The explosion rocks the RV slightly, wards humming with discharged energies as I finish making coffee. It says a lot about my life that I pour the coffee into a mug before I consider investigating. Jay, of course, has no such restraint. I turn even as the RV door closes behind him, hear another explosive roar of force and Jay’s yelp of pain.
I scowl, feeling the power of the god within me stirring, and pause long enough to text the wandering magician with ‘where r u?’ before I walk outside. There is no response; he probably has his phone turned off. Or even his phone can’t get a signal in whatever place he had to go to.
There is a Jay-shaped indent in the side of the RV, with Jay is picking himself up off the ground and shaking his head a little. He looks to be eleven but is from Outside the universe. He’s quick, good with bindings, and it seems tough enough to take a bazooka at close range and just get impressive bruising from it.
There are seven people dressed up like movie action heroes in a bad movie. Guns, a second bazooka, grenades. They look like military people trying to be ninjas, but no less dangerous for all of that. Guns go off the moment Jay is standing. The kid stumbles back into the side of the RV. I reach, pull up the god inside it – it comes reluctantly, sensing more danger than I do – and I speak in tones that would terrify gods.
“What are you doing here?”
I’m not a magician, but it gets their attention. Enough that the bazooka is aimed toward me and falling apart into metal components between one moment and the next. The other guns fall apart, bullets and grenades splitting like ripe nuts and Jay is beside me and glaring at them, undoing what binds them together without even trying.
“I came outside to say hi to strangers coming to visit us and they shot me,” he says. His clothing is almost gone, and there is a deep purple bruise on his chest.
“Believe me, I did notice that,” I say dryly.
“And they were going to shoot you and that’s not Jaysome at all. Plus they smell of death and lots of not-nice things,” Jay says firmly.
“Right. Go inside and get changed; if they try anything, you can send them on an adventure.”
Jay nods, and vanishes back into the RV in a blur. I walk toward the soldiers and smile; they fall back a little. “Talk.”
“We came seeking the wandering magician.”
“He’s out, and coming to seek him with weapons is stupid. Even for the government.”
A tall, solid man steps forward. “We are not government. We are the Border Patrol.”
I nod; I’ve had few dealings with them. I know they make the Black Chamber look kind and their method of protecting the earth from forces from Outside is very much ‘kill first and dissect the remains for answers’. I doubt they’re unarmed despite what Jay did. “Magicians don’t need the kind of help you can offer.”
The man stares down at me, his eyes cold and flat. “You will find we can be very persuasive.”
I could use my own power, but they are not gods to be eaten. I think, Jay, and know he hears me through the friendship-bindings we share. He is beside me a moment later, putting his white cane into my hand as he stares up at the border patrol. “Hi! We didn’t meet properly: I’m Jay and we’re friends,” and there is power under the words, a hum of energy as the members of the border patrol turn glass-eyed.
“You have lots of training to resist bindings, but I’m all kinds of good at them,” Jay says. “And you shot me, and that’s not being friendly at all and you were going to hurt Charlie and brought guns to visit Honcho. So you’re not going to hurt us,” and all seven people stagger at the binding Jay lays upon them without even trying.
“Jay,” I say carefully.
“I said we’d be friends in a way that isn’t friends at all,” Jay says, and turns to grin up at me proudly. “I said one thing and meant another and I did it even if it made my head hurt a lot!”
“I –.” I begin and the leader moves, one hand almost as Jay’s neck before he jerks back with shuddering gasp, sweat beading his forehead.
Jay turns back to them, and he’s not smiling at all. “I used friendship as a crack to put a binding on you, but I didn’t have to be that nice at all and –.”
“Delta.” The leader doesn’t move, but behind him one soldier steps back, to the left and there is a void where there were between one moment and the next.
I’ve eaten magic, gods, energy – even that of Outsiders – but until now I’ve never had anything try to eat me. Unpleasant tingling runs through my body and the god inside me is frozen in a moment of shock as whatever was inside the Border Patrol soldier hurls into me. I gather my power, to try and undo an eating, to heal myself, and between one moment and the next the tingling is gone.
“You will not hurt Charlie or Honcho,” Jay says, and his voice is a dark crushing. The soldiers drop to their knees, all six looking as if they’d been sucker punched right in the kidneys.
“Jay,” I say.
Jay stares at the soldiers for a long moment, then is beside me, his left hand in my right, trembling as I squeeze his fingers. “They were going to – to hurt you,” he whispers, “so I didn’t let them but – but I can’t have them not hurt me, since they wouldn’t be them if they couldn’t hurt Outsiders? That isn’t right either,” he continues, a bit louder. “But Honcho said I can’t change people like that, even if they deserve it.”
“I imagine they deserve far worse,” I say quietly as the members of the Border Patrol stand back up. “You seriously came here with weapons to threaten a magician?”
“We did,” the leader says, as though it makes all the sense in the world.
“You can’t break magicians,” I say, “definitely not with guns.”
“We have broken some in our time. To be human is to have weaknesses,” he says, not looking away.
“And you’re here for his help because of yours?”
He nods once. “Our Commander, Logan, is – unwell. His mind has gone around the bend, as some might say. We cannot afford to lose a Commander to madness at this time. The wandering magician is powerful even by our rubric: we were going to compel his aid.”
Jay giggles at that idea. I squeeze his hand tight. “I see.” I glance down at Jay. “Can you fix that?”
Jay thinks it over, then nods and vanishes between one moment and the next.
A man and woman step out of formation toward me, falling back a moment later with small gasps of shock. I just smile; whatever they’ve done to themselves, however they’ve been trained, Jay’s binding isn’t one they’re able to break at all. That it clearly terrifies them adds to the smile.
Jay appears again. “Okay. Logan is better now; his thoughts went into really dark places but I pulled him out with a binding and I didn’t try and make friends with him because I don’t like you people at all!”
The members of the Border Patrol visibly flinch, as though expecting Jay to act, but he just turns and looks at me. “I kinda want ice cream and quiet now, Charlie?”
“All right.” I glance over his head; the Border Patrol members take the hint and back off, vanishing into a pale blue portal after they’re a good half-block away from us.
Jay sniffs. I glance down, and he slams himself against me, head buried into my stomach as he whimpers.
“Honcho is going to be mad at me,” he wails.
I push him away, and crouch down to be even, never mind that he can’t see me. “He might be; I’m not him, so I can’t say. But I’ll stand up for you: you did what you had to, and you protected us.”
“I didn’t make any friends,” Jay says slowly, looking surprised.
“You didn’t. Are you okay with that?”
Jay is quiet for a long moment, teeth digging into his lower lip, then nods. “They aren’t nice at all.”
I close my eyes, glad Jay can’t see my face, and stand, I hand him his cane, and we begin walking down the road. Neither of us say anything, but I get Jay two extra scoops of ice cream as if that can somehow make up for a small loss of innocence.
Given Jay, I can only hope that it does.