"Do you think Jacko might be like me?"
Sorry is puttering about in the kitchen. Laura wouldn't think of interrupting him at such a crucial junction of the confectionary alchemy he's trying to perform, except that she's had that thought several times in the last few weeks. And it's starting to worry her.
"Like you?" Sorry, good-natured about the potential pastry explosion, pokes his head out of the kitchen. "You mean..."
Laura can't remember the words the Aunts had used for it, but she nods. "Like me. Like that."
"Mm-hmm." Laura's on a deadline, and she can't make sense of her notes thinking about this, so she tries to put it away. Only now that she's told Sorry he won't put it away, and he'll bring it out at the least convenient time and why did she say anything at all, anyway. Idiot.
He puts the pound cake in finally, sets the timer and makes all manner of faces at the fruit compote that's supposed to cook in the middle before coming down and sitting at the side of the table, taking care not to shuffle her notes. "What makes you say that?"
She's lost her train of thought by now. "Say what?"
"That your little brother's special."
For one fleeting moment it strikes her that she could ask him what he means by special, and draw this out until he shuts down and goes back to his baking, and then she wouldn't have to address the question. But it's not worth it. For her, for Sorry, or for Jacko. "I don't know, but there's something. About the way he talks to people at school. He hardly talks to Mum at all anymore, you know." Although that's not such a surprise. Laura remembers not talking to their mother about all sorts of things, not all of them having to do with Sorry and Jacko's mark and all the witchcraft business.
"Isn't that normal? For a boy of his age," Sorry offers advice without quite knowing what it means. He was never a normal boy of his age, so it's hard for him to imagine on his own what such a boy might do or think.
Laura has to admit, at least, that in this case he's right. She finds herself rubbing her forehead the way her mother used to, before half her worries were taken off in the form of Sorry's awkward proposal of marriage and her daughter's finding an acceptable position with a well-respected newspaper. "I think so. I wish you could hear him, though, there's just something..." But the words have all fled to the article-writing side of her brain, and all Laura can do is sit and stare at her hands, pencil drooping from between two fingers.
Sorry waits for her to to finish deciding that it was a useless exercise after all, before planting an awkward kiss on her temple and a steady hand on her shoulder. "Well, we'll keep an eye on him, at least," he tells her on his way back into the kitchen. "If he really is like you, letting him fumble around on his own might just give him funny ideas."
Laura thinks with a hidden smile to her papers that Sorry turned out much better for some of her funny ideas. And maybe the Aunts would agree. But she doesn't say it, because Sorry meant something entirely different and she won't argue with that kind of caution. She turns back to her work instead, chewing over the best way to lay out the facts of the case until Sorry pokes his head back in from the kitchen to tell her the gooseberry tarts are ready, and to brandish a red craft paper crown at her.
"Jacko, you can't keep on doing that." Where 'doing that' is the best phrase Laura can think of for what he's been up to. Getting into trouble. Lying about it later. Her baby brother gives her his best scornful look.
"I told you, I'm not Jacko anymore."
Her baby brother has yet to learn the truth about big sisters. Their mother may have acquiesced to his need to be a serious adult, but Laura still thinks of him more often than she should as a wobbly little boy with big eyes and curious grabbing hands. "You'll always be my Jacko," she says, pulling him into a hug from which she knows he'll pull away with a face. There might be girls watching.
It's not a long walk from the school to the house, though Laura knows their mother will feel better if he doesn't make it alone. Even though he is fifteen, and even though he's almost into the fifth form, her mother still worries about Jacko. No one's yet told her what happened or why it happened, why Jacko took sick so suddenly and got better with just as little explanation. He could take another fit any day just walking home from school, so their mother wants him watched all the time. Laura turns that over, too, and adds that to the list of reasons for Jacko's temper.
"You're all Grumpy Bear today," Laura steps back to get a fuller look at him, see if she can pick out what it is that's bothering her. Shadows under his eyes, shoulders hunched, more lean in his cheeks. He lost that baby fat years before he should have. But he doesn't look possessed, which is a good thing. That's something Laura is far too familiar with. "What's wrong?"
"Nightmares," is all he says, shortly, but it's enough. Laura knows what he means.
She doesn't say anything until they get back to the house, and then she lets him get a couple steps in front of her so she can bully him in the back door. The slapping of the wooden screen door against the frame makes him jump, so she knows his nightmares are bad ones. Whether they're of that lemur whose name will never be spoken in this house or of something else, she doesn't know, and she won't ask. But she rummages around on a shelf of Sorry's mother's and grandmother's things until she finds what she's looking for.
"Here," she holds out the little gargoyle with its blue fake-glass eyes to her baby brother, rubbing its head to remind it to be awake and do its job. "Put this where it can see your bed. That'll fix it."
Jacko gives her a funny look, because he still says he doesn't believe in all that nonsense. But he'll do it anyway. Because she knows these things, even if he doesn't know that she knows them. Not on the surface where it counts. He was almost too young to remember.
"This is one of the Aunts' things, isn't it." He doesn't look at her, just at the gargoyle, turning it over in his hands. Feeling the little notch out of one of the ears where it didn't quite make it through the move intact.
Laura nods, even though he's not looking, and her fingers find something to play with. Winter's old quartz spears.
"Why do you call them the Aunts, anyway. They're Sorry's parents, I mean, his Mum and Grandma, aren't they?"
She puts the quartz back on the shelf and takes a step back. "Sort of. They're not what he grew up with. It's complicated." That's enough of an escape to almost be a lie, but she doesn't want to talk about that right now. "It's easier for me, and for Sorry, a little, to think of them as Aunts." Or it's easier for Sorry to think of her as thinking of them as Aunts, with no real connection to him. Then he can pretend she won't turn him out like they did. Not something she wants to explain to Jacko right now, though.
But he's looking at her as though he suspects. At least he suspects she's not telling him everything. "What do you think I'm doing, anyway?" he asks, going back to the argument they had when she turned up at his school at the end of the day.
Something goes pop in the water pipes. Outside, the leaves start to swirl on the window ledge.
Laura shakes her head, and the movements die down. "Being fifteen," she remembers. "Come on, let's find you something healthy to eat before I take you home."
"I don't think he knows what he's doing."
Laura chops vegetables for the casserole while Sorry washes out the glasses for dinner. She's learned that it's the little routines that keep him anchored to her and to their outwardly normal life, keep him from attracting attention. The Aunts approve, when they notice, but time is moving on for them, too, and it's hard to keep track of everything sometimes. So the little routines help her, too.
Sorry's looking over at her when she looks up after the last carrot. "What is he doing?"
"Making his nightmares come to life?" Laura rubs the back of her hand over her forehead, fingers sweaty on the hilt of the knife. The damp knife blade drips vegetable juice in her hair. "Scaring the kids he doesn't like. Enchanting the ones he does." She looks over at Sorry with a smile. "You never enchanted me."
He looks back at her. "I didn't have to. You came knocking down my door like the Big Bad Wolf."
"And I'll huff and I'll puff, and blow your big old house down." Laura chuckles as she turns back to making sure there's a proper proportion of vegetables to other things. If there's too many vegetables neither of them will eat it; a tragic failing of a responsible adult, but one neither of them is willing to give up. Poor eating habits aren't one of the greater failings, at least. "The Aunts were glad to see me, at least," she teases.
It goes a bit by Sorry, who frowns. "I was glad to see you. After a bit."
"You thought I was invading your privacy."
"Well. You were." He leans over, kisses her cheek. "Fry those up a bit?"
Laura doesn't, but she'll soak them in water and spices before she lays them in the dish. "Too much oil is bad for you," she reminds him. "Gives you spots."
"I've never had spots in my life," Sorry says, knowing full well that's an exaggeration. But for a little while normality is restored, and they can make dinner in peace. Good, solid foods, and she can feel the virtue in them from seed to plant to harvest as she lays them out over the crust, pours in the filler. Little bits of chicken come bobbing to the surface. "Is Jacko doing it on purpose?"
"Spots?" Laura stares at the creamy broth not yet brimming over the casserole pan, watches the carrots peek out of the surface. No, of course not, Sorry means the other thing. "I don't think so. But I think he knows he's doing something. I don't think he knows how to stop it."
Sorry doesn't ask, but she hears him wondering why anyone would want to stop, regardless. Jacko's different. Jacko was almost killed by a lemur when he was three years old. Laura doesn't share her mother's worry, she knows that what happened isn't likely to happen again and even less so when she and Sorry are watching over him, but that doesn't mean she wants this life for him. She chose it. Jacko should have the same choice.
"Do you want me to talk to him?"
Laura looks over at Sorry, surprised at his perception. But he's watching her, so it's not that surprising after all. Following along in her thoughts the way he does when she's particularly loud, or he's particularly drifty. "I'd like that? If you think you can."
Sorry nods, and pulls her closer with his hands around her waist. "I'll talk to him," he repeats, and kisses her.
"The casserole will burn," she smiles.
"The casserole isn't even in the oven yet."
Laura stands by when Sorry talks to Jacko. Just in case. Sorry calls him Jack today, because he wants the boy to listen to him, and showing that they take him seriously is the best way to go about starting that. Sorry knows what it's like to have people fill in the other half of the conversation for themselves, which is another reason Laura wanted him to talk to Jacko. Plus, he's not Sorry's baby brother. She isn't sure she wouldn't come across as pushing one way or another.
But she knows Sorry doesn't understand some things, so she's sticking around just in case.
Sorry's sprawled on one of the swings, held upright only by his grip on the two anchor chains. "You don't have to believe in it for it to be true, that's the problem," he explains. "It's like gravity. Or water. It goes where it wants to go and where it ends up going, and it cuts channels in you if you haven't made them there already."
Laura winces at the bluntness of it. Jacko only nods.
"I didn't. Make any channels, I mean. I'm not like you two."
Sorry digs a rut in the ground with his heel, trying to swing himself back and forth. "No, you're not like Laura, she did it all on her own. But we don't always choose to have it in us. Sometimes we're just born like that. And sometimes it happens to us before we're old enough to fight it."
Jacko shudders all over; even Laura can see it from by the carousel. He doesn't say anything because he's still fighting the admission that anything happened, but he remembers enough to be afraid.
"It changed you. Whether or not you wanted it to. The mark went away but the fact that it was there still happened." He gets a little ways into the air, back and forth. "Laura says you're having nightmares."
Jacko presses his hands to his sides, then slides them down into his pockets just over his hips. "Everyone gets nightmares."
Not like these, Laura thinks.
"Not like these. Did Caliban help?"
Jacko blinks, scowling, thinking he's being made fun of. "Caliban?"
"The gargoyle. It was Mir-- my mother's. Winter gave it to her to keep the nightmares away, but it didn't work for me, my mind's too strange. But Laura seems to think it might help you."
Bony shoulders shrug in a too-big t-shirt. "I think so." Jacko isn't willing to commit to an answer that forces him to believe what they're telling him, but Laura relaxes even with that. It sounds as though it's working. Most nights, anyway, which is all she could ask for. "Your strange mind... is that why you went off to work at the bird sanctuary?"
Sorry doesn't care enough about the niceties of normal people to be offended by that. He grins. "Birds like me more than people, and they're less tiring. Do people tire you out?" he asks, taking Jacko by surprise enough that the younger man even answers.
"I guess. Sometimes, when there's a crowd..." Then the sullen fear comes back and he takes a step back. "I'm not like you, okay? I don't want to be like you, I don't want to be a part of whatever it is you're a part of, I don't want this," he yells. Not very loud, but loud enough that Laura wraps a wind around it and carries it off in an unoccupied direction of the park so as not to scare anyone. Jacko doesn't notice. He's too upset, so there's a small piece of good luck there.
"Okay..." Sorry jumps off the swing. "Okay. You don't have to be a part of it if you don't want to, not right now. You're changing, I mean, your body's changing..."
A little ways away, Laura's head thunks onto one of the handlebars on the carousel.
"... and that's a part of it, too. You can decide that way, if you want to."
Jacko stares at him, helpless and angry. "Well, why didn't you say so in the first place?"
It's not as elaborate as she had it, maybe because she was stepping into a whole other world while Jacko's only slamming a door. There's no journey, no tokens, no strange vision or reversed letters on the bath mat afterwards. Jacko puts some things in white silk and puts them in a little wooden box and then they seal it up with red wax. Laura hears something click into place, by the glance she catches from Sorry he hears it too, and the air becomes less thick and easier to breathe. Jacko says some words that mean he doesn't want any part of this. Several times, though Sorry later tells her it's the first three that count.
Afterwards Laura sends Sorry home and takes Jacko out for fish and chips, and he seems a little better. She drops him off at home and their mother looks at Laura with a wistful, sad suspicion, but she doesn't ask what they've been up to. She's never asked, not once in twelve years. But she knows the look of them when Laura's been up to magic, even if she doesn't want to think about it, herself, and this just reminds her of when Jacko was dying and there wasn't anything she could do.
Laura hugs her mother, says hello to Chris, and leaves before her mother can think about it too hard. She'll come back later, when she looks more like the Laura her mother knows.
"It won't stick, will it," she asks late that night, tucking her feet under the blankets after kicking off her socks.
Sorry shrugs; she feels his shoulder move under her head. "It might. It depends on what he does, where he goes. It'll make his life a little easier at school, at any rate."
"That's something." Something more than nothing. Laura wonders what happens when he goes to university, though. If he goes overseas for a job. What happens when he moves away from town, from them. Even from Janua Caeli, though he hasn't been in there and Laura's pretty sure she doesn't want him to.
Sorry's fingers comb through her hair, fanning it out over her shoulders till the ends tickle her skin along her neck. "He'll be all right. He's got his feet under him again, and maybe the next time it comes around he'll be more ready for it."
Privately, Laura hopes there won't be a next time. She remembers the raw, distressed look on her brother's face as everything went strange just before the world righted itself again, that clicking sound of the door closing. She remembers almost making a mess of her own change, and losing herself in some world with no rules or explanations. Next time, he might be ready for it, or she might not be there.
"You have to let him grow up sometime, Laura," Sorry says, with unexpected solemnity. "He's not your Jacko anymore, he's his own man."
"Not yet," she turns and buries her face in Sorry's nightshirt, smelling the sanctuary and their laundry soap and him underneath it all. "Please, not just yet."
Sorry pets her hair until she drifts off, first to sleep and then through the roof and out of the house, down the maze of streets and houses and little lives within them all until she finds Jacko curled up in a ball in the middle of his bed. He's sleeping easier tonight, but it won't last long. She can see the vultures circling, so to speak.
"Get away!" she shouts. "Get away, you can't have him, he doesn't want you." The gargoyle flaps its wings and leaps off the shelf, growing into a creature the size of a large dog with blue flames for eyes and a wingspan that fills the room. The shadows scatter from the light, its light and hers. "Go away and leave him alone!"
And they do. It takes some more shouting and some waving of her hands, and if she was thinking or had planned this she would have brought Sorry and maybe a sword, but she'll make do with her innate stubbornness and years of experience. For a moment she thinks back to the scared, angry girl who faced down a lifesucking ancient spirit and wonders how she got here from that place.
In the morning she'll ask Sorry what those spirits are, because now she knows it wasn't just her brother wandering into their world by mistake. Something dark and suspicious is pulling him to the other side. And maybe he or the Aunts know what it is, and maybe they'll have a plan of attack. But for now Jacko's made his choice and told it to both worlds, a choice that should stick and be respected and be final. For the things that don't listen, gargoyle still keeps watch against all those things Jacko can no longer see. And he's got a few more years living nearby to his sister and her little trio of friendly family witches. And for now, that'll have to do.