In the mirror, my reflection has a beard. I’ve never had one, for all sorts of reasons, but mostly because too man fictional magicians have them. Not having one saves on some confusion and ridicule, at least sometimes, though I once did magic in front of a boy who flatly refused to admit it was real magic because I didn’t have a beard. The power of stories to narrate truth is terrifying, if one thinks about it too hard.
I finish combing my hair. My reflection follows suit, but his eyes never leave mine. They burn, glittering with power and potential.
“Are you an offering or a trap today?”
The magic smiles at that. “Am I never both, magician?”
“Sometimes. Perhaps. We don’t talk often enough for me to be sure.” Dana isn’t in the hotel room, but I pull the desire for privacy in the hotel about me, using it to ward the door against intrusion.
“So casual. Do you know how many magicians have their magic speak to them?”
“Too many?” His expression is unreadable. “Not enough,” I add after a pause.
The danger of power is the having of it, of knowing you have it, needing others to know you have it. My magic speaks softer than I have in years, his voice hesitant, scared in ways I never let others know me. “You’ve been thinking too often about it.”
No need to ask what. There is only one it between us. I want to look away, so I don’t. “I’ve been a magician for over ten years, walked the world of small miracles, made ones that are not small. I have wandered, and I have acted, and magic does nothing that does not demand a price. To change people, even – especially – for a good cause. We have done things.”
“We have done good,” he says sharply.
“I know. I was there.” That wins no smile. “But we’ve accumulated debts, more than a single lifetime can repay. Imagine if reincarnation happens, of what I am doing to every incarnation that would come after me. I have done too many things that I can never pay back.”
The magic is quiet, then says: “Perhaps it has been paid, to bring you to this point? No one ever said reincarnation must be serial. Every life before and after could be about these moments, the choices we make now.”
He smiles shyly. “I do not wish to lose you.”
“I know. But when I talk to friends, I see what I have done to them. Charlie would have a life in the normal world, had I not come into hers.”
“And Jay would long ago have been destroyed.”
“You think those balance?”
And my magic looks away. “I do not know. I think, magician, that we worry too much, that balance is not as important as you imagine. The universe would not have life, if there was balance. Life arises from imperfections: that is a lesson of magic.”
“You teach yourself lessons?”
“Sometimes I think so.” My reflection looks back at me, biting into his lower lip. His eyes are almost my eyes, for a moment, as if the magic forgets it is magic. “I don’t want to go. Not like this. Not being forgotten. Set aside. Lost.”
“I know. I’m just – some days I’m too damned tired,” I say, and there is nothing of being a magician in my voice as I run my hands over my face. When I look back, my reflection is only mine again. I have no idea what to do, less of what I could say. You can’t be a magician and burn out, not without turning into something terrible.