Monday, April 13, 2015

Drunk Talking

There are four cans on the bar, each as empty as a dream. No one is sitting near him, even the bartender only approaching to dart in with another drink before hurrying to other customers as quickly as she can. They don't know. They're not looking. No one sees the fifth can of cheap beer open without the magician touching it. He drinks alcohol, not looking at me, and everyone in the room keeps a distance. Nothing has happened, no, but sometimes people have better instincts than they credit themselves with.

“Fae.” He doesn't look back, lends the word ugly undertones I thought we'd moved beyond.

“I have a name.”

He looks back, and for a moment there is something harsh and cold in his face that pushes me back a step, the edges of a knowing, the hints of hidden truths. “So you do,” he says, and has another gulp of beer. “Pick a poison. I'm paying.”

“You should not be doing this. You are hurting Jay,” I add, softer still.

“That is all I do. The truth of it, be all, end all, that.” He gulps half the beer in one go, fingers and voice a study in calm. “That he allows it, the theft of his power, of use his nature: it doesn't change the facts.”

I sit down beside him, ordering nothing. “Jay is not human.”

“Neither are you. Would you like it if I used you,” he says, and magic burns in the back of his voice, power humming in the air.

“I am fae. We are beyond your magic.”

“Magic.” The bartender brings another beer, as though called by the word. Again, it opens without being touched. “Heh. You ever wonder why that is, fae? Magic is the universe responding to having to die, the fight against it. The refusal. To bind, to banish creatures from Outside, to refute them, deny them entrance into the Universe. Magic is about where we draw the line, how far the universe will let it self be pushed around. So I wonder why fae are beyond that, if they are within the universe. Glamour on yourselves is the easy answer. Tell a lie often enough and it can become true. Say you’re Dana often enough, and how much of you is fae, how much a woman named Dana? Wear clothing long enough and you never take it off.

“Being a magician isn’t a choice,” he continues, but he is drinking his beer slower, staring at some outward demons rather than inward ones. “You don’t decide to be one; you don’t stop being one, even if you throw the magic away. Her name was Kate, the girl pulled half-Outside the universe. She wasn’t a magician yet, but she always was one. I gave her a choice, and she didn’t choose magic, so I sealed the knowing inside her. It’ll come out, in its own time. We all want too deeply for it not to come out. Everyone wants power, expecting to choose their own destiny if they have enough.

“I could have used her magic and forced a way out of that place, but not without damaging the universe around it. Damned things inside that place didn’t even know what they were, never mind what they wanted Kate for. Binding them with Jay’s name was my best option. Jay would agree, if he’d been there. He wasn’t. I didn’t ask. I merely used his name, did a terrible binding, freed the girl and we left. She’ll be fine, until she has to be more than that. Until she can’t hide anymore. And Jay would want that. It was the best binding, the best choice. I saved Kate, I saved myself, I hurt Jay.”

“If you had not saved yourself, you would have hurt him more.” I offer the truth up as gently as I can.

He turns his head slowly and meets my gaze. I am fae, and we are old, and I am old and terrible in my nature, but even so it is an effort to meet what I see in his face. There is nothing so dangerous as a magician without masks. I think someone told me that, once. “It was the best choice to make,” he says in that same terrible, gentle calm. “I did the right thing, Dana, for all the right reasons, and I hate myself for that more than you can dare to know.”

“You are hurting Jay more, with this,” I say, and my voice is barely calm at all.

“There’s nothing I can do except hurt him. Nothing at all.” He gulps back the last of the beer with a shudder. “Magic answers need. Magic responds to desire, is the poem the world becomes when it has to be and all I have and all I am can’t manage to not hurt him. Jay is bound to me, and I cannot break those bindings – I doubt he would even let them break – and I am not strong enough to hurt him and not hurt myself as well. I’m not that good at being a bastard, not that good at being a monster at all.”

“None of us are,” I say, and his name after that. “We are all echoes, even fae, of so much more than we can ever dare to be.”

“Jay isn’t. And every time I use him, every moment I hurt him, I pull him one step closer toward learning that. Everyone thinks they know what he is, and they are so wrong, so very wrong.”

“And you do not think the same is true of yourself?” I ask.

The magician blinks, and for a moment I catch that hint, something more than an echo. For a moment I think he might know his own destiny, but the moment is gone as he stands, swaying. He could remove the drink from himself with magic in a hundred ways; he uses none of them and walks outside. I pay for the beer and follow after a time.

He is back in the motel room, sleeping. There is an old oak tree near the motel, and he poured everything that was breaking into it. I shudder slightly as I pass the tree, feeling things taking root under it. I want to say something to the tree, to him, to the world, and I cannot find anything in me at all. The magician speaks and calls himself a coward, but I keep silent, and my silence is a deeper cowardice than any he may ever know.

“You poor, poor man,” I whisper softly as he sleeps. “Jay burns like a nova and you forget you are a sun. You have your own destiny, and you walk toward it with every step you try to save Jay from his own.” And I hold back other words, and I do not tell him I am sorry, and I do not tell him my name before I was Dana, and I wonder if I hate him, and I walk outside.

I remember when he burned me to death.

I remember when the magician killed me.

And I wonder if there can be any forgiveness, on any side of the grave.

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