The thing about living in a bubble is that things are still moving outside that bubble. - Unknown
“It's been an hour,” he whispered in my ear.
“Five more minutes?” I asked, pressing my forehead into his chest.
“And then will you ask for five more?”
I sigh. “You say that like any amount of time is enough.”
“I stink,” he said. “I'm covered in spunk – and so are you – and I'm hungry for more than cock.”
“You smell like you-”
“Watch it,” he growled.
“And, yes we may need to wash off...and all right, I suppose I'm hungry as well.” We climbed, although reluctantly, from bed and washed each other in the shower. He asked about the small scars on my arm in a circular pattern.
“Ghoul bite,” I said. “They have rows of teeth that move front to back to pull things down their gullets.”
His eyes went wide, and he ran his fingers over the small dots, all that remained of the punctures from its teeth. “That must have hurt like hell.”
“At first, but I can turn off the pain receptors.”
He raised an eyebrow at me. “What else? Can you make light or throw fireballs?”
“I can manifest a light, if I don't have a flashlight. I'm not strong in elemental magic, so no fireballs. Besides, I have these,” I said, reaching for his groin, but he twisted and laughed at me. Foiled, I raised the washcloth as he turned back toward me, touching my shoulder.
“Is this from the bullet?”
“Both of them, yes,” I replied. His fingertip moved over the scarred flesh, and then he pulled back and wiped his eye.
“I'm sorry that happened to you,” he said softly and turned to face the spray. I soaped his back and stayed silent until he spoke. “What, um, what do we do about my dad? I mean...someone will notice I'm not at home, right?”
“The spell I used should have left him...very confused. Its effect isn't like amnesia, where there are gaps; it's more of a blending of memories. It's hard to tell where faces belong and to whom they belong. Unfortunately, right now he may not know who he is – or you.”
He nodded and said, “That's probably for the best. Right?”
“I think it keeps him safest, and you as well.”
“If someone comes looking – and they will, eventually – then they will find him. He won't be of value to them either in helping to find us, providing information or as a liability since he will be largely addled. There is no reason to hurt him and no way he could tell anyone about you or where we are.” I brought the soap down, sliding it over his behind and squatting to wash his legs – while staring at his butt. Never let it be said I passed up a good view.
“What do we do about...bonding? And Jay? What do we tell our friends?”
I stood and turned him by his shoulder so the soap could be rinsed from him and I could look into his face. “I think that's a very good question and one I don't have an answer to. I wasn't sure how to tell you, and I'd like to ease them into the idea of magic with more grace than I was able to with you.”
He wiped an eye. “Are you seriously having a conversation with me and playing with my nipple at the same time?”
I looked down in surprise and pulled my hand back. “Sorry.”
“So...if you can heal, why do you have scars?”
“Sometimes it's because I didn't have enough energy to revert to what my skin was, sometimes a scar is the outcome of a natural healing, which I accelerate.” He took the soap from me and gently washed my skin, running his fingers over my scars.
I protested bitterly when he wanted to put clothes on afterward, but as usual, he won. We went to the kitchen to find Abelard had spread out quite a meal – sausages, meat patties, eggs, breads, jams and jellies.
“Abelard, this is not a complaint, but where did all this food come from?” I asked as I stuffed a sausage in my mouth and my stomach rumbled.
“I did nothing wrong,” he said tartly.
I raised an eyebrow. “Even if you did, I'll never tell.”
The corner of his mouth moved – did he nearly smile? “Magical law is clear about the early stages of bonding. You need more calories on average.”
“We do?” I asked.
Ty snorted. “Like I said, you get hungry for more than,” he coughed, “uh, that alone.”
Abelard gave me a knowing look. “Yes. Mr. Flexen is quite right. In this stage your appetites...more than you're used to...will be quite large.”
“What do you know about magus bonding?” I asked him, sitting down and mindlessly pushing food in my mouth.
“Very little. Only what is required for me to know.” He paused. “As I said, magi law acknowledges the health of the magus during this time, and that is why these foods are here – in order to support your system.”
I looked at Ty and leered. “That means all we have to do is eat and go back to bed. It's the law!”
He raised an eyebrow at me. “Fiend.”
“Law-abiding citizen,” I corrected.
He shook a sausage at me. “Sex. Fiend.”
Abelard covered his face and excused himself. Ty and I ate our fill and made teasing comments to each other. It was as if we had spent much more time with each other one-on-one than we actually had, given our comfort level – and the amount of sexual release we'd been engaged in. I was nibbling on the remains of a bagel when Ty wiped his hands and loudly said, “Okay.”
I looked at him, waiting for him to elaborate.
“We need a plan. A few of them. For now our friends will just assume we're a couple, and they don't need to know more, yet.”
“What...'more' would they know?”
“Oh. I misunderstood.”
He rolled his eyes. “What sexual thing were you thinking I'd tell them?”
I gave him an embarrassed smile. “Moving along.”
He laughed. “Okay, first we need to figure out this bond thing, and second we need to figure out how to help Jay. Third, we need an idea about how to defend ourselves if someone comes to town looking for you. When will your test end?”
I shrugged. “The terms were aggravatingly open ended and poorly constructed. I'm not allowed to go home nor contact home until it's complete.” I thought for a moment. “Though, if I can find a way, contacting my grandmother would be a good idea.” I glanced at him. “She managed to contact me. She sent me berries, a ring and a warning.”
He blinked a few times. “Wait. Your grandmother 'put a ring on it'?”
I narrowed my eyes. “I sense you're teasing me again.”
“No,” he said, chuckling. “But unless we find a way to contact her without getting caught, you fail the test?”
I thought for a moment. “I'm not sure. It's against the rules, but I think the main point was that I was supposed to survive. I assumed I wasn't supposed to use my blessing much, but when a ghoul attacks you...what do you do?”
“Hmm. Let's come back to it, I guess. How do we find out more about the bonding if you can't call anyone at your home?”
“The interchange,” I said, then added in a solemn tone, “although clothes aren't allowed in there.”
He tilted his head to one side and raised an eyebrow. I crossed my arms. “I'm not walking around naked for your amusement,” he said, then muttered, “Sex fiend.”
“Can you really blame me? Look at you.”
His eyes went wide. “Look at you!” He held his hands up. “Okay, stop! We need to focus! This bond thing, the interchange. What is it?”
“I'll show you,” I said and led him from the kitchen, through the house to the antechamber of the exchange. “Houses have wards – like right now, if someone were trying to divine my location, they'd be blocked by the wards on the house. But rooms can be warded too, and this one is. I have to put a rune on you to allow you access.”
“What's a rune?”
“A basic marking spell. Think of it like...identification. Something that says you're allowed to be somewhere.”
“Will it hurt?”
I smiled. “No.” I held my hand out and he reached for me. I turned his hand palm up and placed my forefinger on his wrist. “You can watch it take hold, but no one can see it later.”
A green thread flowed from my finger and through his skin, curling into an intricate design. It pulsed as part of my blessing moved to Ty, powering the new mark.
“Okay,” I said, pausing as Ty looked down at his wrist. The green faded away after a moment, and he looked up at me.
“Where'd it go?”
“Touch your wrist,” I said. “Think about wanting to see the mark.”
He complied and the mark glowed briefly. Ty pulled his finger away quickly and laughed as he looked up at me. “It's like a secret tattoo.”
“That hickey on your neck isn't a secret,” I told him.
His eyes went wide. “You better not have! Where's a mirror?”
“I'm kidding,” I said, chuckling and grabbing for him. He danced back, but I moved forward and grabbed him by his hips.
“You better be kidding,” he said, feeling his neck for the imaginary hickey. “What about this exchange?”
“The exchange has two primary functions. One is as secure communication between Frost homes, and the other is as a research library.”
“So we can find out about the bonding?”
I crossed the threshold and looked back at Ty. He followed me, his mark glowing brightly as he entered the room before fading.
“Why did it glow?”
“If you had no mark, the warding would have killed you,” I said. “It was more or less checking your credentials.”
I moved beside him. “I won't let anything happen to you.”
“Oh, no, I just...sometimes this hits me in the face. Magic. Bonding.” He paused. “Is bonding...permanent?”
“Yes,” I said quietly.
“Oh,” he replied and then nodded. “Weird to have the rest of my life mapped out already. Uh. Okay, let's...how do we research?”
I cradled his face, looking at his eyes – which were now my eyes. “I'm here for you. Even if you need me to be someplace else for a while, I'm here.”
He let out a shuddering breath. “I know. I do. Like I said, sometimes it feels overwhelming.”
I nodded. I turned from him, determined to look up bonding so we could focus on something for a moment. The book case had rows upon rows of books, but my search was effective. I pressed a book with a stylized B on it and said, “Bonding.”
The entire shelf shimmered and expanded. I took a step back as the former bookcase extended toward me by about three feet and a podium formed with a tall woman with a bun held expertly behind her head with two sticks run through. The same magical projection of the librarian appeared as last time, looking vacantly ahead.
“What information is there about magus bonding?” I asked it.
Coming to life she said, “Magus bonding is well described, but poorly understood. What is known is that a bond is both a magical and natural event. Normal individuals will take months or even years before they may feel ready to formally join in an event they refer to as marriage. Bonding is similar, however the time aspect is removed from the equation. When a bonding happens the time that would have been spent building to a secure emotional and social state is compressed. During this time magi may feel uncontrolled emotions, which are distressing due to the contrast with their emotional regulation prior to bonding.”
“She's got that much right,” I said.
“Bonding forms the union that feeds a magus's purpose-”
“Is bonding ever wrong?” Ty asked, surprising me.
“Bonding cannot be in error, no,” she said. “However, between the magical and natural aspects, bonding is too nuanced to be completely understood. What is known is that there are thousands of variables that go into creating the ideal conditions for a bonding. Magi who wish to bond for personal gain or power have failed to do so.”
“What about...a magus and a normal bonding?”
That was a good question, I thought.
“While not common, bonding between a magus and a normal isn't unprecedented. Common effects are that the magus will adopt the eye color of the normal, rather than a blending as happens between magi. The power increase that generally comes with a magi pairing is reduced in a magus and normal pairing. Life expectancy varies. Offspring from magus and normal pairings have mixed results as to whether the children possess a blessing.”
“What was that about life expectancy?” I asked.
“If left to natural causes, magi tend to outlive their normal counterparts by decades. Magus and normal pairings tend to close this gap, but the gap does vary.”
“Is there any danger from a magical bonding between magi and normals to the normal?”
“Effects vary. They include extended life, gaining of adept level talent, unusually good health and an increase in natural functions – agility and intelligence, for example.”
I let out a breath I hadn't known I was holding. I looked at Ty and said, “Well, you might get smart enough to realize you don't want to be with me!”
“Shut up,” he said, shoving me and causing a small wave of desire to ripple through me.
“Can a bonded person kill the person they are bonded to?” Ty asked.
“What the hell kind of question is that? What've I done that you want to kill me?” I asked.
He rolled his eyes at me, but focused on the reply.
“Bonded couples are unable to visit death upon each other. Killing one effectively kills both if done directly. There are cases of indirect death caused from one bonded member to another. These are usually accidents in research of some kind, or in rare events during a conflict.”
“Hope that cools your blood a little,” I said.
Ty pushed me. “Idiot. My father said that Wendell killed your parents and his wife. Weren't they bonded if they were married? Same thing, right?”
I paused in shock. “Yes, you're absolutely right. But according to the research, that's not possible.”
“If it is possible, we need to find out how she died. If it's not, then either he did it by accident or someone else murdered her.”
I pushed my lips together and thought for a moment. Turning toward the apparition I asked, “Access death records for Frost, Agatha bonded to Wendell, mother to Michael.”
“Agatha Frost, aged thirty-eight years upon death. Her body was found frozen near her home. Her husband thought she was away to visit her sister.”
I frowned. “Was a discovery done?”
“What's that?” Ty asked.
“Akin to a magical autopsy,” I replied.
“Discovery was carried out. Results were consistent with attack by a water magus. No connections were found: murder is considered unsolved.”
Ty crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes. “Nick...help me out here.”
“So...Wendell couldn't kill his wife, but he kills your parents and his wife gets murdered. But he also is the head of Defenders of the Divine and has my father helping him kill magi. What does that tell you?”
“Besides that I want to kill him?” I asked.
“Yes, besides that,” he said thoughtfully. “There is another person. A water magus. The one who killed his wife.” He paused and then quietly said, “Which means, based on what my father saw, Wendell probably killed my mother because she stumbled on their...meeting.”
I placed a hand on his shoulder, and he leaned into me subtly.
“If we accept that, what does this water magus get out of it? Why is Wendell the one doing all the killing? If you're killing, you're taking risks, right?”
“It makes sense,” I agreed.
Ty rubbed his face. “Okay. I need to go use the bathroom. I'll be back.”
I let him go and tried turning the information over in my head,. It all seemed sound enough, but I wasn't sure what the water magus gained by killing my aunt, if it was planned as part of my uncle killing so many others. Unable to draw any conclusions, I instead searched for healing methods, listing the symptoms that I knew Jay had. As I did so I idly thought back to the bonding and how magi tended to get stronger afterward, even if normal and magus pairings tended to gain less. My blessing had been singing in my veins, even more so when Ty was around. Was that an artifact of the bonding or was it an actual change to my ability?
“What are the changes experienced by bonded life magi?” I asked.
“Notification sent,” she replied before continuing. “Life magi have a tendency to become more efficient; they may develop healing without the need for contact, and in uncommon cases they may develop web casting.”
“Notification of what? And what is web casting?”
“Frost systems are spelled to notify users if certain parameters are met. Multiple inquiries about bonding have reached the probability level that the questioner, Nicholas Basil Frost, has bonded. Notification of such event has been sent.”
“Sent to who?” I demanded.
“Oh. Oh shit!” I stomped my foot. “Seriously? She can't wait for me to tell her? Bael's balls!”
As if I hadn't spoken, she continued. “Web casting occurs when a life magus links the spark of individuals to create a web of power to draw on for casting. This is a talent unique to life magi and never recorded to have been successfully cast by a death magus.”
“Well. That sounds promising,” I muttered. “Let's have more information on that.”
Ty came in and told me he wanted to go over and visit Jay, but that the hospital was restricting the amount of people who could go. I told him I would wait for him here at home, and he hesitantly left. I spent my evening working on ways to manifest the ability to manage a web casting – you never know when you'll really need some oomph to heal someone.
I tried to tie in manifesting web casting and searching for information about what Jay might have. I could deal with the symptoms easily – bruising was simple to fix, but his anemia was something else. What was causing it? I could see problems with his blood, but I didn't know what I was seeing. There were things in the blood that looked deformed compared to other people, like myself, but it wasn't enough for me to understand what to do about it – how they formed, how they should look and what was causing them to be deformed to begin with.
“Nick? Are you still in here?” Ty asked.
I glanced up at him. “I thought you were going to see Jay?”
He flashed me an affectionate look. “I did. It's nearly nine o'clock. Have you eaten anything since we got up?”
I blinked at him a few times. “Uh, no. Nine you say?” Where did the time go?
“Come on. Abelard has food set out for us.”
I allowed him to pull me along, my appetite and libido suddenly raging with Ty touching me. We sat to eat, and I asked him how Jay was.
“Well, it's not good,” he said. “They said the preliminary findings are that he has leukemia.”
“What is that?” I asked.
“It's basically blood cancer.”
“It is? What do you know about it?”
“Not that much. They still had tests to run to determine how advanced it is and what treatment course to offer. He's feeling a little better. The doctor said he wasn't in crisis and would probably be discharged tomorrow morning.”
“That sounds good, anyway.”
“Yeah,” he said quietly. “But, fuck, Nick. It's cancer.”
I nodded. “I know. I know.”
After we ate we went back to bed. It wasn't just the bond; there was need. I felt his need, but it wasn't sexual. It was intimacy, fighting the loneliness that was welling up inside him as the thought of losing his friend, of the pain he might endure, ate at him. There was also the loss of his home, such as it was. There was a familiarity to it that was a comfort, and he was feeling that loss. Somewhere there was the betrayal of his father, and guilt – perhaps he felt as if he, too, betrayed his father? Not for the first time I wished I could read minds. Like my analogy about two containers side by side, I was able to help him carry his burden. Once we had some balance, the urge to be sexually intimate took over.
Ty cried afterward, but as he held onto me he thanked me for being there for him. He apologized for crying. I held him and told him we'd get through it together and I'd be with him always. Eventually he fell into a light sleep and I kissed his hair, inhaling all there was of him. Then I said, “I love you. I'm telling you while you're asleep so you can't yell at me for saying it back.”
Winter arrived that week, the weather turning colder and a snow storm blanketing the area that Friday. Jay had come home the previous Monday as expected, and Ty and I getting together was proving something of a distraction for the group. They made a few comments about how I seemed different, and Tess loved to bring up that I'd been wearing Ty's clothes that first night.
Jay fixed me with a look, eyes puffy with fatigue. “You better treat my boy right, Frost.”
“He does,” Ty said. “Not like I need you defending me.”
“Really?” Brad asked and laughed. “Let's see. There was Roger.”
“I dumped him!” Ty retorted.
“Gage,” Jay said.
“Wasn't even his name,” Ty grumbled, crossing his arms.
“Colt? Was that one?” Tess asked, scrunching her nose.
“You're making them up, now!” Ty accused. He turned to me. “I told you I've dated. They think I made mistakes.”
“Well, you're not dating them anymore, so technically....” Jay trailed off with a smug grin.
“I hate you,” Ty said.
“Oh! We didn't mention Shawn!” Brad said with a bright smile.
“Fuck you, too,” Ty said with a laugh.
“He was only dating Shawn as a distraction,” I said, trying to help.
“Babe. Be quiet,” Ty said, groaning.
“Wait, what now?” Tess asked, teasing Ty.
“You have no room to talk. Topher? Really?”
“I call him Chris,” Tess said sourly, “and we haven't broken up, so.”
“Wait, it wasn't just the dance? You're dating now?” Jay asked, a look of horror on his face.
“Oh, shut up!” she said with a laugh. “Can we get back to Ty?”
After a week Ty and I were still aching for each other, but new elements were creeping in. Although we were in a bubble that couldn't last, we were developing a routine. We got up in the morning, showered together and joined Abelard for breakfast. Abelard made arrangements for me to get books on leukemia, which were apparently okay according to his contract. After school we generally went to Tess's, though Brad was on both of us to attend the wrestling tryouts the next week.
Jay was stable, but he looked less than healthy. We went home for dinner, then I spent the evening studying about leukemia and web casting.
“I'm not sure I understand,” Ty said to me that weekend. “You healed gunshot wounds and made my father an idiot – a bigger idiot. Why is this different?”
“The gunshot is localized, right? Small area – lot of damage, but small area. Even when the bullet shattered my elbow, the damage was limited to one arm. With leukemia it starts inside the bones. I don't know how far it spread in his bones, but I do know he let it go so long that he's ended up hospitalized once. He's had other signs of leukemia as well – the bruising, the fatigue.”
“Are you...saying there's no chance?” he asked, his lips trembling.
“No, I am not saying that,” I told him. “What I am saying is that it's not like healing something that's kind of...straightforward. Like a gunshot. I may be able to push back against it, but with as widespread as it must be...I'll need time to get a real assessment of him, not just a quick one.”
He wiped at his eyes. “Okay. How?”
“I'm not sure,” I said. “I need to maintain skin to skin contact for a while. I'm not sure how long 'a while' will be.”
He nodded and told me he'd think about an answer. I looked forward to bedtime. The sexual tension was easing, but most nights that first week ended with us a sticky mess. Afterward – after he made us clean up – was the holding, the heat of us pressed together and the soft feel of his thumb slowly swiping back and forth somewhere on my body. We shared our burdens, our emotions divided, so that not only did we know that the other was hurting, but we knew to help. In a way it was like having a sixth sense of what your partner needed – a hug, a gentle word, or enough physical affection to wipe out the world for a little bit.
Brad's bid for Ty and I to wrestle failed because Ty wanted to be there for Jay, and I wanted to be with Ty. My friends did tease me a great deal about how much I wanted Ty's time, but Al told me many times how pleased they were to see Ty happy.
With the exception of Jay, Ty was happy. I knew it because I was in tune with him, his body and his emotions. Two weeks for us was like six months or more of others dating in terms of getting to know each other, finding what we did and didn't like, and deciding if we cared enough to stay. All that was already covered, and we proceeded through our days with an air of certainty.
Ty's father was another story. We'd gone to check on him, but he wasn't at home, and neither was his vehicle. It was hard to say where he'd gone, and divination wasn't my specialty. I told Ty we'd find him after my trial was over, if he wanted.
One unfortunate development was that Mr. Halstead had left the school. The rumor was that he'd retired, but I was sure I'd scared him. I regretted that a lot.
Our bubble lasted for a total of four weeks. There were no attempts on my life, Jay was holding steady while I worked at home in the evening to learn how to help him, our friends were just that, and my bed was filled with Ty.
At the end of the fourth week, Jay went back into the hospital, and everything changed.