Morning Talk (I)
The coffee shop I have left Jay in isn’t much to speak of, but they make a good hot chocolate and he’s quite happy to drink that while I go for a walk. At least, that is as much as I tell him I’m doing but it’s always hard to know how much he knows beyond that: when you see the world in terms of bindings, sometimes things make a different kind of sense than they do to humans. That’s what I tell myself when the kid does really odd things like being convinced that exploding a microwave is a valid alarm clock.
I know the wandering magician spends little time on the intenet, but someday I really need to sit him down and discuss my theory that Jay’s entire existence is built on trolling us.
I walk down a couple of side streets in another small city of too many small cities in as many days and make a phone call. No one answers the call, but I am used to that. I let it ring four times, hang up and spend a few minutes window-shopping, which here means mostly studying the works of various local graffiti artists. The man who steps out of a shop doorway to walk beside me is thin and tall, with cool eyes, severe clothing and a face made to be ignored in a crowd. I’ve got used to spotting the forms fae take when they use glamour to appear human, which means some day soon I’m likely to run into a fae who doesn’t bother with their usual glamours of being dull and boring.
Fae glamour, as Jay explains it, are bindings that trick reality itself into believing them. If magic is like a cheat code for the universe, then what I do as a god-eater is probably code debugging; the fae are more akin to a massive overhaul of coding every time they act. Which might be why they delegate some of their bureaucratic work of checking in on various Outsiders and monsters who have made arrangements with the fae to people like me. Also because they are far, far behind in doing this job as I understand it – many of them simply didn’t believe that any creature would try and get out of the deals made with the fae. To be fair, in at least 80% of the cases they’ve been right.
“God eater.” The fae nods briskly as he falls into step, mirroring my pace perfectly. “You have news about the djinn we asked you to look into?”
“Mmm. She was doing the whole ‘answer wishes but be an utter dick about it’ method of being a genie, which I’ve never understood. If I was trapped inside a container for years I’d want people to let me out, not to realize I was probably going to screw them over and close it up again.”
“Most humans do not do so,” the fae says almost dryly. “They know the story, but they think themselves to be the exception to it.”
“Point.” I keep walking, moving further away from Jay to be on the safe side. “We ended up putting the vessel into a trash compactor and Jay bound her into it; turns out a pissed off genie let loose is too damn big for a god eater to eat, at least not fast enough to have stopped her from doing some serious damage. We dealt with it, yes, but we’re going to need an increase in the pay you are offering to do such things.”
“Most would ask the fae for payment in things other than coin.”
“And we all know where that leads.”
“Yes. Yes, you do.”
I pause, wondering if fae started up the myth of fairy gold and the like just to avoid paying gold, but just say: “I can’t keep risking Jay being hurt like this. I am supposed to be looking after him and two days ago he was eaten by an ogre – who spat him out, but even so. At some point we are going to run into something Jay and I can’t handle. If the wandering magician were here, he could probably step in: but he’s not and I don’t have illusions about what I am capable of if Jay can’t bind a threat.”
“You wish to need less assignments from us so that the Outsider is in less danger?”
“Put bluntly, yes. If that doesn’t work, different assignments. Please.”
The fae is quiet for almost a minute. Considering options, communing with other fae? I’ve no idea, but it finally nods slowly. “You are aware that they are few things in this world that can truly harm the creature you call Jay, yes?”
I bite back a reply that won’t win me friends at the best of times. “Jay is blind thanks to a situation involving a former magician murdering your kind for power. That is more than enough of ‘very few things’ for anyone’s lifetime, don’t you think?”
“Perhaps so.” The fae offers up a thin smile. “We accept this agreement.”
“Just like that?”
I nod. I’m pretty sure this is somehow a trap, but the last thing I want is for Jay to get hurt on my watch. And I’m tired, so tired of having to use him to fix situations I can’t, for throwing him into danger he doesn’t even consider getting offended over. I can’t call the kid a friend and keep using him. And so I shake the fae’s hand and walk back toward the coffee shop.
I can’t shake the feeling the fae is smiling behind me. I resist the urge to turn around, mostly because I’m afraid I’ll lose my temper and find out if I can eat one of the fae. It hasn’t come to that yet and for all our sakes I’m hoping it never does.
Morning Talk (II)
Charlie has gone walking, all hiding things from me but given all the fun we’ve had lately I figure she might be calling Honcho – and maybe to complain about the fun, but I’m not sure. I could be sure, but I’m pretty certain Charlie wouldn’t like that so I just tap out a query on my tablet and wait because I’m a lot better at waiting than Charlie.
There is murmuring near the door, different than the staff complaining about Charlie leaving me alone in their coffee shop and I’m trying to be good so I haven’t told them that just because I can’t see doesn’t mean I can’t hear. Or just loudly telling them I’m going to be some kind of problem – even if Charlie probably would laugh at the idea of me not being a problem some days. The whispers of people are disbelief and awe a little and whoever is coming in has the kind of bindings that fae do, all deep and foggy at the same time.
The fae comes over and sits across from me. “You rang?” The voice is female, soft and amused.
“Yup! I wanted to have a whole conversation in private, but people are staring at us.”
“Well, my glamour is perhaps as young as you. Pale skin, red hair in a spiked mohawk and bright blue eyes. I am worth staring at,” the fae says as a statement of fact, and their hand is over mine, the squeeze light before they let go. There is no binding at all in the touch. “Now people will think we’re dating.”
I cock my head to the side, because there is a binding lurking under the words. “You want to date me?”
“Should I not?” the fae asks, and I can feel the wicked smile that sets whispers into deep murmurs among the people here.
“Fae don’t do that. You don’t let yourselves fall into traps like relationships.” I pause, and reach out with my senses, pressing me wider into the world. The fae recoils a moment in shock, but it’s enough for me to be really sure it is a fae. “And if you are, that means you’re all broken.”
“Broken.” The fae’s voice is low and ugly.
“Well, other fae would say that! I wouldn’t because I’m all kinds of cute so wanting to date me just makes sense,” I say, because I am quite a smart Jay. “But I kind of don’t want a date right now. Charlie just wants more money when we help your kind I think, but I’d like to get favours too!”
“Favours to what end?”
“I don’t know yet.” And I don’t, but it feels important to have them. “Charlie could get hurt and there’s some hurts bindings can’t fix. Things like that, maybe. I could do favours for you,” I offer.
“No.” The fae almost shouts the word, and there is fear under it but I’m pretty sure they don’t know about me and microwaves at all. Plus it was only six of them.
“Favours are bindings; I’m good for bindings,” I say a bit crossly.
“We know.” The fae is no longer smiling and has moved back; we’re definitely not dating anymore. “We see deeper than magicians and wider than gods, Outsider. There are those who among our kind who think we should have no relations with you at all.”
“That’s pretty mean.” I pout, to make sure the fae knows they are being mean. “I haven’t even told Honcho what you are or nothing!”
“You think you know what we are?”
“Hello? I’m a Jay,” I say, which doesn’t make them not-scared at all, so I tell them what I know after, quiet and simple because Jay Facts can be like weapons too.
The silence that follows that is like a Charlie-silence when I do something bad. “We see.” The fae stands. “We will consider this matter and get back to you.”
And there are other fae staring out of this one, and they are really old and definitely don’t want dates at all in ever. “Okay,” I say, pretending I haven’t sensed them all and I get another hot chocolate when they leave and get extra marshmallows by asking really nicely. And I drink it all up and get two more because they are nice and warm and I’m a few kinds of scared because I’m maybe keeping secrets from Honcho and Charlie and it might be because the fae would have to kill them if I told them what I know but I don’t like doing it at all.
The fae text back the word yes. And nothing else. I hear a fire engine across the road, but I’m almost really sure it’s not my fault!