I had known dark magic was essentially treated like devil’s magic. From what Gus had told me and what little I heard (no one talked about dark magic if they didn’t have to), many liked to pretend it didn’t exist, even while not denying that it did. Because of that, I’d never actually seen what happens to someone who others find out use black magic. I knew it couldn’t be pretty. I just had to use the Salem witch trials from my world and I probably wouldn’t be far off.+
But the idea that Hal could make such a threat and the image of his warm smile that always made me feel so wanted didn’t seem to mesh right in my head.
“Hal adores you,” Gus continued, taking my silence as doubt. “To the point he’d let you take in a dying, red-eyed son of the devil, just because you called it your baby.”
Before I could think better of it, I was hugging him tight. A part of me wanted to stomp back inside to Hal and convince him of his wayward thinking, that mind magic just had a bad rap as dark magic. I’d probably end up doing it anyway. But right now my heart was hurting to the point of bleeding, and I wasn’t sure I’d even know what to say if I saw Hal right now. He’d basically threatened my boy with murder, just because of dark magic.
Perhaps that was why Gus had protested starting up our mind magic practices again after switching rooms, and why he’d always waited until so late to practice when we had shared a room. He’d never gotten comfortable with it, and I had just assumed it was because of his own stigmatism.
“My poor boy,” I muttered, nuzzling that soft, soft head. I could feel my eyes burn.
“It’s nothing to cry over. I know they don’t hate me personally. Milly doesn’t, I think. Hal hasn’t told her. I think I’m more like an irritating neighbor’s kid at best.”
“No,” I squeezed tighter. “No, you deserve all the friends and for everyone to adore you and want to pet your shiny head.”
“Alright let go, now you’re just teasing me.”
I let him push me away, smiling at my own joke, even as tears prickled out onto my cheeks. His red eyes shivered on mine as I stroked his smooth, white cheeks with my thumbs. Poor kid worked inside more often than outside. He should be out kicking a ball in the streets like I’d seen other kids doing, or riding horses and learning swordplay. Not busting tables with his eyes on the floor, knowing superstitious people thought he was evil just because of his eye color.
“Maybe I can ask for some money in return for whatever healing the temple wants me to do,” I said. “And I can buy us a house, far out in the countryside, with lots of open space for you to run and play in.”
“I’m not a kid,” but his protest sounded weak. He swallowed. “And you need Hal and Milly right now. You don’t need to do those things for me. You do enough. You already spend most of your money on me.”
“And I’d spend it all if you’d let me.”
He took hold of my wrists, very gently, and pulled my hands away from his face.
“I’m not your baby.”
“I know,” and with a cautious sniff so I didn’t get anything on him, I leaned forward and kissed his brow. “But I can still love you, right?”
For some reason, he shuddered and looked down. I pulled my wrists from his grasp to tuck them up against my chest, afraid I’d grossed him out. It wasn’t the first time I’d told him I’d loved him. Though it was the first time I had looked him in the eye and said it with such sincerity.
After a long moment of quiet, he sighed and dug a hand into his hair.
“Alright,” it was very quiet, almost a whisper.
Carefully, I gave him another hug, which he automatically returned.
“Maybe I can figure out how to move some pigment into your eyes to change the color,” I said.
“Might be worth it. But I meant it when I said I don’t need friends. You’re enough for me. And the love slaves.”
I gave him a slap on the shoulder for that. “The love slaves aren’t your friends, they’re your play things.”
He raised his hands in surrender, lifting his face so I could see his smirk. “Guilty.” Then it fell away to something serious. “Don’t tell Hal or try to talk him into the whole mind magic is divine, okay?”
Since I had been planning to do just that, I scowled. “Why not?”
“Because most people would think you’re nuts. He might even believe that I used dark magic on you to think that in the first place.”
I opened my mouth to argue, but hesitated. I didn’t like thinking of the kind, warm Hal that way. But I also hadn’t been raised in the beliefs of this world, and Hal was probably just doing what he thought best to keep his family safe.
And I’d have to do my best to keep mine safe.
“No. Promise me.”
I sighed and raised an arm to the square. “I swear I won’t say anything to Hal about it.”
“What are you doing with your arm?”
“What? You guys don’t do this here? When you swear oaths?”
“Have you seriously not seen anyone swear an oath yet? I’m sure Hal’s done it a few times whenever he signs a contract with customers—oh, whatever, it’s like this.” He took my hand in his, like a regular handshake, but twined our pinkies together. “Then we shake three times.” He lifted and dropped our hands three times.
So I redid my oath with the whole pinky hugging handshake. Only then did Gus seem satisfied.
“Thanks for trusting me, for once.”
“I trust you all the time!” I said, offended.
“No you don’t. You usually lord your age over me and how ‘the adult knows better so kids should just listen.’”
“You make me sound like an absolute tyrant.”
“Eh, hmm…” he wiggled his shoulders and gave a noncommittal nod. “Sometimes.”
“…You are so mean.”
“No, I’m watching chickens, I’m not talking to you anymore. Who’d want to talk to a tyrant?”
“Are you serious? Come on, you’re acting like a child. Lilly. Lilly, I was just being honest….you’re going to get attacked if you keep poking the chickens like that. Seriously, stop pouting, you’re being ridiculous. Lilly!”