I drug the tarp behind me, exhausted. After another half an hour of beating around the bush I had left Kazamir, Ali and Alik to circle jerk it around the room while I found myself something productive to do. Instead of going straight home and sleeping I fought the urge by coming out to the compound, not wanting to give up the chance to make whatever contribution I could to Muhammad’s recovery. It hadn’t taken long but I had reinforced the wards across the compound, making sure to place so extra healing sigils around the med-area for healing. I felt the magic pulsing through the grass as I made the trek uphill to my car. It throbbed like a heartbeat underground matching that of mine and Muhammad’s. I could tell his was heavy, but strong. Sometimes, even when he wasn’t in trouble I could sit very still and feel his breathing change to match mine. It was doing that now, exchanging his ragged breaths for strong and controlled, if not drained, in and outs. I had to concentrate and move slowly to keep it at that pace, but I was acutely aware of the fact that my own body would dictate how his reacted to his change. I couldn’t afford to take any of his energy, not right now while he was fighting for his life. Dr. Vauighn had come outside to update me while I adjusted the wards around the grounds. While she gave Muhammad a glowing review so far she had given mea realistic outlook of the traditional change rate in modern times. Our biggest two unknown factors were his flavor of change being lion and his witch blood. No one was certain about the effects of either, but she said so far it looked like he was doing better than even she had expected.
A towering figure leaning up against the driver’s side door slowed me down as I neared the car. If the thick neck and shoulders didn’t clue me in then the piercing gaze leisurely watching me walk up would have. Kazimir's wide, square jaw looked relaxed but his eyes told an entirely different story.
“Worried I’m going to curse the compound?”
He regarded me intently, “Should I be?”
I stopped short. I didn’t know if he was serious, but he didn’t exactly strike me as a joking fellow so I opted for the truth, “Not tonight.”
He raised an eyebrow to me and I clarified, “I’m too tired.”
He nodded, a small ‘Ah’ reaching the amused quirk of his lips, “I’ll check in again tomorrow, then.”
A strangled little giggle slipped past my lips. He pushed off the side of the car as I came closer and he gestured to the tarp I was dragging along the grass. I gave a small nod and smiled my thanks at him. Kazamir looked inside of the tarp but didn’t touch anything.
I nodded, “For protection.”
He nodded but whatever he might have said was stopped by another skitter of the remaining sparks that flowed between us. He didn’t jump at the closeness to his own sensible shiny black dress shoes but he certainly took another look at me.
“Do you share your energy with your brother?”
His hand flicked to the remaining sparks that were pooling beneath me burrowing down through the earth like little worms. I had thought I had expended all that I was able to tonight, but it seemed I hadn't yet reached the capacity I had originally thought.
I thought for a moment on my mental checklist: body sore? A little, but less so than it seemed a moment ago. Mind numb? Not particularly, just...sluggish? But the tell tale aching soreness under my skin had faded to a dull throb of blood pulsing. In a rare moment of utter honesty I bit back my snarky retort and answered as best as I could without feeling like an idiot, “I think so. I’m not sure how it works, not exactly. But I know that if I go home soon I’ll be able to get up early enough for work without it draining both of us, if that makes sense.”
He stared at me, his gaze unnervingly close as we moved in tandem. He bent to pick up the tarp while I lifted the trunk up, our bodies bending at the same moment, “But you don’t know for sure?”
“I know for sure that we can affect each other, but I’m not sure of the extent to which it happens. I try to block it off unless I feel he needs something.”
“So you can control it then, to some degree?”
I thought then about what my mother had taught me, the very little she had. In my mind it was like a door, an old and creaky wooden door that had swollen from years of humidity and use. It was the type of door that never fully closed anymore, the kind that seperated at the bottom and sides to allow light from outside in.
“To some degree, but not very well or easily and there always seems to be a little spillage.”
I slammed the trunk door down and sighed, “Yes, it’s like a leak. A pipe I can’t seem to tighten.”
“Do you want to tighten it?”
It wasn’t a strange question, certainly not one I hadn’t asked myself in all these years, but it felt more personal than it should have. Kazamir had not been unpleasant and he wasn’t being...nosy per say. If his job was to keep balance, like he seemed to imply earlier at the Catacombs, I could understand why he was asking but I didn’t have answers for him and maybe that made me a little defensive.
He leaned against the trunk looking every inch of the cat he probably was, “Cat got your tongue?”
I laughed slightly, shaking my head, “I would tighten it, if I could.”
“But you can’t?” He asked.
My lips pursed and I decided to lean with my back against the car. I licked my lips, watching as his eyes followed the movement. He mimicked the motion himself and the air felt vaguely charged. It was like a veil had been lifted and my eyes were seeing him clearer, my body could feel his heat. I could hear the blood moving through his veins and felt it move in time to mine. My hand itched to reach up and touch my fingers to his lips, to the scar that started at the edge of his bottom lip. The tissue pushed slightly making him look like he was permanently pouting. I caught myself inching closer to him, a magnet being pulled from the center of my body as he asked again.
“Can I tighten it?” I asked, when he nodded I shook my head, looking away from him and breathing shakily at the restlessness I felt below my belly button, “I don’t think so. There’s not exactly a witch encyclopedia on it.”
“Don’t you work with witch relics? Do you not know someone who could help you find out?”
I looked at him then and thought, wouldn’t it be nice? To tell someone what I had been wondering all my life? Wouldn’t it be a fucking relief to not be the only one wondering if I was just a freak? In all my time sniffing around the witches at the institute I had felt so alone, so on the fringes of their world. Muhammad had slipped right in to their way of life, his power flourishing and growing rapidly, but mine? I had only become more confused, more restless.I’d never felt the echo of my step-father more than I had in my time learning how to be a real witch. I felt the difference between us and it scared me so deeply sometimes because no one else seemed to feel the empty searching my body felt around other magic.
I thought about it but I didn’t say anything about it. Instead I shrugged, shifting around again to lay on my back, “The witches at the institute have done their best to guide me and that’s all I can really ask of them, isn't it?”
His lips twitched, “Would it be such a burden to let someone else take charge of something?”
I laughed not even bothering to look at him, “I think I’ve done a very good job of letting other people push me around today, thank you.”
“It wouldn’t be pushing you around if you would allow them to do their jobs, now would it? Relinquishing control is not the same as losing it. When you relinquish it you’re only handing it over temporarily. You can pick it back up whenever you need to”
I kept my eyes forward as I spoke, “I can’t say I agree with that.”
My heart fell into the pit of my stomach as I felt him shift beside me but I stood my ground, not moving. While every atom in my body cried for me to turn my head I tried to frantically gather the reserves inside me to my position, arms crossed legs bent and flush against the car. My breath hitched and as he dipped down low to get close to me. His frame overwhelmed my side as he bent to let his lips finally touch the tip of my ear and it felt like a goddamn live wire. My hands shook and I gasped while his hand clutched at the top of the car. My lady bits clenched and I pushed myself off of the car to face him.
Chuckling he breathed heavily next to me, “That…was interesting.”
“Everything is interesting to you,” I snapped.
His eyebrows raised, his amused smile slowly pulling against those stupid fucking lips, “Only when it comes to you.”
I wanted to hate the smile that pulled at the corners of my lips but I figured I’d fought too much today and allowed the burning strain in my face to ease with the smile.
“Are you Aleandra’s?”
I scoffed with surprise, “Aleandra doesn’t own me if that’s what you’re asking.”
He coughed, “No, no I don’t think she would even if she could. I mean are you two committed?”
I smiled at his terminology, “Uh, no. No, we used to be.”
“So I wouldn't be, as you might say, stepping on any toes?”
“I didn’t say that.” I laughed, “We might not be together anymore, but you would certainly be stepping on toes.”
“Hers? Or Alik’s?”
I bit my lip looking up into the glow of his amber eyes, “Alik?”
“I do not think you are so oblivious to haven't noticed his longing looks at you.”
“I'm not oblivious, no, but Alik and I have never been together.”
“Because of Aleandra?”
“Yes,” I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to answer that because it was true that Ali would have had a huge problem with her brother making any move towards me, as she had so frequently let both of us know. It had been one of the smaller points of contention within our relationship, but I also didn’t want to make Ali look any type of way to this man either so I made a quick amention, “Well, maybe not entirely but we aren't together in any case.”
He nodded but he didn’t say anything making me think I had probably paused for too long for it to sound believable.
“Is Ali…” I hesitated, “Is Ali in some sort of trouble?”
Kazamir pushed off of the back of the car entering back into my space. He was tall, taller than the twins and definitely taller than me by a good foot at least. I couldn’t have wagered a guess at how much he weighed but the car creaked up from under him slightly and he smiled at my furrowed brows as I watched it shift slightly back to it’s normal setting.
“Why? Will you be her white knight? Rescue her from her plight?”
“I don’t know that white knight is my style,” I said bitterly.
“You seem to be doing a good job with your brother,” He nodded towards the building behind us.
“Am I?” I sighed, “Because from where it looks to me it seems like I’ve been outranked and not to say that I’m against going in guns blazing but…”
“You know nothing about the complications of the turn.” He finished. It wasn’t accusatory, and he was right, it was one of the many things that had been thrown out during our meeting earlier and the only reason why I had originally allowed for Muhammad to be dragged out and squirelled away in the compounds medic den.
“You will, and we will be here to explain everything and help you prepare for it. We can talk more about it tomorrow when you’ve rested. For now he is in the very capable hands of your own doctor. Muhammad won’t be alone and you won’t be either, which I think it was what you’re most afraid of.”
I didn’t respond to that, but quibbed instead, “All for the price of?”
“Ah, yes, payment. I like a woman who gets to the meat of things.” He quirked an eyebrow, “You are in charge of Magical Special Collections for the Institute, if Ali is correct?”
He said it like he didn’t believe it, but I didn’t take it personally. If he couldn’t imagine little old me working in a museum with my crazy blue curls and piercings in my face he certainly wouldn’t be the first person to be surprised and he hadn’t even seen my ink, “I do.”
“I believe you have something that I would benefit from and perhaps I could be of benefit to you as well. To my understanding you have just curated an important exhibit that includes a sort of book on anatomy in your collection, yes?”
My eyes narrowed, “I have. The unveiling was tonight, though. Not many people were privy to the contents of the exhibit.”
“As I’ve been made aware. I would very much like to see the book. Do you think that is something you could allow?”
“The book is very old. It’s written in a cyrillic script that we’ve yet to be able to translate-”
“Until now.” He smirked, “I have previous knowledge of the script you’re speaking about and I would be happy to translate it for you.”
“And why would you do that? I can’t assume you’re as generous normally as you’ve been tonight.”
“No?” He raised an eyebrow but just chuckled, “No, you’re right. But it would mean a great deal to me to see the book, it interests me. It’s a family heirloom of sorts and since your brother is here anyway for the duration, I think we can agree that if we find a mutually beneficial solution to tie all our debts it is for the better.”
“There are other ways to acquire artifacts if it means so much to you.”
“Many artifacts can be found for the right price, Kazamir.” I said, at the sound of his name his eyes dipped slightly, his thumb brushing against his lip with an almost purr like hum.
“Jeri, are you suggesting I might have been better suited to obtain the book illegally?”
I shrugged, “I’m saying that it seems a little strange you having some connection to Ali and this book and my brother needing your services all within the span of a few short hours. Especially when I’ve never heard of you before, nor your...position with Ali’s family.”
He nodded but continued with a chuckle, “Ali has been distracted from her duties from some time now, but I am confident that she will bring herself around soon and I intend to make sure that she does not make any rash decisions in the meantime.”
“So you’re here to just, what, supervise her?”
“Among other things. As for the book, perhaps it’s only a rouse to be in your charming presence longer, but it is very close to my family. Your brother? An unfortunate, but timely incident that I am able to assist with.”
“Timely?” I asked, but he shook his head, his dark hair falling slightly.
“It’s timing was fortunate for me, but it is always unfortunate for the change to fall upon someone so young.”
While I waited for him to elaborate he simply slipped his hands into his pockets and smiled, “It was a pleasure to speak to you tonight, Ms. Gartzia. Shall I see you tomorrow? We will have some things to discuss about your brother and his impending status as a were and I would like to start right away on translations.”
“Tomorrow?” Could he do it tomorrow? I had planned a very impromptu day off weeks ago so that Muhammad and I might have some sibling shoot the shit time, but I guess that was all fucked anyway.
“Do you have a better time?”
Not really, but I just mumbled my agreement and nodded, “Tomorrow. Can you meet me at the Institute?”
“Yes, that’s fine. I’ll be there tomorrow.”
“Good.” He stepped away and began walking backwards towards the clearing that led to the compound's inner structure, “It was very nice to meet you, Jeri. I’ll be seeing you in the morning.”
I took that as my cue and scuttled over to the front of my car. When I noticed him still barely moving backwards I waved up at him and turned the ignition. By the time I looked up he wasn't even anywhere near the clearing or the buildings, but I was used to were’s up and vanishing here and there. Most were’s never bothered to hide their abilities around me anyway because the only were’s I knew were from the Zima leap, their version of a pack or pride. Since Muhammad and I lived in a small apartment right outside of the compound land it only took a few minutes before I was at home, pulling into the high but small building. I took the rickety iron stairs to the top floor and shoved my way through the door, the heavy feeling of the night crashing down on me as I passed into my own space.
Dragging my feet I fiddled with the side sipper on my lace dress, careful not to let my rings snag into the material under my arm and shoved the long sleeves off of me.The space around me felt empty and cold making me shiver as I stepped out of my only pair of wedges which I most often used for work. It wasn’t like Muhammad never spent nights away from home, and it wasn’t like he wasn’t directly across from the building a few miles down. It was that I had no real way of knowing how he was feeling or what was happening. The only thing keeping me sane was the strange connection I knew I shared with him. Feeling his heart beat and knowing he was sound asleep gave me the only piece of mind I was going to get and I was thankful for it. It wasn’t that I didn't trust Ali or even Alik, hell, I certainly trusted Dr. Vaughn to do whatever she could for my baby brother. But pain in the ass that he was, he was my pain in the ass and I didn’t have a reason to distrust this Kazamir guy but I certainly wasn’t in the business of handing out trust passes especially when he was trying to cock block my going near him while he recovered.
I had just enough energy to wash my face and rub down some grapeseed oil on my tattoo covered arms and the few on my legs before I stripped my panties, throwing them with my foot into the corner of the bathroom for tomorrow Jeri to take care of. Climbing into bed I plugged my phone to charge beside me double checking the alarms and slept before my head even fully rested on the pillow.