Happy New Year! May your year ahead be filled with magic.
Stay the Night
It was going to be weird. Amethyst hadn’t thought about that part when she suggested that Jas stay with her. But she thought about it now, remembering how strange it had felt when he’d opened her coat closet for her coat.
He’d gone home to change and pack a few things. She’d gone to Scarpa’s for dinner, where she picked up a primavera pizza, spinach salad and an apple tart for dessert.
Amethyst pulled up Flint. The modest little houses looked cozy, windows glowing with warm light, winter-bare landscaping sketched in charcoal lines in the orangey light of streetlights. One house still stubbornly sported Christmas lights. She crested the little hill where she could see her house ahead on the right.
Jas’ Range Rover Evoque was already parked in the driveway. Her stomach did a funny little flip, not sure whether to be relieved or nervous. Although the nervousness might be from wondering where Balgaire could be.
She sent a flick of magic ahead to open the garage door and disarm her wards. The Range Rover’s lights came on and it pulled into her garage, a tight fit in the single-car space. Amethyst pulled her Outback onto the driveway behind it, gathered up the pizza box and the bags containing the rest of the food and opened the rear door with another magical nudge. Caramela bounded out and trotted into the garage.
Jas was pulling an oversized duffle from the backseat. This time Caramela gave him a sniff and a cautious wag. Jas patted her, slung the bag over his shoulder and slammed the door.
He raised a brow. “I assume you knew it was me.”
“It’s your—” She stopped. “Oh. The car might’ve been under illusion.” She turned to close the garage door to cover her embarrassment. It went down with considerably less rattling than her old one had. “Well, I’d sense an illusion, anyway,” she grumbled.
“If you’re looking for one, yes.”
This time he raised both brows, maybe waiting for her to tell him she had been looking. She only met his gaze, daring him to ask. He didn’t.
“If you don’t already have a ward in place against illusion, I’d recommend you add one.” He took the pizza box from her. “I certainly have.”
She grinned. “I bet. How far down the street does it extend?”
“That,” he said, “is privileged information.”
To torment him, she’d created the illusion of a loud party at his house a couple of months ago. The neighbors had called the Party Patrol and everything. His retaliation was telling Mama that they were getting married.
“You don’t trust me,” she said. “I’m hurt.” She flipped on an outside light and opened the side door to the garage. “But since you mention it…”
She stepped outside. Jas set the pizza box on top of his car (coincidentally out of Caramela’s reach), followed her through the side gate and down to the sidewalk. She stood thinking a moment, riffling through the second-hand spells in her mind, then found one that would work.
Amethyst knelt by the curb. With her finger, she drew a rune, a straight line with three lines branching off of it. It glowed an eerie purple for a moment, almost beyond the range of vision, then seemed to sink into the surface of the concrete.
Jas watched her. “That,” he said, “is an old, old spell.”
“I’m supposed to use a rowan wand to draw the runes, since rowan is a protection against enchantment. But I figured out that most stuff like that is just symbolism. All I really need is the right intent to set the magic.” She stood, moved to the opposite corner of her property and marked the same lines. “And my intent here is to see the truth.”
“You seem to favor old spells, from some of the magic I’ve seen you work.”
Setting another rune into her driveway, she shrugged. “It seems a lot of wizards don’t recognize the old magic, so it’s harder to counterspell.”
She moved to the opposite side of the driveway, then to her front walk, Jas drifting behind. Finishing one last rune, she stood and dusted off her hands. “I’m hungry now. Let’s eat.”
It was back into the garage then to collect the food and Jas’ bag.
He put the pizza box on the dining room table and his duffle on a chair. Unzipping it, he extracted a bottle of wine and set it next to the pizza.
“I thought this might go well with dinner.” He zipped up the bag again and picked it up. “Where shall I put this?”
Leaving the plates and bowls she’d taken down, she led the way into the living room and down the hall. The nervousness was back.
Oh, come on, she told herself. This was your idea.
Besides, the thought of Jas in her guest bedroom was a lot more appealing than lying awake with wizard’s senses strained for someone using magic.
She turned on the light in the bedroom across from hers. “Here it is.”
The room was furnished with a Craftsman-style futon, an oak dresser and nightstand, and a wrought iron lamp with a stained glass shade. The shade was her handiwork and echoed the red and cream and tan pillows on the futon and the small Navajo rug on the wall. Probably a long way from the style Jas was used to.
Jas came to stand beside her. “It’s nice. It looks like I’ll be comfortable.”
She ducked her head. “The hall bath is yours, too.”
He left his duffle on the floor and followed her back into the kitchen.
She got out cutlery and napkins, trying to figure out why this felt so strange. Maybe because she’d wanted to slow things down, and here she was, having him stay with her. One more barrier falling she wasn’t sure she was ready to let go.
Oh, well. Too late for that now.
“Your glasses are here, is that right?” Jas said behind her, opening a cabinet door.
She was amazed he remembered. When had he last seen them? A year ago? Certainly when Talys was still with her—she remembered him getting them down.
He took the glasses, hand-blown in garnet and purple, to the table and poured wine.
She finally found herself relaxing at dinner. The wine might’ve helped, but the fact was that it was nice to have the company. After they’d demolished everything (wizards actively using magic tended to eat a lot), she got up to clear the table. Jas stood, too, taking his plate and bowl and silverware to the sink and rinsing them.
“You don’t have to do that,” she said. “Go sit down. You’re a guest, and guests don’t do their own dishes.”
He glanced at her and she instantly realized how it sounded: You’re a guest. Nothing more.
And dammitall, wasn’t that what she intended? That was why—hello!—he was staying in the guest bedroom.
She backpedaled anyway. “I mean, you’re already doing me a favor just being here.”
He opened the dishwasher and put the things in. “I don’t expect you to wait on me, Amethyst.”
“Huh. I thought women always waited on men way-back-when.”
“This isn’t way-back-when.” He straightened. “Do you want to wait on me?”
There was something different in him. She suddenly realized she’d been seeing that difference since the party, but hadn’t noticed it. The old, smooth charm was absent.
It shook her. He was showing her glimpses of himself, of the real Jas Harker. Earlier this afternoon, she’d seen real worry. Now, he was uncertain—maybe not sure what she expected of him while he stayed in her home. It made her warm to him more than the charm ever had.
She realized she still hadn’t answered his question. She pursed her lips as if the long pause had only been for the appropriate answer.
“Maybe for tonight. After that, we’ll see how it goes.”
He nodded, and the uncertainty went away. “We’ll make the bed, first. It’s much easier with two.”
“Okay,” she agreed. “Besides, that futon is a bear to make into a bed by myself.”
She started toward the bedroom, Jas following after.
“I’ve seen you make a desk into a bear,” he said, “but you’re right. Making a bear into a bed might indeed require help.”
She looked back, frowning, wondering what the hell he was talking about. At the little quirk of his lips, she got it.
In the middle of the hall, she turned and planted fists on hips. “What did I do to deserve a joke that bad?”
“I thought it was rather clever.”
She sniffed and opened the linen closet, taking out sheets and pillows. “Did you hear the one about the new corduroy pillows?”
He glanced down at the pillows she handed him, which were, of course, not corduroy. “No,” he said warily.
“They’re making headlines.” She continued to the bedroom, smirking.
In three, two, one…
Trading bad jokes while they made the bed made the task much less awkward than she’d been afraid it would be. When he stooped to knock-knock jokes, she decided to torment him.
“I’ll just go slip into something…more comfortable.”
The look on his face as she stepped into her bedroom and shut the door was priceless.
When she returned to the living room, Amethyst struck a pose in the doorway, hand on hip.
She wore sweats, purple slippers and a Proud Pitbull Mom jersey. Jas, wearing an old, faded, very comfortable-looking pair of jeans and a green plaid flannel shirt, looked her up and down.
He sent her a smoldering look. “Be still my heart.”
She gave her hair an exaggerated flip and sashayed to the pellet stove to start a fire. Caramela flopped down on her bed by the stove, gave a groaning sigh, and put her chin on her paws.
The whole situation might’ve been unbearably fraught. How was it that they’d managed to find a way to make it comfortable, without ever saying a word about it?
Amethyst settled on the sofa and curled her feet under her. It was strange. She liked seeing Jas in the chair, his socked feet crossed at the ankle on the ottoman, a glass of wine in his hand. And…
She could almost imagine being with him. Almost.
No, better not think about that. If she thought about that, she might think about snuggling with him on the couch, and then maybe kissing him, and then—
No. She couldn’t think that way about Jas. Well, she could, but not with him staying in her house while they staked out a wizard of unknown intentions. Things were already complicated and confusing enough between them without adding sex. The complicated and confusing part needed to get straightened out first.
“So, what do you usually do in the evenings when you’re at home?” Jas asked.
“Work, read, stream something on TV. Have people over sometimes. What about you?”
He took a sip of wine. “Much the same.”
It sounded so ordinary she almost laughed.
Then he added, “When the one who hunted us was alive, I’d ride the magic, searching for signs of him.” He took another sip. “That’s how I found you. You lit up the sky like a fireball. What did you do, the first time you used your power?”
“This,” she said, gesturing at the stained glass panel that took up most of one living room wall.
It was a forest scene, trees and ferns overhanging a stream and waterfall. It seemed to be illuminated by lights set behind it. It wasn’t.
Jas stared hard at her as if trying to decide if she were joking, turned to study the panel, then back to her.
“This was your first attempt at magic?”
“Actually,” she said, “it was my attempt to prove I couldn’t do magic.”
He stood, put his glass on the coffee table and crossed to the panel. “Good God, Amethyst. I’ve looked at this before, but I never realized it was your first effort.”
She squirmed a little. “Well, I’d wanted to make that window for a while. I had the design pretty well in my head. I figured if I could really do magic, stained glass would be the easiest thing to try it on.”
He traced a solder line with a fingertip. “And the light?”
“I don’t know where the light comes from. Of course, I imagined the way the panel would look lit from behind, and that’s how it came out.”
“And you didn’t even believe you could do it.” He shook his head then considered her. “You surprised me when I met you. I expected you to be much younger. Most wizards are when they first come into their power. It seems odd that yours came so late, particularly when your great-grandmother had power of her own. She must’ve realized you had potential.”
“She did. Nani started teaching me when I was…oh, eight or nine, I guess. I hardly remember most of it. The uses of different herbs. How to close your eyes and see everything around you. How to reach inside yourself and touch your power.” She cocked her head. “I did some of that when I created the panel.”
He sat down on the ottoman, leaning toward her. “But when I met you, it seemed you were trying very hard to deny your wizardry. And just now you said you were trying to prove you couldn’t work the magic.”
Amethyst swirled her wine, watching it spin in the glass. It was suddenly hard to talk. She took a sip.
“It’s…probably not very interesting,” she said.
“I don’t mind listening, if you don’t mind talking about it.”
She nodded to buy herself a little time. She hadn’t talked about it to anybody—Mama, Dad, certainly not the counselor they sent her to after Nani died.
“I was closer to Nani than to anyone else in the family. When she died, I…didn’t take it well.” Into Jas’ waiting silence, she said, “There was a year where I don’t remember much.”
“How old were you?”
“That’s a vulnerable age for anyone, much less a wizard. With your powers stirring, in addition to all the other changes taking place…” He gave his head a grim shake. “A bad, bad time to lose your teacher.”
The tension, the echo of old grief faded. All these years she’d thought there must be something seriously wrong with her to have fallen apart the way she had.
She remembered she was supposed to be explaining why she was pushing thirty before she realized she was a wizard.
“I don’t know what happened, but Nani knew something bad was going on. She was working protective magic on both of us. I don’t remember spells, but she taught me…I don’t know. Something like camouflage, I guess. I’d close my eyes and pretend to blend in to whatever was around. Shadows, grass, furniture, whatever.”
“That would help hide a wizard-child,” Jas said. “Like a fawn lying still on the forest floor.”
“Probably. And she told me if I ever heard of el encantador, a magician, stay away from him. And don’t let him find out I could work the magic.”
“Interesting,” he said. “I wonder what she saw or heard. Possibly the same things I did—magic-wielders of all degrees vanishing, from those with only a single talent to full-blown wizards. That would be consistent with her warning to you.”
“I wish—” Amethyst stopped, shook her head and pushed out a breath. “I was the one who found her. When I came in that day, the house reeked of magic, so thick it burned. I saw the look on her face. I knew whatever—whoever—she’d been afraid of had found her.”
She took another sip. “I must’ve been in bad shape after that. I don’t really remember. My parents took me out of school and Mama homeschooled me. When I was able to think about it again, I decided if magic couldn’t save Nani, what use was it? Pretty soon I convinced myself that magic must not exist at all.” She shrugged. “Up until around the time you met me, I was living my life just like everybody else, never even thinking about magic.”
“Yes, I can see why you’d want to deny your magical heritage. And run from the slightest whiff of magic.” Jas stared down into his own glass. “I was about to say if I’d found you then, I’d have taken the two of you under my protection. But the only way I could protect even myself in those days was to hide as thoroughly as I could. But I wonder…” he mused. “How might it have been if I’d taken you as an apprentice? Taught you what your great-grandmother couldn’t.”
“Jas! That’s just weird.”
He looked up. “But I didn’t apprentice you. And I didn’t know you as a child.”
“Yeah, well, good thing.”
He smiled. “Yes. A very good thing.” He leaned back on an elbow. “What finally prompted you to use magic?”
She laughed, but it wasn’t funny at all. “Talys showed up and announced that he was my familiar. It didn’t help that he was inhabiting a car at the time. I figured I had to be going crazy, because despite what my superstitious great-grandmother had believed, we all know there’s no such thing as magic.”
“Of course not.”
“So I went to see a shrink. Guess who that turned out to be?”
Jas looked puzzled for a moment. She could see when the answer hit him.
“The hunter? The one draining wizards of their power?” he said.
“Of course, I only knew him as the therapist who specialized in the treatment of delusional patients.”
He gave a low whistle. “Clever.”
“Talys thought so, too. He—Talys, that is—knew there was a problem, that wizards had been disappearing, but not how or why. I didn’t know there was a problem. Other than a couple of whack jobs were trying to convince me that I was a wizard.”
Jas gave a short laugh. “So you decided to prove them wrong.”
“And got this big, beautiful stained glass panel on my living room wall to explain to friends and family.”
“That must’ve been interesting.”
“That’s one word for it.”
They sat watching the fire a few minutes. Caramela lay with her head to the side and the tip of her tongue slipping in and out in some dream.
“If I’d been honest with you then,” Jas said, “if I’d told you I was a wizard, you still wouldn’t have wanted anything to do with me.”
“Although I could’ve helped and taught you.”
She snorted. “Jas, Talys offered to teach me. Korhonen, the wizard-slash-therapist, offered to teach me. I locked Talys in a storage unit, told Korhonen ‘thanks, but no thanks’ and ran as fast as I could.”
Jas nodded. “Then I’m glad I didn’t tell you what I was. I’d never have had the chance to get to know you.”
Amethyst blinked. The whole world fell out from under her.
“I guess…” her voice came out in a whisper. She cleared her throat. “I guess that’s right.”
He studied her a long moment. “Would you have been better off not knowing me?”
She looked down into her glass again. It was empty. She abruptly stood. “I’ll get us more wine.”
“Amethyst?” he said behind her.
She stopped in the kitchen doorway, but didn’t turn. “No,” she said to the kitchen. “I don’t think I’d’ve been better off.”
She escaped into the kitchen. She wanted to put her head down on the counter until her thoughts and emotions stopped flailing, but didn’t want to take the chance of Jas catching her like that.
She moved around the kitchen with no idea of what she was doing. She’d spent a long time hating Jas for what he’d done, even longer being angry at him. Had it all been for nothing?
Well, no. Not for nothing. That binding had been a little more than lying about what he was.
But as if someone had turned on a light in a dark room full of scary shadows, she could suddenly see how Jas, wily as he was, might’ve boxed himself into doing something like that. Living for decades in hiding, losing at least one child to the predator, forced to avoid using most of his power, he must’ve been scared and desperate. And here came another wizard who might be an ally, who might stand with him…but she didn’t want anything to do with magic.
The realization didn’t make what he’d done excusable. But it made it more forgivable.
She looked down at the countertop. Ranged across it were a mug, two juice glasses, two tins of tea and a zester. Her kettle sat in the sink, overflowing under the tap. She turned off the water, gathering that at some level, she’d meant to make tea despite coming into the kitchen for the wine. She headed for the dining room table for the bottle.
“Amethyst,” Jas called from the living room. “We have company.”
Abandoning the wine, she made a U-turn. Jas stood in front of the ottoman, staring down into his wine glass once more. Amethyst glanced automatically at the front door. For an instant, she wondered why he was looking into his glass and not out the window, then she realized he was scrying
She walked over. She had to stand close to see into the glass, close enough that her hair brushed Jas’ shoulder. As she looked into the dark, reflective surface of the wine, his hand came to rest lightly on the small of her back. Watching the image of Balgaire walking Heather to her front door, she barely noticed.
“I thought you couldn’t scry other wizards,” she said.
“You can if they aren’t warded.” He slanted her a look. “Or if someone has placed a spell of true-seeing in their vicinity.”
“Cool,” she said, pleased with herself. That was the problem with knowing spells but not necessarily knowing their practical applications. But every once in a while, she got it right. “Wanna place bets on whether or not she invites him in?”
“I’d rather bet on whether or not he goes in.”
She made a skeptical face.
“Watch,” he said.
The image was tiny, shivering a bit with ripples in the wine, but she was still able to see Balgaire and Heather on Heather’s front porch, apparently talking. Amethyst tapped the glass.
“Where’s the audio on this thing?”
“Under the circumstances, I didn’t bother.” The hand on her back gave two quick taps. “And you’re ruining the video.”
It was obvious that Heather was really laying it on. She stood close to Balgaire, a hand on his arm. He shook his head, touched her cheek and stepped back. The vibe was still friendly as they exchanged a few more words, then Heather opened her front door and went inside. Balgaire waited until the door shut, then strode back down the walk. Judging from the spring in his step, he was pleased. Just before he reached his flashy Cadillac, he turned to face Amethyst’s house.
Balgaire stood a moment, then raised his hand in a salute.
“Bastard!” Amethyst burst out. “He knew I’d be watching!”
Jas nodded, eyes still on his scrying. When Balgaire climbed into the Caddy and drove off, Jas put the glass down.
“That answers that question,” he said.
“He’s coming back,” Amethyst said. “He just made sure of it. And that cheery little wave before he left was to tell us he planned it that way.” She plunked down onto the ottoman and hung her hands between her knees. “So much for my secret weapon.”
“On the other hand,” Jas said, “it will be easier to keep an eye on him.”
“We might’ve avoided an argument if you’d thought about it that way earlier.”
“I like to think I’m flexible.”
“I’ll admit, that’s a whole lot better than saying I told you so.”
“I’d never dream of it.” He settled opposite her on the edge of the coffee table.
She sighed. “What do we do now? Set watches?”
“I doubt we’ll see more of Mr. Balgaire tonight,” he said. “But if you haven’t already, you can set spells to alert you if anyone nearby attempts to use magic.”
Despite what she’d told Jas this afternoon, she hadn’t been so naïve as to assume that Balgaire would be easily gotten rid of. After all, that was the whole point of Jas’ stay here. What she hadn’t thought about was how long that stay might end up being.