In the dim of what light made it around the curtains of the window, such as the few streetlamps and stars, I could make out the shape of Gus’s face looking back at me in the dark.
“Are you doing better?” I asked, just above a whisper, for that’s all that was needed when we were so close.
Gus let out a slow breath through his nose. His hand on mine moved up and down my forearm beneath the blankets.
“My mom’s mind broke giving birth to me,” he said, just as soft. “My dad told me that before me, she’d been able to be happy. She…she had been her. But then she couldn’t be. Just couldn’t.”
I moved the arm he rubbed closer so my fingers could tuck into the fabric of his shirt.
“It was like she couldn’t hope anymore. Everything just seemed pointless to her. Nothing my dad did made any difference, so he just worked all day. At first he probably thought she just had that sadness some women get when they have babies because their bodies are worn out or miss having a baby in them, but then it didn’t end. So I…” his hand stopped moving, leaving his fingers shivering against my arm. “I took a look. I-I had my magic as far back as I can remember, unlike most people whose magic wake up when they hit puberty. I didn’t try to change anyone’s heads, I just—I could just feel their emotions and stuff when I was little, and if I touched their head I could sometimes see things. So I wanted to see what my mom thought in case there was a way to make her happy.”
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
“It was broken. After touching it many times and comparing it to my own, I could just tell some part of it was broken, but I couldn’t tell how or why…Mom…she knew what I was doing. She got scared at first, telling me it was bad, but when I told her I was only trying to figure out—that I was only trying to help her be happy again, she let me. I saw all sorts of things in the lines of…of magic, or energy, the something in her head. She was like…a tapestry, or a spiderweb. A beautiful, rainbow making multiple layers of pictures. I can’t remember her face, but I can still remember what her mind looked like, and that gray dead space in the middle of it all where she curled up…and wished she was dead.”
“And then, one day, she did just that. My mom…she hung herself from the rafter. When I came home with dad, she was already cold.”
Needling spikes prickled across my skin and I reflexively pulled him closer, tucking his head beneath my head without saying anything.
“Dad had always…he didn’t like me. He didn’t like my eyes. He knew I’d been doing mind magic, but hadn’t said anything because he hoped I could fix her too. But he blamed me when she died and left. He took mom and left. It was his last kindness as a father to not kill me.”
I brushed my hand through his growing hair, still at the fuzzy stage. All the scars had been healed by my magic. I sniffed hard as tears dripped across the bridge of my nose and into my pillow.
His hands once more fisted into my clothes, probably only because he couldn’t bury them in my very flesh to clamp me in place.
“I can’t fix you,” came the thick words, threatening to break into squeaks. “I can’t—I can’t—not anyone. Anyone can die, anyone else, but not you. You can’t, you can’t—“
“Shhhh,” I hushed into his ear, feeling the on come of another panic attack.
“I didn’t look too deep, I promise, I just wanted to help, I just wanted—but your mind was so dark. My mom just had that broken gray pool thingy that got on everything, but yours was all dark and hard and cold and broken and-and-and—“
His voice broke off into a heart-breaking whine of my name.
I hugged him tight as he trembled with sobs.
“Sweetie,” I crooned. “Sweetie, I’m so sorry. I…I didn’t think…”
But it just seemed too heartless to say that I thought he didn’t want me with him breaking down for a second time just at the thought of losing me.
Only after his breathing seemed to settle down to a semblance of calm, broken by thick sniffs and hiccups, did I pull back enough to let the air cool down where our bodies had gotten sticky between us.
“I don’t have what your mom had,” I said. “It’s called post partum depression, though hers sounded a little more than that. I’ve just lived through, well…”
“A lot of shit?” he croaked.
I chuckled. “Yes. A buttload of shit. And, well…I don’t have anyone.”
“You have me,” he said with an edge of indignation. “And Milly. And Hal. And even that hairy love slave.”
“I’ve only known you guys for, what, two months at most? I’m talking family, or people like me. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m not from around here. And where I’m from…”I hesitated. “I can never get back to. My loved ones are dead. And, well…I put a lot of my life and time into trying to make a new family for myself, but then that blew up in my face.”
“That man needs to be torn to pieces.”
The acidic venom in Gus’s voice was a little ruined by his stuffed nose. I could feel the wetness from said nose through my nightgown already, but neither of us seemed to care.
“Yeah,” I said. “But, like I said, he’s somewhere I can never be again, so at least I don’t have to see him.”
“You mean he’s not dead?”
“Not last time I checked.”
Gus cussed something even Milly would have flinched at. I smacked him lightly on the head.
He grumbled, but didn’t protest. Instead nuzzling his face into my breasts unashamedly. I little squiggle in my stomach reminded me this skinny kid was still technically fourteen, but I let it slide due to the situation.
There, he let out a long sigh, and I felt the last of his tension seep away from his body.
After some time, long enough for me to fall to the edge of sleep, Gus pulled his face away and asked, “Are you afraid of me now?”
“Hngh?” I cracked a sleepy eye open at him.
“I used dark magic on you.”
I harrumphed. “Turned out all right in the end. Think you need some practice, though. There’s, there’s,” a yawn interrupted my sentence. “There’s a section in my book on how to train in mind magic.”
I closed my eyes back down, but I could still feel his disbelief.
“I use dark magic on you and you tell me to get better at it.”
“Mind magic. Just don’t become a bad guy with it and you’ll be fine.”
He scoffed. “Bad guy? What if I already am?”
I shushed him and flopped my hand on his head in clumsy pats.
“Sleepy time. You not bad.”
“No bad. Listen to the Lil’, she has the knows.”
He giggled. “Is this what you’d sound like if you got drunk?”
I just grunted. A half-formed dream was already trouncing through my mind. Tomatoes were involved. And something like a Christmas jig.
On the very edge, where the last finger of my awareness of my body was slipping away, I felt the softest and warmest of touches on my cheek.“Thank you…my Lilly.”