If someone truly loves you, they'll help you hide the body – Matilda Frost
We busied ourselves getting dressed – I put my jacket back on and shoes, while he pulled on a sweatshirt and changed into jeans. As he changed I watched him, fascinated at the change in his skin tone where the sun had tanned his legs and then a soft adjustment where his shorts had covered his skin, displaying a lighter skin tone.
We headed down the stairs and were stopped in the entryway by his father calling out from the top of the stairs.
“Ty? What are you doing?”
“Jay's in the hospital. We're going to the ER,” Ty replied. “I'll be back when we know more.”
“No,” his father said, appearing at the top of the stairs and quickly descending partway. “You're not going anywhere with that...thing.” He produced a gun, a rather large one from my point of view.
“Dad? What the fuck are you doing?” Ty asked, his tone laced with confusion and fear. I moved subtly to place myself between father and son, but he waved the nose of the gun at me.
“Get away from him,” his father growled.
“You don't want to do this,” I said quietly, my mind racing as I tried to figure out what this guy's trouble was. “I thought you knew your son was gay?”
“Who gives a shit about that?” he said unsteadily, descending purposefully to our level. “Ty, get away from him.”
“It's okay, Ty,” I said and gently moved him away from me. “I'll be fine.”
“What?!” he demanded. “You can't know-” and whatever else he'd planned to say disappeared in the roar of the gunfire. My right shoulder screamed in agony. I turned off the pain transmitters in moments, but for one moment my whole world was the white-hot agony of the purest pain. I'd stumbled back against the wall and collapsed. Ty screamed in terror, and his father advanced on me.
“He's a magus! A monster!” his dad roared.
“You killed him!” Ty wailed, rushing to his father and placing himself in danger.
I set my blessing to work healing the primary damage – blood vessels and torn ligaments and muscles. I lay still as father and son yelled and waited. Gunfire is no joke – he could kill me. My whole strategy depended on me closing to touch range, and he may know that. Clearly he knew me, knew my name. That was what had set him off – not that his son was in bed with another boy, but that I was that boy.
My shoulder was repaired enough to function, but weak and not pretty. I'd never been able to heal such damage so fast, and though it taxed my spark, it wasn't as much as I'd thought it would be. I slowly stood. Ty was clearly terrified. It put me in touch with an emotion I wasn't very familiar with – rage. I took two steps forward. His father saw me from the corner of his eye and turned the gun to aim. Fear and rage fueling me, I swung my arms from left to right, smacking the gun and directing its line of fire away from both myself and Ty. The gun went off and I felt a burst of bright, piercing pain from my elbow. Gore splattered from my damaged arm – the bullet had shattered the elbow. I suddenly found myself with his gun planted against my forehead.
“Don't move!” he screamed.
“Dad, stop!” Ty screamed and threw himself onto his father. I jerked my head left as the gun went off, rupturing my eardrum but sparing my brains. In terror I reached with my left hand and touched his gun hand, disrupting the electrical flow to his system. His muscles spasmed and the gun went off once more before his legs gave out and he fell to the floor, having a grand mal seizure. I leaned into my spark harder, working to repair damage as much as I could.
“What the fuck!” Ty said over and over, moving past his father and to me. “Nick! Oh my God, Nick! I'll get you to the car. The hospital isn't that far!”
“No,” I said quietly. “I'll be fine.”
He stared at me for a moment, and then he yelled, “How can you say that? You're not fine! My...stupid, crazy asshole of a father just shot you! Are you insane?” He turned and looked down at the twitching man. “What's wrong with him? Do I call an ambulance?”
I winced. “Don't yell. My eardrum is still kind of tender,” I said. Eardrums are like that – you have to be careful not to regrow them too thick, or you don't hear as well.
“Nick, please, for the love of God! I just found you!” he cried, his eyes wet. I lifted my left hand and touched his face, slowing his heart rate and calming him. He closed his eyes and leaned into my hand for just a second. For one glorious moment we were in sync again, then he opened his eyes and moaned.
“All the blood. Nick, we need to get you help,” he said, but calmer.
“I'm okay, Ty,” I said quietly. I turned and lifted my left arm, which was still raw but healing faster than I'd ever been able to manage before. I felt my spark struggling under everything I asked of it. I think of my spark like an alternator in a car – my soul enables my spark, and all of my energy for life is provided by that spark. When the ghoul attacked me I'd thought about what my limit could be and how that would be useful, and I was feeling that limitation now. At the same time, my blessing sung in my veins as if it had become more powerful than I'd ever thought it could.
Ty looked down and moaned at the sight of the blood and tattered cloth. “I'll get some water – no, we have to go.” He looked at me in fearful misery and I touched his face again.
“I'm okay,” I told him. Pulling the torn sleeve away he could see the injury healing like a movie being run at double speed. He stared at my arm and then looked up at me, then touched my elbow tenderly. He moved his fingers to my chest, opening the tear in my shirt and running his fingers over the pink new flesh, puckered scar from the bullet wound and all.
“I'll answer all your questions, but first I have to make sure there is no more gunfire,” I said firmly. Once I was sure he was reasonably steady on his feet I moved past him and kicked the gun away from his father. I knelt down and touched his arm, ending the seizing. He groaned and let out shuddering breaths. I pushed my blessing into him, crudely cutting off motor control to his extremities to keep things civil.
“Mr. Flexen,” I said calmly, though anger at his putting Ty in danger still thrummed in my veins. “You put your son in unnecessary danger. I think you owe us an explanation.”
“I...can't move,” he said slowly.
“I have cut off your motor functions,” I said. “You are too dangerous at the moment.”
He turned his head and looked at me. “Is this what you did to Corey?”
I tilted my head. “Was he the other man who tried to kill me?”
“What? Corey tried to kill you? When?” Ty's voice sounded confused and strained, something that was likely to continue with my nature revealed to him in this fashion.
I glanced back at Ty. “Twice. The first time I tried scrambling his memories so he wouldn't come back, but he did.” I looked back at his father. “I just didn't know why. I think I know now, but I'm going to need your father to confirm a few things.”
“Wait...Nick...who are you?”
Mr. Flexen let out a slow chuckle. “Yeah, Nick, why don't you tell him what you are?”
I nodded and stood, turning to face Ty. “I'm a magus, Ty. I have a blessing, what the romantics and writers might call magic. Mine is mainly focused on health and biology.”
“A death magus,” his father spat.
“A what?” Ty asked, sounding skeptical.
I glanced at his father and then gave my full attention to Ty. “If my blessing is used to kill, frequently that person is called a death magus. I prefer life magus, as my primary focus is healing. I defended myself from Corey, if that was who tried to kill me. If I'd wanted to kill your father for trying to kill me, I could have. Instead I disabled him, and I'm trying to find out why he's trying to kill me.”
“He's a monster, Ty,” his father said from the floor, his tone low and secretive. “Pick up my gun and end him.”
I glanced down at Ty's feet as he did the same; the gun had landed by his toes. He lifted his gaze to mine, and I put my arms behind me, folding my hands together.
“I won't stop you. If you choose to kill me...I will not resist.” My voice trembled. If Ty could be turned from me, then I wasn't sure what the point of anything would be anymore. We were bonded, and that ran deeper than anything else I knew. At the very least I could never bring myself to hurt him. The very idea made my heart clench as if it would stop on its own.
“Nick...I'm not...I don't understand any of this.”
“He's a fucking monster, Ty! Kill him! We'll split the money!” his father said from the floor.
“Shut up!” Ty yelled at him, putting his hands over his ears with the stress of it all. I knelt down and touched his dad's arm, freezing his vocal cords.
“Shh,” I told him.
He grunted, unable to do more. His eyes rolled in his head and he passed out.
“What happened?” Ty asked, stepping closer.
I looked back to Ty. “I locked his vocal cords, because he was distressing you. He passed out, likely from fear.”
Ty looked at me with a mix of sadness and confusion. “I don't...I don't understand any of-of this,” he said, wrapping his arms around himself.
My rage at his father gave way to compassion for Ty. My bonded one. I stood and took a step toward him. He backed up a half step, but then moved back into place. I reached toward him slowly and touched his cheek, once more pushing my blessing into him to bring him some calm.
“Are you...are you doing something to me? Like right then?”
“Yes,” I said quietly. “I'm helping your stress levels to decline, to oxygenate your blood and give you a chance to process what's happening.”
“I don't...understand. I mean I heard what he said...what you said, but I don't understand this at all,” he said, slowly shaking his head.
I pulled him to me in a loose embrace and pressed my cheek to his. “I'm here for you, Ty. I'll answer all your questions, you only have to ask. My heart is open to you.”
He pulled back slightly and I wanted to pull him closer, but feared I might frighten him.
He looked at me for a moment, then down at his father and then back to me. “Why are your...why are your eyes blue now. Is that part of this...magic? Don't tell me it's just the light. I can see them now. They're blue.”
I nodded. “Magi tend to have very little eye color when they are young, or to have a pale shade at best. All that changes when they bond. When two magi bond their eye colors become a mix of possibilities from their family genetics – but their eyes always match, no matter the actual shade.”
“So,” he said, his tone filled with confusion. “You're bonded? How? When?”
I smiled at him, genuinely smiled. “It happened tonight. At the dance. You kissed me.”
He stared for a moment. “All it takes is a kiss?”
I shook my head. “I don't know a lot about the bonding process, but I recall that...it works something like fate. I couldn't see it, even though I knew you were good, kind, decent and very attractive. I've been too focused on surviving my test, surviving assassination attempts, and just trying to get by in a world full of normals.”
His mouth worked for a moment before he asked, “Normals?”
“People without a blessing.” He looked at me blankly so I clarified. “People who can't use magic.”
He adopted a concerned expression and took in a deep breath before letting his arms drop. “This...bonding. Does it mean...I feel like...I feel like I should be angry and confused and afraid – like that would make sense. Instead...well, I mean I do feel some of that...but I'm...you....”
I nodded. “I don't know everything about bonding, but part of it is balance. Think of two containers side by side. If one becomes too full, it goes into the other. I'm upset right now – flaming pissed off, actually – and yet I can feel your anxiety and confusion. You're part of me.”
He hesitated a moment and then asked, “You're pissed off? You should be in pain – terrible pain! You were shot and there's blood and your clothes are torn and...and....”
I nodded, understanding this part of his confusion at least. “Blessings manifest in many different ways. With mine I can heal myself and others – return things to a normal operating condition, if you like. When your brother shot me-”
“Corey shot you?”
I nodded. “I didn't know he was your brother. He tried to kill me with a sword the first time. The second time was between us going shopping with Al and going for iced coffee later that day.”
He put a hand to his forehead. “Wait. We went shopping with Al, you walked home, and then we went out for coffees, and in between my idiot brother tried to murder you – and that wasn't worth mentioning? You seemed fine when we had coffee.”
“Ty,” I said gently. “I can't tell just anyone about being a magus.” I held a hand up. “If I'd told you someone had tried to kill me between shopping and lunch, what would you have said?”
His mouth worked for a moment. “I guess...call the police? But you were, like...there was no sign anything was even wrong! How could you have been so calm if someone had tried to kill you?”
I shrugged. “I'm hard to kill. I can turn off the pain and heal myself. Other magi can't, not if they have different blessings. They can do other things – toast a person from a block away or freeze the water in your brain, but they can't heal themselves or others.”
He stared at me for a moment and then nodded his head. “Okay. Keep going.”
I nodded. “So when your brother shot me, I scrambled the part of his brain that stores memories so that he'd forget me.”
“But if he tried to kill you, why didn't you...you know, kill him?”
I shook my head. “I believe in life, not afterlife. If I could make him so that he would stop trying to hurt me, I would do that.” I paused. “Except with the bonding I'm feeling...a lot of things. Intense things. If he'd tried to hurt you, I might have killed him.”
He stared at me for a moment and then moved a half step closer, his hand fluttering for a moment before him, and then he took my hand in his and pulled at the bloody ruin of my shirt. His fingers touched the flesh of my elbow, slightly dimpled in spots from the way the bone had explosively exited my arm. He tugged at the edges of the cloth, tearing it wider and he examined my skin. He glanced at me and then moved to the tear at my shoulder, again tearing the shirt to gain better access to my healing skin.
“Probably have a scar, there. Your brother shot me in the same shoulder. Lower caliber, though; it was lodged in my skin for a little bit.”
He leaned back and looked at my face. “You say that like...it's every day someone shoots you.”
“Twice since I got to town. Seems you're the only one in your family that likes me. I need to find out why.”
I'd been turning over the situation in the back of my head, working on the issue without focusing on it – Ty was more important. But now I was putting things together and needed to establish the details in order to make a plan.
I glanced down at his father, who must have recovered, as he was staring at us. It was time to push the envelope. “Mr. Flexen, I think you are one of the last members of the Defenders of the Divine, though you don't look as though you value any deity very much. I think you were given information by my uncle, Magus Wendell Frost. I also think he provided you with a tracker, hastily made and poorly designed, which your son, Corey, used to accidentally find me twice.”
His eyes bulged. He said nothing, though his mouth worked.
“Didn't you...stop him from talking or something?” Ty asked.
“Oh. Right.” I leaned down and relaxed my control of his vocal cords.
“You scrambled his brains!” his father yelled. “You turned him into a vegetable!”
I shook my head. “No. I just moved his memories around so he wouldn't find me. You have to admit, not killing the person who tries to kill you isn't exactly bloodthirsty.” I knelt down and stared him down. “However, I'm bonded now. You put mine in danger. I have never felt such rage. Give me one reason not to end your miserable life right now.”
There was a moment of silence, and then Ty said, “No. No, Nick. Don't.”
I stared down at his fallen father, locking my gaze to his and watching sweat form on his forehead and a vein on the side of his neck thrum with his rapid pulse. Then I nodded slowly. “You live because he says you live. But hear me well. If you ever put him in danger again I will break your body so badly that nothing will ever be found of you larger than a small coin.” I leaned forward. “Yes. I can do that.”
His eyes bulged in their sockets, and he nodded quickly.
“Now. Tell me everything about the Defenders of the Divine.”
His expression hardened. “No.”
I stared at him. “You will, even if I have to convince you,” I said quietly.
“Nick,” Ty said behind me. “Please don't hurt him.”
I glanced up at him, fearful and still coming to grips with his entire world changing. “I won't, Ty. I promise.”
Looking back at Mr. Flexen I gathered my knowledge of biology and the brain and touched his forearm. My blessing flowed into him, and he shook his head from side to side.
“No. No, don't!” he grunted. I ignored him.
There are chemicals that can cause virtually anything – trust, fear, love, lust. Some of them are found in nature, and others are in the human body. I worked steadily, adjusting his chemistry and influencing his brain function, but it wasn't easy nor quick. The brain is still something of a mystery, and if one person's construction can be different from another, the brain is even more so.
“Feeling more chatty, Mr. Flexen?” I asked.
“Fuck you,” he said dreamily.
“Not a chance,” I said softly and continued to work.
“What are you doing?” Ty asked.
“I'm trying to get him to a mental state where he will answer my questions. It's difficult,” I said quietly.
“Does it hurt?”
I glanced at him. “No. I promised you I wouldn't hurt him. I'm adjusting his body chemistry and stimulating parts of his brain to make him more compliant. Nothing I'm doing is permanent.”
He nodded slowly. “I just...Nick, he's an asshole and I'm...I'm sick that he hurt you. I thought you were dead. I'm just not..I'm...sorry.”
I stood and faced Ty, holding my arms toward him. “You are adjusting beautifully, Ty. You have nothing to be sorry for. I will always respect your wishes, and you should never apologize for not wanting someone dead.”
Tears welled in his eyes, and he hesitantly moved into my embrace. As I worked to steady him, I was once again swept away as everything him woke my senses. His scent, the feel of his arms as he slowly returned my embrace. His cheek pressed to mine and then the gentle feel of his lips as he turned and pressed them to my cheek. He wasn't close enough, but was there such thing as 'enough' with him? When he touched me, when my lungs filled with him, with my arms around him everything else dwindled to nothing.
“I'm sorry you had to find out about me like this,” I said quietly. “Ever since...well, I wanted to find a good way to tell you, but I didn't know how.”
He nodded, his cheek brushing against mine. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “I guess I can see that.”
I began to move my hand up and down his back, gently pushing him into me as I did. He brought his hand up to my shoulder and subtly rubbed my neck with his thumb, and I shuddered at his loving touch. We calmed each other for perhaps ten or fifteen minutes – enough to know that it was far beyond a normal embrace.
He stepped back, and I reluctantly let him. I already felt his absence and had to fight the urge to pull him tightly to me. “I can't get enough of you,” I said, blurting out my thoughts.
“What?” he asked, a faint smile on his lips as he rubbed his arms as if cold.
I licked my lips. “The way you smell. The way you feel. No matter how close you are, it's not close enough. Right now we just held each other, but you being out of my arms is nearly unbearable. I want so badly to pull you back to me and and...inhale you. Touch you.” I hesitated. “The only thing that keeps me from doing so is the hope that I will get to hold you again.”
His eyes grew wet again and he pressed his lips together as if holding back an emotion. “You...I shouldn't feel so...solid so...strong in our relationship. In you. It's literally been less than a day, but I feel this...if I doubt things at all it...Christ! I can't even talk!”
“I'm...unsettled, too,” I murmured.
He nudged his chin toward his father. “What about him?”
I sighed. “I'm going to try a little more, but it may just take some time for the things I did to reach a therapeutic level. Once he's told me what I need to know...I can try to make him forget.”
We both jumped as someone began pounding on the front door.
“Oh, shit!” Ty said suddenly. “Nick! He fired a gun in the house! More than once!”
I looked at him with mild curiosity. “Yes, I know. He shot me.”
Ty rolled his eyes. “Nick! What if someone else heard and called the police!”
I thought for a moment. “I'd-”
I was cut off by a more pounding at the door. “Gordon? Gordon are you all right? I heard a gunshot, sounded like! Ty!”
“Shit,” Ty said through gritted teeth. “It's Bill Hascom from next door!”
I closed my eyes and let out a breath. Opening them I locked my gaze to Ty. We couldn't ignore the man; he'd call the police for sure, if he hadn't already. “Answer the door.”
He hesitated, then crossed the small foyer to the door. I trailed behind him. He opened the door to a middle-aged man in a robe that barely concealed his state of undress.
“Ty! What the devil is going on over here? I thought I heard a gun go off or something – just what the fucksticks is going on over here?” he demanded.
I reached out as if to shake the man's hand, and as so often happens he reached out to accept my hand by dint of social conditioning.
I was tired and my spark had been pushed to its limits, so I reached into Mr. Hascom and harnessed his spark. “Everything is fine,” I said to him calmly, flooding his system with dopamine and serotonin and bleeding his adrenaline into his muscles to leave them trembling, but his body calm overall. His heart rate slowed and I pushed harder, making him sway gently on his feet with fatigue.
“Sorry...Mr. Hascom,” Ty said. “The, uh, drain pipe from the house was plugged and my dad was, um, beating on the pipe. With, um, a big wrench.”
In a dreamy voice his neighbor asked, “A wrench? Was...awful loud for a wrench.”
“He, um, had the door open. Sound must have traveled really well. I'm sorry,” Ty said.
“Well...well...okay then. Tell him...quiet or...call...cops,” he said, struggling to maintain his grip in the moment. “I'm suddenly so...damn tired. Have to go....”
“Yeah, get some sleep. Good night, Mr. Hanscom.”
“Yeah. Night. It's night,” he said dreamily as he released my hand and turned, stumbling drunkenly as he headed back toward his own home.
Ty glanced at me as he closed the door. “What now?”
I glanced at his father who was blinking rapidly, then closing his eyes for a few moments at a stretch. “I'm going to let the adjustments I made to your father settle for about ten minutes, then try to see what he knows.”
“Okay, well...you need to take those clothes off.”
I looked at Ty and licked my lips. “Is...I mean sure, but...now?”
Ty stared at me for a moment and then said, “Nick! You have blood all over them! Jesus Christ!”
I glanced down, realized I'd misunderstood, and felt silly. Of course he wasn't being forward! “Sorry, sorry.”
“Come on. I'll get you clothes, and you can clean up.”
I followed him up the stairs, having absurd thoughts about how his jeans fit his behind, leaving his father in a state on the entryway floor. My life has truly become bizarre.