Anzu saw the magician Hnikarr liked so much quite regularly. After all, it was Jamie who had given him the bodies to possess.
With eyes the woman Cynthia (he still saw her in his mind’s eye as Alan Ryves had: still remembered the taste of her lips, still felt the ghost of her touch on Alan Ryves’ skin) had forced half-open, Anzu also saw the other magician, Seb. He saw the growing bond between the two of them, from one-sided allies to friends to something far closer, feelings gaining momentum, like an avalanche sweeping down on feeble human minds. He saw Seb stand at Jamie’s shoulder, closer to him every time, almost as if Seb thought he could give Jamie something approaching protection or comfort, almost as if Seb hoped Jamie would welcome that, a triumph of optimism over prior experience.
None of it made any sense to Anzu whatever. On the Corsair Queen, he had rarely seen Jamie show Seb anything that even resembled human affection. He wondered if this might be what Alan Ryves’ mind, and Cynthia Davies’ words, had called falling in love, and if so, if it was possible for a demon to experience anything of the kind. He doubted it, personally, but Hnikarr seemed to have managed it.
Anzu filed the information away for future reference, and set out to wreak havoc.
“You will be careful, I hope,” Helen of the Aventurine Circle said neutrally to her new leader, sitting on a wagon step and sharpening her sword.
Jamie gave her a flat brown stare. The silver sickle in it was growing, increasing as Jamie’s strength did. “I could say the same about you and Matthias.”
Helen made a noise that, on a less elegant woman, would have sounded like a grunt. “I know how to keep men at arms’ length – and women, if it comes to that. And Matthias has not shown me cruelty in the past.”
“It wasn’t cruelty,” Jamie insisted. “It was fear.” He paused. “You wouldn’t know about that.”
“I have been afraid,” Helen disagreed, and tested the edge of the sword. A thin line of blood welled up on her thumb, and she sucked it away.
“Not like that,” Jamie said, and in the closed door of his voice Helen heard who do you think you are, my mother?
She bowed her head. She might have been conceding the point, or she might have been inspecting the sword. “Just don’t let him hurt you, Jamie. I would hate to have to hurt another magician.”
“Just so we’re clear,” Nick said, cornering Seb behind Iris’ wagon, “you don’t hurt Jamie. Not if you want to live. Got it?”
Seb wondered if, were Nick to set Seb on fire, Iris would be more annoyed by his death or the death of the priceless manuscripts in his arms. He nodded furiously.
“Good,” Nick said, and disappeared into the Market like a bad-tempered shadow.
Jamie picked up the phone almost immediately, his voice full of laughter when he said hello.
Mark cleared his throat awkwardly. He would go through with this. It was nowhere near as scary as actually standing in front of Jamie and confessing, which (since no-one actually knew where Jamie was) was conveniently impossible. “Um, hi, Jamie? It’s me. Mark.”
“Oh.” Jamie’s voice cleared and cooled a little. “Hello, Mark.”
“How are you? No-one’s heard from you for ages.”
“I’m fine. We’re all fine.”
“Rubbish!” yelled a very familiar voice, faint and distant on the other side of the phone, and Jamie burst out laughing and Mark fell off his chair.
“Is that Seb?” he demanded.
“Oh, yeah,” Jamie said casually. “He’s here. He often is. Seeing as he practically lives with us now, you know, funny how these things turn out. Also I had a small accident.”
Mark, feeling that getting back onto the chair would only mean he fell off it again soon, rearranged himself on the floor. “Uh, small like a splinter, or small like... um, I don’t know, did you get knocked down by a car? Are you okay?”
“Something like that,” Jamie said nonchalantly, without specifying whether he meant the splinter or the car accident, which was typical of Jamie bloody Crawford. “I’m fine. I have Seb to feed me invalid-grapes.”
“You have Seb to what?” Mark squawked, passing over the fact that the whole concept of invalid-grapes made no sense (also typical of Jamie bloody Crawford) and fixating on the fact that whatever it was, Seb was doing it. And Mark could hear Seb laughing his head off at the very idea, which was also disturbing.
“Feed me invalid-grapes!” Jamie repeated cheerily. Mark’s head was spinning. “You know, in olden days when people went into hospital their visitors would bring them grapes?”
“Um, I, no, I didn’t,” Mark said weakly, feeling much as if his guts were tying themselves in knots.
“Oh. Well. They did. Anyway, how are you?”
“I’m fine.” Mark cleared his throat, and mentally re-ordered the prepared speech he had thrashed out for this very moment. “I just wanted to say I’m really, really sorry I would never admit to kissing you round the back of the gym, and that I never, like, tried to stop Seb when he was beating you up, which I really hope he’s stopped doing, and if he hasn’t, I’ll help you stop him. And I really hope you’re happy. Um.”
There was a brief pause. Mark tried to sink through the floor, but linoleum is notoriously resistant to this kind of treatment.
“Thank you for that, Mark,” Jamie said, carefully and seriously. “I’m glad you said it.” His tone brightened. “Also, Seb hardly ever beats me up now. In fact, it would be fair to say that I sometimes beat him up, in a totally consensual and really fun kind of way.”
“Jamie!” Seb shouted, but Mark could hear mortally embarrassed laughter in his voice too.
“Um,” Mark said weakly, going several interesting shades of red.
“I joke, I joke,” Jamie said, not reassuring Mark at all, especially when he added: “Mostly. Seriously, Mark, I’m happy, Seb’s happy, Mae’s happy, we’re all happy. I hope you are too.”
Mark thought about Lauren, and about school (much more peaceful since Seb had gone) and his baby sister taking her first steps clinging onto his fingers a few weeks ago, and his parents, who were always tired now but still always smiling, and who had understood, better than he’d ever expected, when he explained about bisexuality. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m happy.”
“Good,” Jamie said, and there was a smile in his voice. “Anyway. See you, Mark.”
“See you, Jamie,” Mark said, and when he had listened to the click of the call ending and the buzz of the empty line for a few moments he put down the phone.
He should probably have been glad that Seb had worked out his demons, and that Jamie was happy and comfortable (even if he’d had some kind of weird accident). Instead, he punched the floor at something less than full force, which still made his knuckles sting and provided no relief for his feelings. No way did Seb deserve Jamie.
Sin glared at Jamie and Seb over her French essay. “Look, it’s not that I’m not pleased that you two are together and happy and all hearts-and-flowers all over the place, it’s cute. But seriously? Some of us are trying to get on with our work.”
Jamie grinned, and disentangled his hand from Seb’s hair. Seb, who must have had a crick in his neck from letting Jamie tilt his head over the back of the chair, looked mildly disappointed.
Sin shook her head and reached for the dictionary. “Don’t you have any work to do?” she demanded, but smiled anyway.
“Just so long as you’re happy,” Mae said, and hugged her brother tightly. Jamie hugged her back, careful of his stump. “That’s all I care about.”
“I’m happy,” Jamie said, and pressed his face into her t-shirt. “I’m really, really happy.”
“Good,” Mae said, and squeezed him till he thought his ribs were going to break.
Contrary to popular belief, Roger Crawford was not a total loss as a father. He remembered that his children existed, and he sent them birthday and Christmas presents (although, when Mavis was about... sixteen, maybe, he stopped getting thank-you cards, which he put down to poor parenting on Annabel’s behalf). He even thought he might drop in and visit them once, but when he went to their house there was no-one there. It was locked up and deserted, and a neighbour told him that there had been funny goings-on there for a while, and Annabel hadn’t been seen for a couple of months; apparently they’d all gone up to London, which sent a shiver down Roger’s spine. She’d added some casual comments about ‘that girl with the pink hair’ and ‘that queer’ that reminded him why he’d never really understood Mavis and James, and what a poor job Annabel had obviously done when it came to raising them, and – what with one thing and another – he never went back.
He did catch sight of a young man once who reminded him a little of James: the same fair hair, the same skinny physique and cheeky demeanour. But James (Roger flinched at the sight of the stump where the man’s left hand should have been) had both hands, and he didn’t walk casually close to other young men like that, especially not handsome young men with broad shoulders and green eyes.
The man who might have been James caught sight of Roger, and after a flicker of uncertainty tilted his chin up and stared hostilely at him, and that settled it. James had had brown eyes, not silvery grey ones.
Roger Crawford never saw his son again.