Author’s Note: Hey, guys. So, I made a discord, just in case any of you wanted to sorta see what I’m like and have a chat. Might not be anyone’s kind of thing, might be kinda cool. So, yeah. I’ll leave the link here.
Kay. On with the chapter.
“Yeah,” James replied, unsure of what else there really was to say. “Yeah. I guess I’m a mage, now.”
For a long while, neither spoke. Whatever awkward feeling there had been in the air before was growing faster now, building more and more in the silence with every other moment. Then, after more than a minute of that ever deepening quiet, Peter clapped his hands together.
“Well,” he said, injecting into his voice what had to be the most forced note of cheer that James had ever heard. “Good talk. I’ll uh. I’ll get out of your hair.”
“… Kay,” James murmured, not quite managing to hold his father’s gaze. “Love you, Dad.”
James thought he heard a touch of sadness in his father’s tone as the older man replied:
“Love you too, Kiddo.”
At that, Peter pulled the door behind him open and stepped outside, before swinging it closed again. James didn’t look up as the man took his leave. He sighed.
It was like that sometimes, between him and his dad. They talked fine when there was nothing much to talk about, and his dad was just really to the point when there was something serious going on; but at other times, when there was stuff just going along unsaid…
James sighed again, and let himself fall back atop his bed, staring at the ceiling.
“I really wanted to talk to you about this, da-”
There was another noise as the door once again swung open, before slamming closed a little harder than it needed to.
“Okay, no,” Peter began, his tone firm. “No. We need to have a talk, and I’m not leaving here till we have it. James, why didn’t you tell your mother and I that you had powers?”
“I did,” James protested quietly, caught for a moment between surprise and relief. “I only found out about Jiji in the first place cuz I was looking for ways to tell you.”
“Yeah,” Peter replied, stepping forwards across the space between them and plomping down beside his son. “But that photo that caught you happened two weeks ago. Why didn’t you tell us before now, huh?” As he spoke, he reached down and placed a hand on James’ shoulder.
“Because I was scared you’d freak out,” he muttered back, turning his head against the mattress to look his father in the eye. “I mean, you can’t exactly just walk into your parents’ bedroom and say ‘Hey, Mom, hey, Dad. I had a dream about the rape last night and when I woke up I was flying’, can you?”
“… No, you’re right,” Peter sighed, giving James’ shoulder a little pat, before lowering himself down alongside him. James shifted across an inch or so to give his dad some room. “I guess you can’t just say that; but jeez, Kiddo.” James felt an arm worm its way underneath him to wrap his shoulders in a loose hug. “It really took you two whole weeks to muscle up and tell us?”
James thought back for a moment to what had happened before Central Park. The fight, the escape, the gun, and decided he agreed with Hideyoshi. There were some things his parents just didn’t need to know. In the end, he merely shrugged, shuffling over on the bed to rest his head against his father’s shoulder.
“Yeah,” he murmured. “It took me a while. But it was a big thing to try and tell you. Why didn’t you guys tell me I was magic in the first place?”
At that, James heard his father sigh.
“Yeah. That would have been harder for us to do than it sounds like. The way powers work, you kinda need to be put under a lot of stress to unlock them, and that stress is harder for you to achieve if you have a little voice in the back of your head saying ‘It’s okay, my magic’ll turn up and save me soon.’”
“So, what,” James twisted around a little to look his dad in the eye. “The more you told me, the less chance it’d really happen?”
“Pretty much, yeah.” James felt his head shift a little as his father shrugged. “It’s a tough problem. That’s why you get so many parents who try and force their kids to manifest. Just beat the crap out of them until they think they’re gonna die, then stop when it happens and apologize like hell in the aftermath.” Peter let out a long, bitter sigh. “Fucking disgusting.”
“Hey,” James muttered, lifting a hand to prod his father in the side. “No swearing.”
“What?” the older man asked, sounding genuinely perplexed.
“You said a bad word.” James gave his dad a scowl.
Peter raised an eyebrow at that, then let out a dry chuckle.
“Some people are bad enough to deserve that word.” James narrowed his eyes, unconvinced, before his father shot him a grin. “… You wanna try it?”
“Don’t ‘what’ me.” Peter laughed. “The F word. Wanna try it? I promise not to tell your mom.”
“Yeah.” His father gave him a wink. “Just this once. Throw a bad word at the people who abuse their kids. Just remember. I get to be the cool dad, now.”
James thought about it long and hard. This was a big step. A big step on a journey he hadn’t even realized he’d been taking. Was he really about to do this? Was he ready to take this plunge?
The word came out a little smaller than intended; quiet, as if its very utterance was accompanied by an unspoken apology. It had still happened, though, whatever the flaws. James took a breath. He felt taller.
“Good job, kid.” His father gave his shoulders another squeeze, before pulling himself upright. “Well. I dunno about you, but I’m all tapped out of difficult conversation energy. Let’s do the rest another time.”
Peter began to walk away at that, before stopping as he pulled the door ajar.
“I feel kinda lighter now,” he murmured, his tone deeply tired. “Do you feel any lighter, James?”
James turned his gaze to the ceiling, and smiled.
“Yeah. Just a little.”
Western Manhattan, 2:14 AM:
The man in the shadows didn’t even try to dodge as Lewis swung the blade towards him, simply letting it strike off the curve of his jawbone, the edge now slightly nicked. His shield didn’t flicker. He barely even flinched.
It didn’t matter. Lewis was already running.
“You’re running out of chances to do this amicably, tracker,” came the voice from behind him as he fled, sounding faintly annoyed now. Lewis swore behind himself as he made his retreat, relying on his natural speed, enhanced by whatever gifts his mother’s genes had left him, to gain some distance on the stranger.
Once that was achieved, Lewis kept running. For seconds, at first. Then minutes. Then nearly an hour. He kept going long after the man’s charcoal tinted scent had left his nose, only stopping when his winding path finally led him to the water at the island’s edge. Then, panting heavily, he found a road, and hailed himself a taxi.
He directed the perplexed driver to the opposite edge of the city, then got out, and went to find a subway. Whoever that wizard had been, he was powerful. Lewis had to give the guy the slip before he even considered going back to the kids. He sighed. It was going to take him hours to do this right. He had work in the morning.
Lewis found himself a subway station, and hopped aboard a random train, blending in as best he could amongst the mixed assortment of night folk that moved throughout the city that never slept. He found a chair, and allowed himself to fall into something of a doze.
He was exhausted. The last of the adrenaline had burned its way through his system in his journey in the taxi-cab, and his day before had hardly been uneventful. He tugged out his phone, set an alarm for four AM, and let himself fade out in the faintly musty train car.
He awoke to the familiar piano riff, and the sensation of the ground moving against the wheels far below. His head hurt. His mind ached. Half an hour wasn’t nearly enough to call a sleep. It was barely even a breather. But at least he could see a little clearer now.
Lewis pulled himself upright at the next station, and trudged out into the nearly empty terminal. He turned his coat up in preparation for the nightly cold, and stepped towards the map along the wall. He had to figure out how to get home. He barely noticed the woman following him. The one who smelled of sandalwood.
He climbed the steps out into the street, and took a left. It was going to be a long walk ho-
A scent. Charcoal.
Lewis turned mid-stride in the empty street, and began to run, only to find his path blocked by a woman who hadn’t been there a second ago.
The smell of sandalwood again.
He swore, then pulled his fist back, and struck her. She didn’t move. He thought something might have broken in his hand.
He had no time to check, however, as before he had a chance to move, something vast and strong scooped him off the ground, and tossed him, like a ragdoll, all the way across the street. He landed in a sprawl in an alleyway, and thought he tasted blood.
“Who the fuck are you people?” he asked, turning his face in the direction of his pursuers, only to find that there was no one there. The smell of charcoal was stronger now.
“The time to ask that, Mr. Themps,” spoke that same disgruntled voice from earlier. “Was before you tried to run away from me. I’m a very reasonable man.”
“You’re a son of a bitch is what you are,” Lewis growled, pulling himself to his feet, and turning to face the man, once more concealed among the shadows. “Whatever the hell you want from me, you can shove it up your ass!”
What happened next confused Lewis. He felt the strike against his gut. He knew that for certain; powerful enough to send him to his knees, something viscous pouring from his mouth. Why was there no pain to it? Surely, there should be pain by now.
For a moment, he considered just staying on the ground. It seemed a little easier than standing up to face these people. Unfortunately, it was not to him to make that choice. He felt something take him by the chin, and then there was no ground beneath his form. He couldn’t think; could barely see. The smell of charcoal and sandalwood; that ever fragrant sandalwood; growing stronger and stronger in his mind.
“Now. If you’re done trying to make a statement,” the voice murmured. “Perhaps we can get on with things in the civilized manner that I’d intended.” Lewis gave no response to that, so the voice continued. “We’re going to make you an offer, Mr. Themps, and I’m afraid we’re in too much of a rush to be letting you say no right now.”
Lewis opened his mouth to swear, but felt something leaden press against his tongue. He gagged.
“I really wouldn’t, Mr. Themps. My partner and I are in a bad mood. The deal is quite straightforward. We want you to find someone for us. One man. In exchange, for the first and perhaps only time in our long lives, we are willing to let you name your price. Be it money, or protection, or a better quality of life for those two teens you care for. We are in a hurry, Mr. Themps. Think quickly.”
A moment later, Lewis felt that leaden weight ease itself off his tongue. He could speak. He could fight. This man still had him by the chin.
“… And If I say no?” he asked.
There was a sigh, before another voice spoke, a woman this time. Sandalwood.
“I’m afraid this means a lot to us,” she said. “Refusing would be the last thing your tongue ever did.”
Lewis took a breath, and closed his eyes. That hadn’t been a threat. It was a promise. Her tone had been too flat to be a bluff.
“… Who do you want me to find,” he asked, hating himself just a little for the words. “… I want to know the job before I choose if it’s worth my tongue.”
There was movement then, and he felt the ground once more beneath his feet. The thing around his chin released its grip, and he felt himself collapsing back against the alleyway wall. Not long after that, the world faded back into view before his eyes, a little blurry. His two aggressors stood there above him, quite composed. The man had a fleck of his blood across one cheek.
Sandalwood raised a hand towards a pocket of her coat and produced a zip-lock bag with what looked to be a swath of fabric stowed inside. She tossed it down to him.
“Give it a smell,” she instructed.
For a moment, he debated again what a tongue was worth. Then he took the bag, and reluctantly pried it open.
The thing inside was potent. It reeked. The stink of soap and fear and sweat, and the all too recognizable smell of sex.
The old man caught Lewis’ eye as he knelt down, before pulling the undersized shirt out of the bag, and holding it up.
“Mr. Themps,” Hideyoshi murmured, his eyes hard. “We will give you anything you want, if you find the man who raped our grandson.”