I walked through a forest of my imagination. The gentle glow of bioluminescent flowers lit my way as I went deeper into the woods. The canopy allowed intermittent breaks so I could see the night sky. I’d borrowed the one from the dream Clark and I shared when he told me he loved me. It made me feel safe. In place of any real animals, their shady silhouettes moved in the surrounding trees. The shadow creatures moved slowly and gracefully so that no sudden movements brought on feelings of panic. I had no destination in mind, but that didn’t matter. I kept filling in more and more details while I waited. The smell of jasmine filled the air around me, and a violin started. An orchestra came to life in section by section. The flowers glowed brighter and dimmer in rhythm with the music.
Ahead of me, an archway of twisted branches appeared. This wasn’t my doing; Clark had made a doorway into Eli’s subconscious. My forest vanished, and I stepped into a small kitchen. Natural morning light filled the room, and a warm breeze came through the window. A tall black woman was frying something in a skillet and speaking a language I couldn’t understand. A younger version of Eli closed the refrigerator door and handed a container of cut-up sausage to the woman. The family resemblance between them was unmistakable; she must be his mother or an aunt, maybe. They seemed unaware of my presence in the dream as she cooked and he cut up an onion. When Eli turned to add the diced onion to the pan, he split and the adult version of him stepped toward me. He nodded for me to follow him before he walked past me, away from his younger self.
“What’s going on?” he asked. The voices from the kitchen faded as we stepped into a room too large and modern to have been part of the same apartment.
“I’m here to make sure I can trust you,” I said. It’s harder to lie in dreams, not impossible, but I thought it was better not to try it. Clark could have made it easier if I wanted to. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do in dream space.
“What made you think you couldn’t?” Eli asked. He leaned on the arm of a black leather chair rather than sit in it.
“Your second affinity.” I sat on a matching leather couch and stretched my legs out across it.
“You picked up on that, huh?”
“Not without some effort. It’s subtle,” I said.
“It doesn’t have to be. I’ve kept it toned down,” he said in a practiced neutral tone. It could have been a boast or a threat.
“I don’t doubt you.”
“When did you start feeling it?” he asked.
“When I cleared our essences a few houses back,” I said.
“You used it on Ruby after I told you she would decide if you could stay,” I said, trying to keep emotion out of the statement.
“A bit, yeah,” he said.
“That’s not all, is it?” I asked.
“No. I used it after you saved me from the suicide compulsion Newton put on me. I just wanted to be safe. You kept Ruby safe from me. I hoped you would do the same for me when Newton sent his next witch,” he confessed.
“Ah,” I mimicked his noise of understanding.
“Would you have taken me on otherwise?” he asked.
“We’ll never know,” I told him.
“Do you want me to leave?”
“No. You can stay under two conditions,” I said, but I didn’t want to give him a chance to prepare for my plans.
“What are they?” he asked.
“I’ll tell you in a minute.”
I stepped backward, and Clark pulled me out of Eli’s mind, straight to the waking world. He’d used his magic to wake Eli, too. We went out to the backyard to wait for him. Eli came out dressed like he was ready to leave us. Clark and I were both still in our pajamas. I wanted to get back to bed as soon as possible. Storm clouds filled the night sky, but there was no rain yet. I considered going back inside, but I didn’t want to risk waking Ruby up if anything went awry. I didn’t want to send Eli away, but I didn’t know how much of that was my own desire for him as an ally and how much was his magic.
“You don’t want to fight or something, do you?” Eli asked.
“No,” I said. I held my hands out for him.
He placed his hands palm to palm with mine. I used a true intentions spell. The physical contact would make it impossible for him to counter without prior warning. I wasn’t taking chances. His mind opened up to me, letting me see into his desires and plans. There wasn’t even a hint of malice or deceit. He wanted freedom from his fear of Newton. His intention to help me, however he could, came through clearly. Deeper than that, the spell revealed how much he wanted to stay with us after this was all over. His plan to follow wherever we went after this was over surprised me. I would have thought he’d have someone waiting for him once he didn’t have to look over his shoulder anymore. What happened to that woman from his dream? I pulled my hands away, breaking the spell between us.
“Did I pass?” he asked.
“So far,” I said.
“Right, two conditions. What’s the second one?” he asked.
“Use your magic. I want to feel the full force of it,” I said. I needed to understand this power completely if I was going to trust him from now on.
“I’ve never done that before. I don’t know what it will do to you,” he said hesitantly.
“Clark will intervene if necessary,” I said.
“Okay,” Eli said. He held his hands out to me as I’d done for my spell.
I set my hands on top of his but felt nothing at first. His magic felt like a comforting warmth as when it started. The feeling spread up from my hands and through my entire body. The subtlety that I’d associated with this power didn’t last long, though. My mood shifted from the comfort of a kind acquaintance to the joy of seeing a close friend in seconds. I felt myself smiling unintentionally. I wanted to tell him everything about my life and learn all there was to know about him. It didn’t stop there. The magic shifted my feelings toward lust. It didn’t help that Eli was handsome. The urge to pull him to me and kiss him was getting hard to resist. His magic was still building, though, and that knowledge was the only thing that held me in place. As I thought I would lose control, and Eli was becoming the only thing that mattered at all, the ground fell out from underneath me. Umbra shadow stepped me across the yard. Eli’s magic cut off so abruptly I lost control, and tears streamed down my face. It wasn’t real love. No one could replicate genuine love with magic. Eli’s power at its strongest could make someone worship him. Clark ran to my side and held me while I tried to stop crying. Eli stood utterly still, watching me with a worried look on his face.