The tingle of Jim’s magic distracted me from the pain. The throb diminished to a dull ache and then faded completely. He pulled his hand back, and I touched the smooth skin where my head hit the brick wall. If not for the blood drying in my hair and soaking into my kitchen towel, no one would know Greg attacked me. I wanted to feel Jim’s magic interact with mine again, but I couldn’t think of an excuse to touch him. I suppressed the urge to grab his hand. Despite watching him thrash two men without trying, I still felt safe around Jim. Maybe one of the watches malfunctioned, and he’d come to demonstrate Daniel’s displeasure. We didn’t know each other well, and he could easily inflict the same violence on me. I didn’t think he would, though.
“You should take that off,” he said, pointing at my jacket. I’d bled more than I thought. “If you soak it now, the blood shouldn’t leave a noticeable stain.”
“Right,” I agreed. I stripped my jacket off, and Jim took it from me instead of letting me get up.
“Anything in the pockets?” he asked, setting the jacket in the sink.
“So, I guess Greg got a look at what Daniel paid you?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Patrick asked me to open the case in front of him to put the disenchanted watches in there.”
“Of course he did. Patrick can’t resist an opportunity to make someone else feel small,” Jim said. I’d got the feeling he and Patrick weren’t friends, but his tone told me his dislike went deeper than that.
“Is it hard to work so closely with him?” I asked.
“It’s not so bad. I already have to be on guard at the warehouse, anyway. He’s just one more person to look out for,” he told me as he turned on the water. I imagined he had to be on guard everywhere with the laws against wild magic.
“Not that I’m not grateful for your help, but what were you doing in the area?” I asked. He couldn’t have come just to see me, could he? “Did Daniel send you? I haven’t finished any of the watches he requested yet.”
“No, nothing like that. I just wanted to,” he paused and blushed, “to talk to you about magic.”
“Oh, yeah!” With how unexpectedly well the other night went, I’d forgotten about his promise. Technically, he’d promised to keep me safe. My questions about his power inadvertently prompted that promise, though. So, in a way, he’d promised to tell me about his magic.
“What did you mean the other night about me being a living miracle?” he asked.
“Well, for one thing, how did you get through the birth screening without them detecting your power?” I asked.
“I was never screened,” he said as if it happened all the time.
“Where were you born?”
“A barn on my aunt’s property. My mother insisted on not going to a hospital,” he answered.
“So your birth went unregistered,” I said. “If she’d gone to a hospital, you would have been trained or quelled.”
“It’s a process to suppress uncontrolled magic. If someone refuses academy training or fails their training, they’re quelled for their own safety. Or at least that’s the party line,” I explained. His family must have sheltered him from the world for a long time if he’d never heard this before. “The academy I attended taught us that prolonged use of wild magic would kill the caster. So either that’s a lie, or you’re a miracle.”
“Did they give any specifics?” he asked.
“No, just that it was unsustainable. Rumors went around my class that wild magic burned people up from the inside, but none of the professors ever confirmed that,” I said.
“I’ve never noticed any ill effects. I mean, I can hurt myself sometimes if I’m not careful when I test new spells. I don’t remember how many times I hit myself before I got the shock spell to work properly.”
“But it’s not burning you out every time you cast a spell or anything?” I asked.
“No, sometimes it’s the opposite. Some spells give me a rush,” he said.
“Can you teach me one of your spells?” I asked.
“I never have before, but we can try,” he said.
“Great, what do we do first?”
“My concealment spell is safe enough. It’s not on par with the invisibility spell in your watch, but it gets me by unnoticed.”
“All right,” I agreed, equal parts eager and nervous.
“So I call on my magic and focus on what I want,” he said. He disappeared. At first, I didn’t see a difference between this and my invisibility spell. I squinted as I looked at where he’d been standing, but I still didn’t see him. I looked around the room for any sign that he’d moved. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a shimmer where he stood. I could have dismissed it as a trick of the light if I hadn’t just seen him vanish.
“That’s pretty good,” I said. “If I didn’t know to look for something off, I’d never guess you were there.”
“You saw the shimmer, though?” He asked, reappearing a little to the left of where he’d disappeared.
“Yeah, but it’s not that noticeable.”
“Do you want to try?”
“Yes. You said you focus on what you want. What specifically goes through your mind?” I asked.
“I think about hiding from the world, going unseen and unheard. And I concentrate on how much I want that while calling on my magic.”
“No incarnations or anything?” I asked. It sounded too simple.
“No,” he said.
I called on my magic the same way I would at work. Instead of tracing any sigils, I did as he said and thought about disappearing. Usually, when I cast spells, the words and motions draw the magic out of me until it fully manifests in the enchantment. Without anything to focus on but my own thoughts, the magic kept building. Before the magic overwhelmed me, I let it go. I didn’t need to ask him if he’d seen any change; I knew I’d failed. What if I couldn’t do it? Would it be so bad? I imagined myself burning up from holding too much magic. What if Jim really was something special? How much was I risking if I pushed past this fear? I sighed.
“I don’t think I can do it,” I said.
“You can’t give up on the first try. I almost never get the results I wanted the first time,” he encouraged me. “What do you think went wrong?”
“I got scared,” I admitted. “It was so much power, and nothing was happening.”
“Come on, try again. Keep the focus on what you want. Don’t let the fear distract you,” he said.
“Okay,” I agreed hesitantly.
I called my magic to myself again. It came faster this time as if it hadn’t dissipated entirely from the first attempt. I reached the point I’d quit before and took a deep breath. I wanted to hide. My magic could make it happen. I just had to trust it. I focused on cutting myself off from the world. That seemed too vague, though. Instead, I concentrated on hiding from Jim. The magic built, and my discomfort grew. I didn’t feel hotter or strained. I’d just reached a self-imposed barrier. I’d never held this much magic for a single enchantment before. Of course, it would be uncomfortable at first. I breathed in and kept my thoughts on hiding from Jim. The dam broke, and I felt a release as the magic embraced my desire.
“Oh wow,” Jim said.
I looked but didn’t see him. A wall of darkness stood between us. I hadn’t made myself invisible, but Jim couldn’t see me. I’d missed the mark. Still, my magic technically did what I asked. I’d never been so happy to mess something up in my life. The wall vanished, and I saw Jim’s smile matched mine.