems to have healed from the strain of trying to cope with what Jay was for a moment. I walk out to the nearest coffee shop for another coffee, and wonder if Jay realized that all he was doing was putting on the clothing of what he might one day become, that it was just echoes of what might be and nothing else at all. I didn’t think so, and I was pretty certain he’d be terrified of himself if he knew that.
I drink coffee, because if I go to a bar one drink will become six in my current mood. I get a second coffee and just walk the city, not using magic at all this time. Just walking, losing myself in movement and wondering if Jay was strong enough to bear the truth of what he was – or if I was just too scared to tell him what I suspected for fear I’d make it come true.