Love is magic and magic is love. My boyfriend is magic, and so he's love, too. I'm in love – does that make me magic? - Tyler Flexen
Not until we crested the stairs was I able to tear my eyes from Ty's behind. He led me to a bathroom and told me to take my shirt off and wash the blood from my skin while he went to get me something unbloody to wear. I didn't think unbloody was a word and told him so, but he rolled his eyes and left me to clean up.
I stripped my ragged shirt and dropped it to the floor. My trousers were stained as well, so I unbuckled my belt, thinking to save it, and then remembered I had my dress shoes on, but now my pants had slid down and I was feeling three kinds of foolish as I struggled to get my shoes off and keep my pants up long enough to complete that task before taking my pants off as well.
I ran the water and began to soap my arm and shoulder, awkwardly splashing water on myself.
“What are you doing?” Ty asked, stepping back into the room.
“Well...I'm a disaster, obviously,” I said with a sigh. He placed the clothes he'd gathered for me on the toilet seat and reached into the tub to retrieve a washcloth.
“You can't just...magic yourself clean?” he asked.
“I'd imagine a water magus could, but they might still need a towel to dry off,” I said, then paused. “Actually, no, with their control of water they could remove it – but I'm not a-”
“Nick,” he growled and then laughed lightly. “Take the washcloth.”
“Oh. Right.” I washed my arm and shoulder, wiping them down thoroughly and then wiping the front of my right thigh, where blood had seeped through my trousers. I rinsed the cloth out and wiped away the last traces, checking myself in the mirror to better see my shoulder.
From the corner of my eye I spotted Ty staring at me. I turned to face him, wondering about his expression. His eyes moved quickly up and down my body, his face growing red before his eyes met mine. “T-towel?” he asked, holding up a bath towel.
“Thank-” I said, but never finished either my sentence or taking the towel from him as he pulled back.
“What...you look good. I mean,” he closed his eyes for a moment and then fixed me with a look. “You look different. You changed.”
“I did?” I asked absently, more interested in the way he was looking at me, like he couldn't see enough of me. Was he feeling the same need to be closer than close that I was?
“Yeah,” he said and then swallowed. “You were shredded. I mean you still are, but now you look...better.”
As if he were dreaming, he reached forward with the towel and began patting my skin dry. I remained still, watching him as his eyes roamed my skin. He brought up his other hand, then jerked when it entered his field of vision, as if he hadn't realized it was moving. He blushed again.
“Sorry. I...was just going to...I don't know what I was going to do.”
My heart sped up. “I think I'd like to know.”
His gaze met mine again, and he wiped slowly with the towel, moving his hand down and squatting a bit to wipe off my thigh. Then he stood and reached out with his free hand again, this time letting his palm land on my chest. He let out a shaky breath, and I matched him.
“Your skin is so soft,” he said quietly.
Explanations about collagen and moisture died in my throat as his hand shifted, his palm gliding over my nipple – I gasped – and then up to rest on my shoulder, his thumb against my neck.
“Nick?” he asked.
“Yes?” I replied, struggling to draw breath.
“Do you know what's wrong with Jay?”
“I...Jay?” my brain struggled to catch up.
He flushed. “I have to change the subject,” he said quietly. “My body is screaming to take your clothes off – the rest of them – but my father is on the floor downstairs, Jay is in the hospital, and my boyfriend can do healing magic.” He closed his eyes and swallowed. “I don't think I can handle...I think this would be a bad time to....”
“Yes,” I said, controlling my libido with an iron grip. “Yes, you're right. I should...put clothes on. And interrogate your father. And we should check on Jay.”
And yet...neither of us was moving. Except his thumb, slowly gliding up and down a small patch of my neck. I ached to hold him and for more than that. But he was right. We had responsibilities and couldn't afford to... Then he kissed me. His hands moved along the skin of my back, and I shuddered at his soft skin on mine. I shoved my hands under his sweatshirt, caressing his skin and running my fingers up his vertebrae. One of his hands strayed up into my hair, and he grabbed hold and pulled my head back from him.
“We have to stop,” he panted.
“I know,” I agreed, my breath coming in tiny gasps.
“How do I stop? I can't do it,” he said, a whine in his voice.
“I...I can calm us,” I forced myself to say, even though it was the very last thing in the history of forever I wanted to do.
“I'm feeling this overwhelming need to...every inch of you,” he said softly, breathlessly. “You can...stop that? For now? Bring it back later?”
“I don't think I could stop it from coming back,” I admitted. “Not that I'd want to.”
He pushed my head forward and I fell into a consuming kiss. My back crashed into the wall behind me as he pressed himself close, then closer, pinning me against the wall, while I pulled him against me in case his muscles were thinking of changing course.
His mouth slipped to my cheek, and he groaned, “Now, Nick. Now. Stop us. Just for now.”
I've heard the term Herculean effort, and I thought that applied to the healing of my arm from the ghoul, and maybe the gunshots tonight, but I began to sweat and feel true fatigue deep in my bones as I pushed back our...not our sex drives, it was more than sex, but it was also sex. And love. And need. And...and...everything. It was everything. How do you bring everything we are under control? You don't. You do your best to tamp down on what you can, to let some of the pressure off to prevent an explosion, but it will come. It's only a matter of time.
So I pushed back. I tamped down on one thing and then another, slowly driving everything back.
I failed. Whatever patchwork I'd been trying to erect, whatever thoughts I'd had on containment were dashed as my spark guttered. It shouldn't be a surprise – I'd leaned so hard on it throughout the evening, pushing my blessing to heal my wounds, assuaging Al and Ty's emotions and then what I was doing to Ty's father...I just didn't have enough.
I slid down the wall, letting out a sound like a wounded cub.
“Nick? Nick!” Ty was down beside me, the bubble of whatever had been building between us popped in a way I couldn't manage on my own.
“I'm okay,” I said after a moment.
He took my face in his hands. “You don't look all right.”
I smiled weakly. “I thought you just said I looked good?”
He frowned. “Yes, you'll be a very sexy dead body. What's wrong?”
I licked my lips. “I've been pushing my blessing very hard today, using a lot of energy. I need calories.”
“Okay. Well, I'll eat you if you don't get some clothes on, so let's start there,” he said, somewhat to himself, I felt. He helped me gain my feet, and I slipped into a pair of his shorts and a hooded sweatshirt. In a way I felt branded, since this was Ty's preferred outfit. I liked that idea. I regained some sense of balance, and we went downstairs, past his father, who was breathing evenly, as if asleep, though his eyes were open, and into the kitchen.
The kitchen was a mess, like so many things in his home, but Ty set about finding me food while I sat at his kitchen table. He placed a variety of things in front of me, and I began to eat, the calories very quickly turning into fuel to finish my healing. I knew I needed rest, but I didn't have time for it. I turned random things over in my mind as I ate everything he put in front of me.
He put two glasses on the counter, added ice, then poured in a dark liquid. He added something that looked like milk to a device that made a whirring sound as I stuffed my face with cheese and crackers. He poured the frothy mixture into the glasses and then used a spoon to mix them before bringing the glasses to the table.
“Caffeine seems like it's going to be our friend tonight,” he said.
I glanced down at the glass and up to his face. “Iced coffee?” I asked hopefully.
“Fiend,” he said affectionately as he sipped his brew. I picked up my drink and sipped, groaning at the taste.
“This is really good. I didn't know you could make this, let alone at home,” I told him.
He chuckled. “If I knew iced coffee was the way to your heart, I'd have done it a long time ago.”
For a few minutes the world could go get fucked while I sat and shared an iced coffee with my bonded one.
Sooner than I'd have liked the glasses were empty and the food was gone. I felt steadier, and the draw on my spark was lighter with my healing work nearly done, fueled by the food. My thoughts were steadier, and I was beginning to think about our next steps when I was distracted by Ty's hand on mine.
“Blue eyes are very nice on you,” he said with a gentle smile. Before I could reply he said, “So. My father first, Jay afterward?”
I nodded. “Yes.” We went back out into the entryway, and I knelt down, touching Mr. Flexen's forearm. Assessing him told me he was in some kind of a dream state and highly suggestible.
I turned to Ty. “Ask him about the Defenders of the Divine.”
Ty had a question in his expression, but he looked toward his father. “Dad? Who is this group, Defenders of the Divine?”
His dad hummed for a moment, and his lips curled into a little, knowing smile. “I'm glad you asked, Ty. Our family used to hunt magi, but I...I didn't think they were real. But then I met a man. His name is Wendell Frost. He told me he'd found real magi and had stolen some things from them that would help us kill them – and that we could get rich doing it.”
My expression hardened, but I didn't want to break the trance-like state Mr. Flexen was speaking from. I whispered to Ty to get him to continue.
“Magi? Like magic, Dad? That's not real,” Ty said.
“Real, hmmm, yep. Very real. It took me three tries before I got my first one down. Barely got away. I started getting Corey involved. Had to, you know. Our family used to do this as a service, but...they got your mother. I saw this magus, he just...air was moving so fast around her she couldn't breathe. I...I....”
Ty was looking at me in shock.
I whispered, “I have some idea about this. Ask him more about Wendell.”
Shaken, Ty asked his father about Wendell.
“He knows...a lot. Has money. He found out his wife was a magus and killed her. Killed his brother and his wife. He's dedicated,” his father said, his voice sliding up and down in register. “He's the leader of the Defenders.”
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and I had to tamp down on my shock and anger. I glanced at Ty and whispered, “Ask him about me.”
Ty pressed his lips together. “What about Nick Frost?”
A low moan passed through his father's lips and then a small grunt. “Wendell said they send their kids out to kill regular people as a test, to make sure they can do it and get away. Nick Frost...he's supposed to kill people at your school. Maybe. Maybe other people. If we kill...kill him then...then....”
Ty covered his mouth and nose with his hands and looked at me with wide eyes. I stood and moved close to him so I could keep my voice pitched low and avoid his father hearing.
“Wendell Frost is my uncle.” I paused. “Your father says my uncle killed my parents and his own wife. My uncle is also an air magus and very likely could be the one who killed your mother, if that's what your father saw.”
Ty sighed deeply and shook his head. “I figured she was off somewhere...maybe Las Vegas or Bombay, living some dream she had that didn't include her family.”
I thought for a moment. “This is likely our only chance at getting any details from him. Do you...” I took one of his hands in mine. “Do you want to ask where your mother is?”
He swiped at his upper lip and stared down at his father. “Why would your uncle do this? Why kill all these people?”
“My grandmother probably has a better idea,” I said, thinking. “But Abelard told me that the mantle of my house, that had belonged to my father as the oldest, is being held for either myself or my cousin. My grandmother said my uncle is...missing. That could mean a lot of things. The tracking devices I took from Corey suggested poor, quick work. If my uncle made them, which is my working theory, then he didn't have much time – possibly trying to put them in your father's hands before I arrived.”
“Did your uncle know you were coming here?”
I nodded. “He found out when I did. He was sitting in on the meeting with the Magisterium when they sent me for my test.”
“So, wait. You're here on a test to kill people? Really?”
That jerked me from my thoughts. “Beelzebub's balls, no! The test isn't supposed to work that way.”
Ty looked at me warily. “How does it work, then?”
“Well… when magi reach the end of their primary training, usually between sixteen and eighteen years of age, the Magisterium sends them on a test. Mine was incredibly vague but more or less came down to 'survive'. Now the home I have is one of my uncle's properties, so he knew where I'd be and sent a ghoul to kill me-”
“Yes, that's what I said.”
“That's a thing? Ghouls?”
“Yes. Hard for one to try to kill me if they didn't exist.”
“What about other things? Fairies? Unicorns?”
“Fairies, yes. Unicorns are actually a mistranslation of the concept of a hippopotamus that-”
“Hang on. Who's Beelzebub?”
“She was a powerful magus. Magi would sometimes become worshiped as gods in the past. Magi use them as...curses, I guess. Much like you might say ‘Oh, my God.’”
“Stop. Stop,” Ty said, waving a hand. “Setting aside that someone has tried to kill you...three, no, four times if you count the ghoul...go on. Sorry I interrupted.”
I paused, searching for my train of thought. “Oh, yes! So the ghoul – had to kill it, unfortunately – and then he disappeared. My cousin, Michael, showed up at my home – my grandmother said she gave him a thumping before sending him on his way, but it does beg what he thought he was doing in my home.” I paused. “Oh, right. I think he's going to try and kill me, too.”
“Is...everything about people trying to kill you? And why?” Ty asked with exasperation.
“No, not everything,” I said. “I can see why you'd think that. As for why my uncle and cousin would, it's power. If I'm dead, Michael gets the mantle of my house.”
“And what is that?”
“It's a...well, it's a lot of power – not just in title, as head of House Frost, but it's also a spell of enormous power that becomes part of the bearer as long as they live.”
Ty sighed. “Well...I don't want to ask about my mother. From what he said...I'm afraid he'll say she's in small...pieces or something.”
I looked at him with such compassion in my heart. “Would you like me to ask him?”
“I...oh. Well. Okay.”
“Why don't you get some clothes to go? Once we stop at the hospital we can go to my home. Hide out from things a bit.”
He glanced around slowly; I'm not sure what he was thinking. I know that his body was spiking several emotions at once and I wanted to reach for him, but if I did I was afraid we'd end up naked and passionate on the floor next to his father, unable to control ourselves. I could live with it; I'm not sure Ty would be so pleased.
“I mean...I live here,” Ty said quietly.
“Yes,” I said.
“And my dad's an asshole, but...he wants to kill magi because one killed my mom.” He looked at me. “But not all magi are bad.”
“Yes, I think that's true, no more of a good to bad ratio than other humans,” I said. “But your father has...the Defenders of the Divine have been killing magi, or trying to, for the last few years. I don't know if your father has regular contact, but if they come looking or if, say, my cousin shows up looking to finish me, your father is the logical person to ask.” I stared at him. “They will come here first.”
Ty pressed his lips together, rolling them inward as he looked at his father. His tongue poked out for a moment, and then he looked at me. “He's killed people. Hasn't he.” A statement, not a question.
“His group is responsible for...five deaths in the past six years. I can't imagine he wasn't involved, considering it's just him, your brother and my uncle...and I think they were possibly going to recruit you next. It makes sense.”
“There is very little about this that makes sense...but you're right. They would come looking for their ally, if they do come here.” He looked at me intently. “And why wouldn't they? If their weapon failed to kill you – my father and brother – and if your uncle is missing, then who is left? Michael?”
“He'd be the most likely,” I agree. “I have no idea what he knows.”
Ty rubbed his forehead. “Okay. Let me get clothes.”
“Or not. I won't mind.” My eyes went wide as he turned to regard me. “Oh. I'm so sorry. My tongue just...I mean, I won't protest....”
His gaze roved over me, and then he turned and went upstairs. I watched him go. I wondered if I would always find his butt so...interesting to watch.
I looked down at Mr. Flexen, still appearing to be stoned. I knelt down, settling on both knees, and touched his forearm. Gently I said, “Mr. Flexen...where is your wife?”
His mouth moved, but I refrained from using my blessing. It was possible that he couldn't or wouldn't be able to tell me anything, but there was a chance.
“You saw air swirling around her head?” I prompted, again speaking softly.
His head moved up and down subtly. “We...were meeting Wen-Wendell...and...and....”
In a near whisper I said, “And then what happened?”
His mouth moved again, but no words came out. I wanted to make sure his memories were scrambled before Ty came downstairs – too much was already being asked of him.
“She found us,” he said softly, a tear coming from the corner of his left eye. “By accident.”
“Your wife?” I asked.
He nodded again. “She was p-pissed off and...she...was yelling and...and then she...we couldn't hear her scream. Wendell,” he said, his voice suddenly growing stronger. “Wendell said there was a magus near somewhere, killing her, and we hunted and hunted to save her but....”
A wave of sadness passed over me. Mr. Flexen was not a good man, but he was also a man deceived. My uncle had ruined his life, and now I would make his memories too swirled together to make sense of. Perhaps that was a mercy. I placed my hand on his forehead and tapped into his spark. Delicately I stirred his memories, mixing them up so that my face was just one of many that he'd not be able to accurately recall.