Dimitri looked out the window the whole ride. I appreciated his pleasant profile in the lamplight. His nose turned up slightly, his chin came to a sharp point, and his bottom lip gave the impression of a perpetual pout. I’d noticed him at the factory while I waited for Greg. I liked how focused he got while he worked. Only two other WatchCasters came close to his technique. The rest rushed through the enchantments or got sloppy with their handwork. Dimitri drew his sigils like works of art, each movement precise with the end in mind. I found myself somewhere between wanting him and wanting to be him. The carriage stopped, pulling my focus away from the curls of his midnight blue hair, and Cam opened the door.
“Don’t go anywhere. We’ll be right back,” I told Cam as I stepped out of the carriage.
“You got it,” he said.
I offered my hand to Dimitri to support him on the step-down. He hesitated just a second before accepting it. His skin felt smoother and warmer than mine. Our magic danced between our hands as he let go and drew his back. The brief contact sent an excited tingle up my arm. It reached my chest before calming down. I suspected he felt the same sensation when he flexed his hand and rubbed his arm. I wondered what would happen with any kind of prolonged contact. My magic had never reacted to someone like that before. What made him different from any other magic user?
“It’s this way,” Dimitri said, gesturing to his right.
“Lead the way.”
He turned and walked to the middle building on the block. I followed him, never letting him more than an arm’s length away from me. I didn’t think he’d run, but I wouldn’t risk it. He’d intrigued Daniel, which rarely happened anymore. I just hoped his other watches would hold Daniel’s interest. He’d seen too much of our operation, so he either needed to be in business with us or wouldn’t survive the night. Selfishly, I hoped they’d work something out so Daniel didn’t order me to hurt Dimitri. If it came down to it, I’d do what I had to for Daniel. My growing fascination would make it more unpleasant than usual, though.
Dimitri opened the door and immediately scooped something off the ground. I readied a shock spell before I saw he’d picked up a cat and cradled it to his chest. I closed the door and relaxed, turning back to find him nearly on top of me. “How does it work?”
“What?” I asked, involuntarily stepping back and hitting the door.
“Your magic. You don’t have any training, but you’re controlling it. How?” he asked.
“Wild magic is illegal. How did you stay under the radar as a child? Have you always been able to control it?” He continued. He channeled the mix of nervous and excited energy into pacing and scratching under the cat’s chin. “Do you use spells? And why did it react to my magic like that outside?”
“Slow down,” I said. I stepped forward and held him in place. I took a deep breath, and he mimicked me.
“Sorry. I’ve just never seen anything like your magic before. I thought I was risking a lot using a banned spell book, but you’re wielding wild magic in the streets,” he said, only speaking marginally slower.
“You’re not scared?” I asked. I relied on terrifying people with my magic. None of the standard spells they enchanted pocket watches with caused pain or inspired fear. So just by being so far from the norm, my magic frightened more people than it impressed. Until now, Daniel and my aunt had been the only people to see value instead of danger.
“Oh, I absolutely am. I mean, I have no idea what I’ve gotten myself into. Is your boss more likely to buy the watches from me or kill me and take them for himself? I’m not really sure what I can do either way.”
“You’re doing remarkably well for someone who is imagining potentially dying by the end of the night,” I said. I didn’t know what to do with him. Normally, I’d use either my size or my magic to menace people. Dimitri didn’t let his fear slow him down.
“I’d rather not, just to be clear,” he said.
“Noted,” I said.
“So?” he asked. It took me a moment to realize I hadn’t answered any of his questions. He’d asked them so quickly that I couldn’t remember them.
“Start again and go a little slower,” I said.
“How are you controlling wild magic?” he repeated.
“Oh, uh, I just kinda do it,” I said. “I mean, can’t you call on your magic whenever you want?”
“Of course, but I have academy training. I watched you attack Greg; you didn’t use a watch’s enchantment, and I didn’t see any sigils. Was it even a spell?” he asked.
“I call it a shock spell. I just picture what I want the magic to do, and it does it,” I explained. “It doesn’t always work perfectly the first time. I usually have to practice and refine new spells to get the best results.”
“How long have you been doing it?” he asked.
“My whole life,” I answered. I’d never been so liberal in discussing my magic, not even with Daniel. What about this man made me trust him without even thinking about it? I should have raised my guard and gotten us back on track, but curiosity got the better of me. “Why?”
“Either you’re a living miracle, or we’ve been lied to,” he said. I didn’t know what he meant, but I could tell if we went any deeper, this conversation would last far too long.
“We can talk about it later,” I told him. “Get the rest of the watches.”
“If your boss doesn’t kill me,” he said, sounding more sarcastic than scared.
“I promise I will do whatever I can to make sure you’re okay,” I said, uncertain what that would take but knowing I meant it. We made eye contact, and he saw something that reassured him. He nodded, set his cat down, and walked through a hallway to a new room. The cat sniffed me and rubbed against my leg before going after its owner.
I followed Dimitri into a workshop. I took my time examining the room but didn’t see any pocket watches. While cozier than the factory he worked at, the work table confirmed the room’s purpose. Empty trays meant to hold loose watch gears sat stacked on the right side of the table. To the left, I saw notebooks, pencils, and scrap paper. Balled-up pieces of paper overflowed from the trash bin next to the table. The cat attacked one of the balls, scattering discarded papers. I saw a hand-sketched sigil on one of the less crumbled sheets. It surprised me he had the energy for all this when he stayed late at the factory most days.
“All right, let’s go,” Dimitri said, holding up a hard case to signal his readiness.
“Let’s,” I echoed. He closed the cat out of his workshop. We left his home and walked back to the carriage.