“May I walk you home?” Jim asked. We’d stayed to closing, and still, I wanted more time with him.
“Yes, thank you,” I said. After all the little touches of the night, I didn’t doubt he reciprocated my attraction.
We left the Caster Bar hand-in-hand. Sigils traced along my skin, moving up my arm as we walked. It felt like my skin should glow with magic as the warmth spread to my chest. Despite the night’s breeze, we didn’t even need to cast Jim’s warming spell. By the time we made it two blocks from the bar, the sensation had reached every inch of my body. I walked slowly. If getting to my apartment meant letting go of Jim’s hand, I saw no need to rush. He matched my pace, not in any hurry either. Even with our leisurely pace, it didn’t take long for the other bar patrons to split off in different directions, leaving us alone.
“Thank you for inviting me tonight,” Jim said.
“I’m glad you could make it. It wouldn’t have been near as fun without you,” I said.
“Lyle and Virginia are great. I’m a little jealous. I don’t really have friends at work,” he told me.
“Most of them steer clear of me as much as possible. I think they know just enough to be afraid,” he confessed. Between his size and his magic, I understood how he’d intimidate others. I still didn’t know why I felt so comfortable with him instead. I squeezed his hand tighter.
“They’re missing out,” I said, winning a small smile from him. “When can we have another practice session?”
“I’m free all weekend,” he said. The subject change banished the last bit of gloom in his demeanor.
“So, I could just keep you?” I asked, hoping I didn’t overstep.
A man stepped out of the alley ahead of us before Jim could answer. The streetlight gleamed off something in his hand. He brandished the knife, and I could have laughed. Jim looked over his shoulder, and I followed his gaze. The mugger had friends. Three other men closed in around us. They took their time. They each drew as much attention as they could to their chosen weapons. One slapped a section of metal pipe into his hand with each step. The next swung a thick chain at his side. And the last pulled a thin sword from his cane and swiped it through the air between us.
“Dimitri cast the concealment spell and get away from here. I’ll deal with them,” Jim whispered.
“Having a good night, gentlemen?” the first man asked.
“Better than yours,” I said. I activated the invisibility spell on my pocket watch and slipped out of Jim’s grip. I still didn’t feel confident in my attempts at his concealment spell, but I trusted my watch.
“Where’d the little one go?” the pipe-wielding man asked.
Jim didn’t wait for them to recover from their confusion. He cast a shock spell on the swordsman. The man shook as the power rolled through his body, stealing control of his muscles. The remaining three burst into motion, all running toward Jim. He ducked under the swing of the chain, and it hit the knife-wielder in the neck. The man with the pipe hit Jim in the gut. I spun the casting hand on my watch to four and knocked the swordsman out with a sleeping spell before he could recover from Jim’s attack. He collapsed, and I reactivated my invisibility.
The knife-wielder stood back up and turned to go after Jim. I launched a fireball at him before he could rejoin his friends. The blast missed him, flying between him and the other brawlers. Thankfully, that refocused his attention on me. I knew Jim could hold his own against two men. If I could deal with this one, they wouldn’t overwhelm him. My opponent’s long legs ate the distance between us, and I barely got the casting hand to the seven before he reached me. I activated the immobilization spell a second too late. His knife bit into my forearm, opening a long gash before he froze in place.
My head went fuzzy at the sight of blood soaking into my sleeve. I stumbled backward, luckily catching myself on a wall before I could lose my balance completely. I hadn’t enchanted this watch with my healing spell, and it took me longer than it should have to think of what to do without a magical fix. My legs betrayed me, and I slid to the ground. Ignoring the pain as much as possible, I struggled out of my jacket and pressed it to my wounded arm. The splatters of blood surrounding me told me I hadn’t moved fast enough. At least I’d made sure the swordsman and knife-wielder wouldn’t be able to hurt Jim.
I looked around for Jim, but turning my head too fast made me dizzy. Grunts and swears reached me from across the street. Jim would beat them. He had to. Still, I wished I could do something more to help. Instead, my eyes grew heavier, and I felt sleep calling out to me. I squeezed my arm harder and winced at the sharp pain. My grip loosened, and my watch fell out of my hand against my will. I fumbled to pick it up and only knocked it further away. I couldn’t help myself, so I stood no chance of helping Jim. I’d probably just get in his way, anyway. At the sound of someone running toward me, I forced my eyes back open. When had they closed?
“Jim,” I said, smiling at him, so he didn’t feel like this was his fault.
“What happened?” he asked.
“I got two of them, did you see?” I asked. He didn’t look proud of me, though. He grabbed my arm, and I hissed as the pain reignited. I tried to pull it back from him on instinct, but he held it tight.
“I saw. You did a great job,” he said joylessly.
“You got the other two?” I asked. “What a silly question. Of course, you did, or you wouldn’t be here with me.”
“You can ask as many silly questions as you want. Keep talking,” he said.
“Okay. Hold on, I’ll think of another funny one. Oh! Did you notice how much Illusions feels like your magic? Pretty funny, right?” I asked, uncertain why he wanted me to think of more ridiculous questions. It didn’t really matter. I’d do whatever he wanted.
“Yeah, I noticed that,” Jim answered. Of course, he had.
“Why didn’t you kiss me?” I asked, but I didn’t hear his answer. My eyes closed again, and I didn’t fight them this time. Sleep swallowed me up and took me away from Jim’s answer, the pain, and the rest of the world.