A Little Night Magic (Chapter 17)

I felt the breath cut out of me as I watched Tobias, but his eyes were fixed on Cain, who stared back at him.

"You don't come back from it," Tobias said. "Circumstances change, and sometimes, killing someone is even justified, but once you've taken a life, it changes who you are. It doesn't matter why you did it; you'll never be the same person again."

There was a moment of tense silence. Tobias walked over to Cain, stopping next to him by the fireplace. Betty, Stacy, and I stayed quiet, just watching.

"Look, if the only way to protect Liv is to kill Davina, I'll do it. I don't have as much to lose as you do. But I'll only do it if there's no other way."

"Tobias," I began, but he was focused on Cain, whose eyes were in turn locked on Tobias. There was some kind of manly communication going on between them, and neither one was paying attention to me, or anything else, at the moment.

"You kill that woman out of vengeance," Tobias went on, "and you'll stop being the guy that Holly knew."

"What the hell do you know about Holly?" Cain said through his teeth, his voice a low, angry growl.

"Nothing," Tobias said. "I know you loved her, that's obvious. And I know, better than you, the price you pay when you kill someone. That's all I'm saying, Cain. You pay a price, and it's a steep one."

Cain's eyes narrowed and he glared at Tobias. "I've already paid." And then he stalked out the front door. We all stayed where we were, frozen in silence, and then, finally, Stacy pushed herself up from the couch.

"Well, I haven't been in a room with this much tension since I tried to give my stepfather a tonsillectomy with a spork." She stretched. "Time for a break." And with that, she headed into the kitchen. A moment later, Betty stood up and silently followed her, leaving me and Tobias alone.

"So," I said. "Wow."

He raised his eyes to mine. I felt an involuntary shaking in my legs, and I put my hands on my thighs to stop it.

"You said…" I began, then hesitated. I had promised I would trust him, but even as I tried to stop myself, I knew I wouldn't be able to let this go. "You said you'd never killed anyone."

He lowered his head. "I said the firm never asked me to."

"Ah, semantics." I took a deep breath, trying to calm my racing heart. "How many people have you killed?"

He gave me a dull stare. "I lost count at twelve."

"Don't joke about this," I said. "Please."

He sat down on the couch, let out a long breath, and spoke.

"I was thirteen. My powers came in right as a school bully was beating my brother to a pulp. I stopped his heart. I didn't know it at the time. All I knew was that I had imagined something, and then … it had happened. I haven't used my power outside of a controlled setting since." He stood up, walked toward the wall, then took a few steps toward me. "My parents were both Magicals, so they knew the deal. They called ASF as soon as I told them what happened."

"Oh my god," I said. "They turned you in to the feds?"

He shrugged. "They thought it was the right thing to do. When kids show signs of extraordinary ability, the potential to really hurt someone, it's what people are told to do."

"Still." I reached out and touched his hand. "That sucks."

He let out a small laugh. "Yeah. Anyway, the firm came and got me, gave me a new name, and raised me in a special boarding school until I was old enough to work for them. I haven't seen my family since."

"You can't visit, or write at least?"

His eyes looked sad and tired as he shook his head. "There was a kid in my boarding school who got a letter out to his mom. The entire family disappeared two weeks later."

"Disappeared? Like witness protection disappeared, or Jimmy Hoffa disappeared?"

He looked at me. "I don't know. But it's not a chance I'm willing to take."

I sat back, feeling dizzy. "God, Tobias, I'm so sorry."

He nodded. "Yeah. Me, too." He sat there for a while, his eyes on me, and finally said, "Do you understand now?"

"Of course," I said. "But you were a kid. It was an accident. You can't blame yourself for that."

"That's not what I'm talking about." He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "I'm going to help you finish this thing with Davina. I'm going to see you safely through to the end. Then you'll go to Europe, or stay here. Whatever you want to do. But when it's done, I'm leaving."

I felt a stab of panic run through me. "Why? Have they contacted you?"

"No. I'm gonna contact them."

"Are you going to say good-bye first?"

"Does that matter?"

"Did you get to say good-bye to your family?"

He watched me for a long moment, and then shook his head.

"Then you should know it matters."

He sighed. "Yeah. I'll say good-bye first."

With that, he grabbed his duffel bag and went upstairs. I watched him until he was gone, and then stared at the space where he had been for a while, my mind drifting over a million things, but never able to focus entirely on one.

Then, quietly and without the slightest question as to what the hell I thought I was doing, I snuck down to the basement, walked over to the cement steps that led out the exterior bulkhead doors, and walked into town.

Alone.

* * *

I barely noticed where I was on the three blocks into town. I was on autopilot, my body moving while my mind wandered around elsewhere, thinking about Tobias, Millie, Peach. It was as though my brain was in a jumble, too distracted to recognize what the body it was attached to was doing. I didn't regain consciousness of my surroundings until I made it to the town square, and saw her, sitting on one of the benches, just … watching. She looked so harmless sitting there, like a benevolent matron, surveying the activity at Grace and Addie's antique shop, the opposite corner where a crew was working to fix the damage done by Frankie Biggs … and she was watching CCB's.

She didn't look up, but I knew she knew I was there. My mind seemed to snap back into place, and I had an instinct to run but what good would it have done? There she was, maybe ten yards from me, just a few blocks from my house. In daylight, the time when I was supposedly strong, and she was supposedly weak. I realized then that it didn't matter what I did; this woman was in charge, and we both knew it.

So, I went and sat down next to her.

"I see you're recovering nicely," she said after a few moments, still not looking at me.

"What do you want?"

"Well, I think you know what I want," she said. "Now we got all our cards on the table, what are we going to do about it?"

I sighed. "I don't know."

She nodded. "Well, I have an idea about what we might do." And finally, she looked at me. "You want to hear it?"

"I'm all ears."

She leaned a little bit closer. "I have played this game before, and I have won. And the secret to winning is really pretty simple. I find out what it is you love more than anything, and I use that to get your compliance."

Tobias, I thought, with a catch in my breath, but then, as though reading my mind, she shook her head a bit and said, "Bigger than just a man, baby. I'm talking about this whole stinking, fetid town, and every sad soul in it."

She met my eye and I blinked, trying to wrap my mind around what she was saying, exactly.

"Don't worry. I'm not ready for any serious destruction yet. It's going to be a few days. But once I get my full strength back, I'm going to call for you, as I did just now. And if, somehow, you work up the strength to defy me, I'm going to take something in this town." She shrugged. "Or someone. Depends on my mood." She pointed to Grace and Addie's antique store. "I'll burn that place to the ground." Her finger moved in time with a busload of kids from the local elementary school. "I'll send that bus plummeting off an overpass." Then she looked at me. "I'll sneak into your precious Betty's apartment and choke the life out of her with her own apron strings." A cold smile broke over Davina's face. "And I can do it all without leaving the comfort of my bedroom. Isn't that amazing? No one will know what's happening to this town. Well, no one except you, and no one except me."

My heart clunked around in my chest, in response to the chunk of ice that had settled inside me. "So what is it you want from me?"

"You know what I want," she said, her voice going light. "Your magic."

"I'm not going to give you that. I'll die."

"Well, probably, but better you than a busload of kids, right? Honestly, baby, I never had you pegged for such a selfish type." She tsked and shook her head. "Very unattractive quality, that."

I sat in silence for a while, and then I said, "Cain's going to kill you."

She chuckled. "Cain's going to try. But here's the raw truth, just between us girls. He doesn't have it in him. If he did, he would have done it the night I killed your sister."

I gripped the edge of the bench in my hands, wanting to do something, anything … but what? Turn an acorn into a snail? With all my power at my disposal, and her weakened and only able to rely on whatever premixed potions she might have in her bag, she was still more powerful than me.

"See," she went on, "Cain had his chance, and he lost it, because the man – for all his wonderful qualities – is not a person who can seal that particular deal." She reached out and put her hand over mine, her skin feeling cold and alien. "And neither are you. And since the only way you're going to stop me is to kill me, then we're going to have to find another way to settle this little problem we have."

I pulled my hand out from under her grip. "If I give you my magic, who's to say you won't just go ahead and kill everyone anyway?"

She looked at me, her face shocked and almost hurt. "Oh, come on. You know why I'm doing this, don't you?"

"Ummm … because you're insane?"

She turned her body toward mine, leaning forward as if we were still friends. "Do you have any idea what this would mean to the Magical community? I'd be able to protect people. I'd have the power to keep them all safe from police, scientists, politicians. You think witch hunts are a thing of the past? Just look at Don't Ask, Don't Tell; they paint it over with nice little slogans, but bigotry and fear are real, and they are deadly. If I had this power, no one would be able to harm another Magical again. We'd be on top, for once."

"And that was worth killing the man you loved?"

Her eyes flashed with emotion, and my heart sank. It had just been a hunch, both that Davina had loved my father, and that she had killed him, but her speed at regaining her composure didn't keep me from seeing what I was looking for.

"That's none of your business," she said, but I could see that I'd gotten a hit in on a tiny patch of soft underbelly, so I kept going.

"You loved my father," I said. "And he trusted you. That's how you knew who he was, what he was."

Her fists clenched, but she didn't say anything.

"You killed him when you tried to steal his magic," I went on. "You didn't mean to, but you killed him."

Her eyes met mine, cold. "Who told you this?"

"In the newspaper article, they mentioned that when they dragged you half-conscious from the woods after you killed Holly, you were calling for him in your delirium. There's only one reason I can think of why you would do that."

Her eyebrows raised. "Nice work, Sherlock."

She carefully smoothed her skirt over her legs, her eyes locked on her strong fingers, and then she turned a cold smile to me.

"I've already lost everything," she said, her voice quiet and oddly cold. "This is the only way to make it mean something."

"You're going to kill more people, including me, so you can get the power to save other people from being killed? To give my father's death, also at your hands, meaning? Your logic's missing a piece there."

"My logic is not your problem. Saving this town is your problem. The only choice you have to make is how many people die. Just you, or you and a whole bunch of others." With that, she stood up, tucked her purse over her shoulder, and landed cold eyes on me. "As you can see by this chance meeting, I can get to you whenever and however I choose. I will call you again, and when I do, you're going to want to heed that call. Because if you don't, I will rain such hell down on you and yours that you will wish you'd died the other night, the way you were supposed to."

She blew me a quick kiss, then turned and walked away. I sat on the bench, shaking, a potent cocktail of fear and rage running through my veins. After a few moments, it occurred to me that I should get up and go back home.

That's when I saw Tobias standing at the edge of the square, watching me with a stony look on his face.